A friend once gave me a ceramic frog as a thoughtful gift. I made the mistake of telling a family member how cute I thought it was. Word spread throughout the family. The message was clear, if not wrong: “If you don’t know what to get her for her birthday, she loves frogs.”
I received frog pajamas and slippers, a frog tea set and even a large plastic garden frog. It didn’t seem to matter that our family didn’t have a garden. “Anything frog” meant the more outlandish, the better. The more frog items I received, the more it perpetuated the idea that I was a frog aficionado.
When you love frogs, others think you must love frog oven mitts, even if you don’t cook. I never wanted to become the person with the pig, cow or chicken kitchen because those sorts of collections creeped me out as a child. Somehow, the kindness of others had turned me into someone who had a sign that says “Ribbit, Ribbit” hanging above the fridge, and it was difficult to explain why.
In retrospect, I could have corrected the error. Instead, I came to dread gift exchanges. I begged to be excluded. I said I wasn’t materialistic, detested rampant consumerism and obligatory gifts. It was difficult to be taken seriously in frog slippers.
When I started hunting, the frogs were forgotten and the reigning gift idea for me changed overnight to “anything camo.” And, it still didn’t make sense. Just because I enjoy hunting does not mean that I want to decorate my house in camouflage lampshades and placemats.
I soon discovered flashlights and multi-tools are the equivalent recommended gift for the hunter as candles and coffee cups are for inter-office gift exchanges. For an invention that supposedly does everything, I receive multiple multi-tools. Lesser versions come free with subscriptions or as swag emblazoned with company logos. They seem to multiply in kitchen drawers.
I have never used one.
When someone asks me what to get a hunter as a gift, my first thoughts are what not to give a hunter.
A puppy and a gun are first on the list. There may be situations in which it works out, but these occasions do not outweigh the risk. A gun is a personal item, and the list of reasons not to give one as a gift ranges from safety to suitability.
As for a puppy, it’s a living animal with needs that require a serious commitment on the part of its owner.
One phrase that comes to mind is a consumer caution I read somewhere recently: “Don’t let the thrill of the purchase outweigh the thrill of possession.” Ownership has responsibilities at every level.
To a lesser degree of severity, one thing nonhunters may not know when purchasing a gift for a hunter is that camo is scene-specific. When my only hunts were for waterfowl, I did not know what to do with all of the woods and mountain camo items I received, except to store them with my frog collection.
The only camo I wore was wetlands camo, and I was not fascinated with it to the degree that I thought it would look good on appliances and picture frames. Although to look at my house, it might seem otherwise. I appreciate and use the camo coffee-maker gift, I just can’t find it.
Another aspect of the outdoor industry worth consideration is the political stands taken in recent years by many outdoor brands and retailers. Patagonia, REI, North Face and Yeti are just a few gear makers who are advocates for particular outdoor interests such as public lands or gun issues. A company’s political advocacy can result in a strong positive or negative reaction by those who support or oppose its message.
No matter where on the spectrum from safe to sensitive, buying for the hunter is not any different than buying a thoughtful gift for anyone with a specific interest. Gifts that reflect the thought or work that went into them are always the best.
Since I worry about needless waste — also known as “being a Scrooge” — I struggle not to limit my recommendations to a donation to a conservation cause or heritage foundation, which may to some seem as fun as handing out toothpaste to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
As an outdoor-loving female living in Alaska, I appreciate gifts that support female-owned Alaska businesses. There is an abundance of these that offer things I love — healthy packable foods, gear that gives back a portion of the proceeds to support wildlife, or fun accessories that inspire women to enjoy the outdoors.
Some of my favorite gifts have been handmade or have personal meaning — landscape or wildlife drawings, fur sewing, or painted skulls, bones, or rocks from a particular adventure. If a gift must be an object, if it evokes a fond memory, I will treasure it.
The “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” program offers some of the best workshops available to women at all levels of ability, and a registry for one of these programs makes an excellent gift. There are not any classes open for the holiday season, but the gift of learning — whether a fur-sewing class, an avalanche workshop, a fly-fishing lesson or another experience to support someone’s outdoor interests — is a great way to give responsibly.
If all else fails, there are an unexpected number of unique frog-themed gifts on the market.
Christine Cunningham of Kenai is a lifelong Alaskan and avid hunter. On alternate weeks, she writes about Alaska hunting and fishing. Contact her at email@example.com.