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Mellow yellow with snow sure to follow

October 11, 2011
By JOE HACKETT, News Outdoors Columnist
After enjoying another long holiday weekend that featured favorable Indian Summer conditions, I expect the region is soon due to experience a spell of more typical Adirondack autumn conditions.

The fall foliage is now well past peak and has already progressed into the mellow yellow stage. Backroads are paved with pine needles and a leafy carpet currently covers the trails.

Any day now, I expect to awake and find a fresh blanket of snow on the front lawn that will cover the carpet of brown leaves. Although members of the local hunting fraternity would likely welcome a season-opening tracking snow for the beginning of the muzzleloading season (which starts on Saturday, Oct. 15), I’m quite happy to wait just a little while longer for the white stuff to arrive.

October 15 also happens to be the final day of trout season, which is a sign that it is time to put away the fishing poles and take out the smokepoles.

In recent years, however, the “smokepoles” of old have become increasingly smokeless, as inline muzzleloaders have rapidly replaced the flintlock and percussion blackpowder firearms of the past.

Modern muzzleloaders, or inline rifles, now utilize primers or even electronic ignition to fire a charge. Modern rifles often bare closer resemblance to an assault rifle than a musket.

Black powder has been, by and large, replaced with pyrodex, a smokeless black powder substitute which makes it is easier to clean the weapon and produces far less smoke. Pre-measured pyrodex pellets now provide more consistent and accurate loads, which make the reloading process faster and easier than ever.

It is now much easier for muzzleloading enthusiasts to quickly and accurately reload their rifles. They simply stuff a pyrodex pellet or two down the barrel, top it off with a .50-caliber slug and they’re ready to go.

There’s no longer any messing about with patches or wet powder, and no fumbling with percussion caps, flint or flashpans. There is still a flash and a bang, but there is little of the nostalgia and fabled history that resonated when hunters carried authentic Hawken muzzleloaders or a flintlock Kentucky rifle in search of whitetails.

Although the modern muzzleloaders may be easier to load and clean, as well as more accurate and reliable, something has definitely been lost in the trade. Like many aspects of modern technology, faster and easier isn’t always better, especially when it comes to outdoor pursuits.

Call me nostalgic, but I believe the authentic pleasures of certain outdoor activities are often diminished when the tools of pursuit tip the odds decidedly in favor of the apex predators.

Anglers reveal a peculiar and indescribable satisfaction when taking a trout on a fly that was hand-tied, especially when the materials used in construction were personally procured from a pheasant on the wing, or from a snowshoe hare hidden in the balsams.

The experience of hunting with a wooden bow or angling with a bamboo flyrod offers comparable pleasures. These implements are intended to be used at leisure, where the pace is intentionally slow and the place is more important than the take.

Although bigger, faster and stronger are applicable attributes to describe many athletic pursuits, such traits are rarely considered characteristics of success in most outdoor sporting endeavors.

In the field or on the stream, terms such as persistence, patience or contemplation carry more weight and they bring greater success in the natural arena. These are places where the score never needs to be tallied and the take is best based accordingly to personal consumption than to the legal limit.

Please don’t get me wrong. Technology certainly has a place, but fair chase should be fair and the use of increasingly high-tech tools of pursuit should not place the odds so decidedly in the hands of the sportsman. If such implements are allowed to trump personal skill, where is the sport?


Rethinking gym class

Increasingly, the traditional model of physical education is undergoing a transformation. As our nation’s youth continues to spiral down the path of obesity, physical educators are reevaluating the effectiveness of traditional team sports.

It’s a fact of life: There are certain folks who are more suited to athletic pursuits than others. We all know a few of them; they are the jocks and the jockettes.

They can run faster, jump higher and throw harder than the average human being. They are brought up on a steady diet of team sports that were well-designed to utilize their particular set of skills.

However, not everyone is so well-endowed with athletic ability — they are the klutzes, the clumsy and often the geeks. We all know a few of them too, and, in fact, they may be in the majority. Not everyone is born with the genetic make-up to run faster, jump higher, etc.

Finally, gym teachers have begun to take notice and, as a result, the focus of physical education is undergoing some major changes.

Traditionally, physical education programs have followed a career path of team sports, beginning with kickball, advancing to dodgeball and on to baseball, soccer, basketball and football.

There are a number of individual sports: wrestling, tennis, golf or track and field. But even these sports are conducted as team sports in most competitions. It is time for change!

Researchers have determined that the single most important element to achieving an effective, lifelong physical fitness program is the development of a personal athletic pursuit.

Studies indicate the majority of athletes involved in team sports rarely continue to pursue such sports on a regular basis after high school graduation.

The likelihood of regularly participating in a team sport diminishes even further after college and the probability of staying with team sports on a regular basis once there are kids, a mortgage and a full-time job to consider is about nil.

So why do phys-ed programs continue to teach, preach and prepare our youth for involvement in team sports? Good question.

Increasingly, the trend is changing and traditional athletic competition is undergoing a transformation. Sports are now called “life pursuits,” and they include a wide range of activities that can be undertaken on a regular basis, individually or with just one other partner. Best of all, they are largely enjoyable activities that are readily available just outside the door.

What sports are we talking about? Mountain biking, orienteering, archery and trail running, plus paddle sports, flyfishing, skating and more.

Surfing is now considered a varsity level sport in Hawaii and whitewater paddling is a varsity sport in more than a dozen southern states. Bass fishing is now a varsity level pursuit in over three dozen Illinois’ high schools. Seventeen other states now have high school bass fishing teams.

Why can’t activities such as trail running, biking or rock climbing be developed into sanctioned varsity level pursuits in New York? 

If they were, the availability of local, all-natural “green gyms” would dramatically cut the costs of maintaining ballfields and diminish fees for referees and other sports officials.

Best of all, such varsity sports could easily become lifelong fitness pursuits, which would dramatically reduce the costs  of health care, well into the future.


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