The Armchair Outfitter

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The Wages of Sin Are Less Than $5.85 an Hour

May 14th, 2008 · 2 Comments


Lke anyone who’s ever enjoyed an activity, I have often wondered what it would be like to fish or hunt for a living. Although this website is about hunting and fishing, “On your own time; on your own dime,” I’d like to see how the other half lives!

I define a professional as someone who derives their primary income from an activity. I am a member of the legal profession because that is the source of my paycheck. Similarly, the Sporting Wife is a professional librarian. Although a certain level of competence is implied, and most professional sportsmen are quite adept at their craft, skill alone does not make one a professional as I use the term. Ideally, the profession is where inspiration meets compensation. In my travels, I’ve brushed up against some professional hunters and fishermen, and I’ve made some observations.

Some gifted souls find themselves drifting naturally into a full-time hunting or fishing career. The best guides enter the profession this way. They spend almost every waking moment hunting or fishing anyway, and through economic necessity, they end up taking others along for pay. The hours are long, the work is often dangerous, and some clients believe that the exchange of money entitles them to a particular result. In addition to a thorough knowledge of the quarry, a guide or outfitter must have excellent people skills. Some medical knowledge is also a plus. A guide may unexpectedly have to administer first aid to a client who is injured or simply not physically prepared for the rigors of the outdoors. And clients are not the only ones who sometimes require medical attention. I know a duck guide in Arkansas who very nearly bled to death when a client accidentally shot him in the chest fiddling around with a loaded shotgun on the truck seat. The 12 gauge, 3-inch magnum load barely missed his heart.

Sometimes an outdoor occupation follows retirement, early or otherwise, from another career. Who among us does not think of one day chucking it all to go chase the dream? I picture myself at the helm of a charter boat plying the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Sporting Wife says I don’t have the patience to deal with an ignorant client who thinks he’s paid for the privilege of acting like a jerk. I have explained to her that I plan to use my legal skills to draft a cleverly worded employment contract: “Price of the charter includes the trip out to fish and fishing only. Any return trip is strictly at the Captain’s option.”

Dreams, by their very nature, are far different from reality. Nevertheless, if the opportunity to trade an office for a trout stream or an assembly line for a pack string presented itself, could any of us seriously resist? In the meantime, there are steps one can take to ensure that the dream doesn’t turn out to be a nightmare. First, acquire the skills you will need for your dream job. The ability to find game during any part of the season and in any weather is an absolute must. You also need to know how to use and maintain your equipment properly. Your life and your livelihood depend on it. Buy quality equipment with rugged construction. The working professional’s gear takes an unbelievable beating, and equipment failures can cost you the repeat bookings you will need for your business to survive.

Do some recon. Fish or hunt with a pro every chance you get. The fee you pay will usually buy you the answers to a few questions. Most people like to “talk shop” if you show a genuine interest. Note, however, that a few questions should be limited to just that, a few. Don’t let the conversation become an interrogation. If you’re lucky, you can develop a relationship with someone who could be an invaluable source of advice when you’re ready to make your escape.

The competitive hunter or fisherman is in a completely different category from those who those who share their success with paying clients. Competitive fishing usually means tournament fishing. Entry fees range from a few dollars into the thousands with a commensurate increase in pressure and potential payoff. Transportation and lodging add to the expense. A tournament angler who fails to “finish in the money” takes a significant hit in the pocket. Trophy hunters compete to get into the record books. The taking of a world-class animal or the completion of one of the various “slams” can lead to corporate sponsorship. Repeating such a feat consistently and developing a national reputation opens the door to television stardom for an elite few.

The competitor does not have to deal with clients; loneliness, boredom, and anxiety are his constant companions. He lives a nomadic life similar to that of a touring musician. As a professional saxophonist once told me, “L.A. looks like the inside of a hotel room. New York looks like the inside of a hotel room. Europe? Europe looks like the inside of a hotel room with bad food.”

Outdoor writers, if they are very successful, may derive their sole income from writing. Some freelance authors sell individual stories, while other writers are under contract to particular magazines. This may be the easiest way to try your hand at earning some bucks from your outdoor exploits if you have any literary ability. Word processing software with spelling and grammar check makes it easier than ever submit your work, and it costs you nothing but time. If nobody will pay you for your authorship, you can still derive a great deal of pleasure from seeing it on a blog like this one.

Before you turn an avocation into a vocation, you should examine your reasons and your goals. Will it diminish your enjoyment of the sport if you must satisfy another’s expectations, deal with constant pressure, or work on a deadline? As that horn player said to me about music, “Once you do it for a living, it’s just a job.”

Tags: Random Musings

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Michael Todd Congiardo // Jan 17, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Great read!!!

    Just curious…who was the professional saxophonist you mentioned in the article? Anyone I might’ve known?

  • 2 armchairoutfitter // Jan 18, 2009 at 12:49 am

    Someone I might’ve known too, under different circumstances, but that’s a lot of water under a lot of different bridges.

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