Outdoors-inclined individuals tend to be better suited for disruptions in daily life, whether that be an ill-timed power outage on a cold winter day, a hurricane, or the pandemic we are currently experiencing—Ryan Callaghan.
Last weekend, as concern and anxiety swelled about a sweeping pandemic, an imperiled healthcare system, and vulnerable supply chains, I did what every other red-blooded American capitalist did: I went to Costco.
Though the parking lot was more crowded than the shelves, the hum in the air wasn’t rising to the range of panic. People strode with wide-eyed purpose but remained calm and polite while filling their carts to teetering. I even saw a couple of folks greet one another with a hug (so much for social distancing). This contrasted the ominous news reports that had me anticipating borderline pandemonium.
I passed diminished meat cases and then paused in front of a negative space rising from the cold concrete floor where chest freezers used to sit. My lungs began to tense for the first time. Pockets of scarcity had sprouted in the cathedral to abundance.
I thought, then, of my own battered freezer, brimming with fish and game meat, enough to supply my family for months. I filled my lungs with that potentially sullied air, piled my cart with dried goods and produce, handed a harried clerk a credit card, and then drove home, unhurried and, strangely, unworried.
I wonder if the smallish and ruralish town where I live seems calm because most who live here are, like me, outdoors people. Being an outdoorsman or woman endows us with resources, skills, and perspectives lacking in the average modern American.
A Full Larder
Like everyone else, Danielle Prewett of Wild and Whole has been ruminating on the social and structural impacts of coronavirus. “Most people rely on our system to fulfill their needs, so it’s no surprise that [recent] food scarcity has created chaos.”
Hunters and anglers spend months of the year focused on harvesting, processing, and stockpiling food. My own stash is lower than usual this winter due to a young child and a hectic work schedule, but I still have whitetail, mule deer, elk, antelope, pheasant, mallard, Canada goose, walleye, whitefish, spot prawn, burbot, and perch. All those wild critters were killed, cut into portions, rolled in plastic, wrapped in butcher paper, labeled with Sharpie, and organized into neat pillars of future food long before any of us had ever heard of coronavirus.
MeatEater Fishing Editor Sam Lungren reflected on the primal peace imbued by bounty. “Even in normal times, I’ll often go in my garage just to take a peek in my freezer full of meat. Only recently did I understand why. I could probably live for a year off all the food hidden away in there. It seems a little foolish to think that way, until a global pandemic hits.”
Skill and Confidence
Skilled outdoorsmen and women need not rely solely on what they have stacked in the freezer—we can find wild food year-round. Though big game season has closed, turkey season is right around the corner, and fish can be perennially harvested (in reasonable quantity) in many states.
As the hemisphere tilts toward spring, mushrooms, spruce tips, fiddleheads, and other forage will sprout. Forget 6-foot buffer zones, we can procure fresh groceries while maintaining miles of social distancing.
Speaking of distance, when anxiety begins to fray my sense of wellbeing, it’s probably time to get away from people and media for a little while. Coronavirus didn’t culture this realization, it’s an evergreen truth. Even when things are good, I often crave escape and am practiced at packing in an hour to live off grid for a week.
That capacity will serve me well in the coming months. If (when) my family and I start going stir crazy from being cooped up in our house, we can disappear into the woods for days or weeks at a time without sacrificing our safety.
As Ryan Callaghan, MeatEater’s director of conservation, puts it: “The standard accoutrement of the weekend camper, hiker, and certainly hunter provides a baseline of comfort for inclement and unforeseen conditions that the weekend golfer will not have. Headlamps, water bottles, sleeping bags, first aid kits, and yes, the extra TP, will be on hand for outdoors people in case of fun or emergency.”
Sam Lungren carries a similar confidence, “My truck is always packed with a stove, sleeping bag, food, fishing gear, and everything else I could need to spend a few weeks out in the woods. That’s always felt more like an exercise in always being ready for adventure, but it seems especially useful now. If shit goes south, I’ll bug out to the mountains and probably have a pretty good time.”
Outdoorsmen and women can circumvent any brewing hysteria (or own or others’) and just go live in a tent. We can make fire, erect shelter, prepare food, find and purify water. We know where to go and what to do. These are not skills we practiced out of paranoia or fear, they’re just the things we’ve always done with our leisure time. They also happen to be useful in times of crisis.
A Resilient Attitude
Modern life revolves around comfort and convenience. We’re accustomed to couches, climate control, carpeting, and chocolate. But those of us who have chosen to spend our time chasing critters, climbing mountains, or running rivers tend to be comfortable with discomfort. This allows us to remain positive in difficult situations and handle adversity without panic—probably the most valuable of all skills when confronting uncertainty.
Danielle Prewett explained, “One of the first lessons I learned when I started hunting was how to be uncomfortable. Some situations can be difficult or scary, such as physical exhaustion, harsh weather, and limited food options. When those times come, you don’t panic. You make smart decisions and weather the storm. Life isn’t easy; there are always going to be hard times.”
I was reminded about the importance of this attribute a couple of weeks ago, when Ryan Callaghan, myself, and some other members of our team headed out for a backcountry ice fishing expedition. Despite deep winter weather, we managed to spend a few relatively comfortable days living on the ice. We had plenty of food and knew how to keep ourselves warm and safe even when the actual temperatures dropped far below what we were expecting.
“The forecast said six below zero,” Cal explained, “which isn’t that bad when you’re prepared for it, but the actual temp dropped into the negative 20s.”
After a few days living pretty large in pop-up shelters on the ice, and some pretty damn good fishing, we had a little incident that could have derailed our trip.
“I absolutely buried my Can-Am side-by-side in a layer of water that was suspended [on top of the frozen lake] and insulated by two sheets of ice.” Cal explained.
“Not my proudest moment, but the MeatEater crew rolled into action, shoveling slush, running winch cables, and using those communication skills that are so darned critical in those situations.I am still impressed, as the ability for some people to be in that same spot and cuss and generally bring everyone down is very real, and this crew did not do that, they just leapt into action.”
I shared Cal’s appreciation of our crew’s attitude that evening. We could have fallen into a downward spiral of panic, finger-pointing, and dread, but that wouldn’t have helped us get the 2,000-pound machine out of a foot and a half of standing water before it froze solid. Instead, everyone put their heads down, kept their spirits up, and persevered.
Experienced outdoors people cultivate these traits. They’re not innate attitudes; we have built and honed them through years of confronting difficult scenarios, remaining calm, and working to find solutions.
Ben O’Brien, MeatEater’s director of hunting, summed up the benefits of being a hunter and angler in a crisis. “Fact is, the benefits of hunting, killing, and butchering an animal stretch well beyond what is stored in the freezer. We solve problems, search out mystery, and deal with real consequence. We chase death with the understanding that it’s often a messy (and bloody) affair and in doing so gain the tragic knowledge required to appreciate our place in this world. In the same way that hunting often disconnects us from our modern problems, it also prepares us to face them.”
The World Isn’t Ending
None of the available evidence suggests that COVID-19 threatens our society at large. The world as we know it is not ending, but this disruption does highlight the fragility of modern convenience. The good news is we’re already better prepared than we may realize. Simply by doing the things we love—hunting, fishing, and running around in the woods—we’ve set ourselves up with resources, skills, and attitudes that will help us fare well in difficult times.
As MeatEater’s associate editor, Joe Ferronato, says, “Outdoorsmen and women were practicing ‘social distancing’ before it was the cool thing to do.”
The most consistent advice for controlling the spread of this new virus seems to require staying away from other people. That’s already the goal of just about every hunter and angler I know. This lockdown we’re experiencing seems like the best damn excuse to go fishing, camping, and hunting, ever. We’re not being selfish or irresponsible; we’re fighting coronavirus.
Feature image via Captured Creative.