Working on a huge issue like our 2018 Gear Guide might be compared to diving into the sea—the vast sea of products and people, trends and innovation, ideas and influencers that make up the wonderful world of waterfowling. It’s a journey I look forward to every year. A chance to steep myself in the rituals that symbolize our passion, because the gear is part of the ritual as much as predawn anticipation, holy sunrise or the formation of birds against a kaleidoscope sky.
It is these symbols of waterfowling that carry on throughout our lives. When I have the opportunity to work at one of our booths at shows around the country, I am constantly reminded of the importance of our symbols. When the ancient fellow shuffles toward the booth with his head cocked, grinning, just to say hello and reminisce about his waterfowling days, he is attracted by the icons, the dramatic artwork and what is contained within, the feelings they bring alive in him once again.
Now, I’m no ancient fellow, but I must admit that my earliest waterfowling days have a bit of dust on them. Still, I can vividly recall so many of the touchstone moments that shaped my world as a young hunter.
When I was 12, I had been, to that point in life, nothing more than a bird dog on pheasant hunts and duck hunts, brought along by the kindness of elders who clearly saw where my priorities lay. I didn’t come from great means, though we were also never wanting for what we needed in our home. That meant that even though I was afield a lot, I really didn’t have a scrap of clothing that was designed for the outdoors.
We had a custom of opening a few gifts on Christmas Eve from our parents, and we were all gathered in the living room following dinner, engaged in our annual ritual of singing, and reading from the Bible, followed by the youngest placing a figurine of the baby Jesus in his crib. When it came time to pass out presents, I received a flat box that had all the earmarks of a sweater or a pair of jeans, my mom being a practical gift giver tasked with keeping us looking decent at school.
But in that box was the best gift ever, one so unexpected that it brought a tear to my eye. It was a canvas hunting coat—the real deal—kid sized. With a shoulder patch for a gunstock, a corduroy-lined collar, and shell pockets. I know my reaction made my parents as happy as I was—I could see it on their faces. I never went afield without it, and when I outgrew it, my mom never had the heart to throw it out. She loved that coat as much as I did, for what it meant to me. It still hangs in my closet in a dry cleaning bag. Once in a great while I take it out to look at it. It’s an old friend, an icon of who I am. Hunting gear can be like that.