There was a young guy on my boat crew this season who loved to fish and work outdoors.
However, he is a city guy and is always saying, "Let's hit the easy button!"
The easy button. That comment strikes something within me. Maybe it's what summarizes the generation gap between today's youth and outdoorsmen who have my years.
"Half a league onward! Forward the Light Brigade! Into the valley of death rode the six hundred."
The British horse calvary of 1854 never heard of the easy button. Capt. Robert Scott, hauling mountainous sleds of gear on his march to the South Pole, would scoff.
There is nothing wrong with fishing smarter. Nor is there anything patently wrong with hunting smarter. However, there is a line, albeit a quite wiggly one, that you should not cross.
Let's take a tongue-in-cheek look at that line…
It is OK to road hunt. Providing, of course, you don't luck out and shoot a caribou in the ditch on the first day — that is to be looked on with disdain. Should the caribou be taken after the expenditure of a couple of drums of fuel, two cases of beer and five hard days on the Denali Highway, then the ditch caribou is just wonderful luck.
The introduction of the four-wheeler to the hunting scene has been a boon to ATV manufacturers. However, many states have reacted with alarm. Road-hunting in the woods is not fair. Those states made it illegal to use the ATV for any purpose other than to ride to camp.
Alaskans are different, especially the dirt-hugging generation. "Ain't nobody gonna tell me how I can hunt!" And no one does. Most of the trails not in walk-in areas have far more four-wheelers traveling on them than the Denali or Richardson highways have trucks.
A true "easy button" hunter does not own a pack frame at all. Should he need to borrow one because the caribou is out of dragging range, then the borrowing needs be done under the cover of darkness.
Fishermen are the masters of the easy button. Not long ago, certainly within recent memory, sockeye were taken from Alaska rivers with the old "Kenai Twitch" method of fishing. Purists were aghast at this brutal method of catching reds. They applied enough pressure at the Fish Board meetings to have the treble hook outlawed for salmon. Now the "twitch" must be mastered with a single hook.
Not to be outdone, anglers who do not play with their food instituted a personal-use fishery that is practiced with dipnets. These nets sport a 12-foot handle and have a 4-foot opening. That was a big improvement over the twitch. The easy button.
Kidding aside, things that come too easily are not cherished. The reason you tell a story about the moose shot by the side of the road is because of the comparison with those that were immeasurably tougher to retrieve.
ATVs are fun and have their place. But walking is good for the soul.
A 20-mile four-wheeler ride is no big deal. Take a five-mile walk across the tundra and you have a story to tell. The memories of the mosquitoes that almost carried you off and the mother ptarmigan with chicks that attempted to drive you away by pretending to be injured are incredibly vivid and noteworthy.
Dipnet a half-dozen sockeye at Chitina and you had a poor day. Hook and land a single 4-pound humpy on a light rod with 5-pound test and you will remember that fish for the rest of your life.
Sir John Franklin perished along with more than a hundred other men in his quest for the Northwest Passage. He was revered for his honorable failure. Roald Amundson passed through relatively easily with superior preparation, and he did not get nearly the recognition.
The easy button is not to be disdained in all situations. But the satisfaction and old-school charm of hand-pulling a gillnet loaded with salmon over the gunwales of an open skiff while the seagulls scream "mine! mine! mine!" overhead is not to be denied.
The industrial roar of Honda hydraulics powering a mechanical roller provides an unquestionable increase in efficiency. But is what you do, and what you love to do, really about how little effort you might expend?
"Then they rode back, but not, not the six hundred. When can their glory fade, O the wild charge they made!"
John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time Yukon Quest champion.