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Sportsmen or Athlete

          In a recent conversation with an outdoorsman discussing a hunt he completed not too long ago, he referred to himself as an ‘athlete’ rather than a ‘sportsman’. I found this troubling. For as long as I can remember, those who participate in hunting, fishing and trapping have been referred to as ‘Sportsmen’. A label I wear with pride. In today’s world of extreme marketing, the new generation of sportsmen and women and abandoning this well earned title and exchanging it for a lesser title of ‘athlete’.

I have been a sportsman for most of my life, and spent over 20 years as an athlete, the last four at a very high level. I can honestly say, I do not see the similarity or the comparison. For a brief moment, let me share the differences as I see them. And the best way to describe the differences is to perhaps discuss what they are not.

Athletes compete for recognition and prizes; whether they be plastic trophies, medals or prize money. The objective is to win the game, match, meet or race. Athletes compete against one another or a clock. Some athletes compete for judges to recognize their accomplishment is better than everyone else doing the exact same thing.

Contrary to this, sportsmen and women do not compete per se, rather they challenge themselves against the wilds and its animals. Sportsmen and women, do not participate in their respective sport for plastic trophies, medals or prize money, they participate for the sheer joy of participating. For the love of the wilderness and its animals. Sportsmen pursue animals and fowl for the pleasure of matching wits with those who call this wilderness home. Athletes compete for the prize, it is what drives them, to win at all costs, to push oneself to outdo their competition and to gain a victory. Athletes do not handle loosing well, they abhor loosing and work as hard as they can to prevent the opportunity of loss. As an athlete, I spent hours and hours in the gym, and practice field trying to get better at my craft. Hitting a baseball was paramount to everything else, and I worked hard to make sure that when I went to the plate I did not fail in hitting the baseball. As a sportsman, I know that when I enter the field or the water there is a better than average chance I will not ‘win’ at this game. I will miss shots, and miss opportunities. I will challenge myself to outwit and out think my quarry, but I will fail more often than I will succeed and that is ok, because that is what drives me to return.

Whether I am hunting elk at over ten thousand feet, hiking miles and miles of prairie in search of a trophy Pronghorn, or sitting high in a tree stand. It really doesn’t matter if I am pushing pheasant with friends or following behind well trained dogs. The ‘sport’ is not in the method or quarry, success is not measured by the weight in our game bag or antlers on our wall, no, success is measured in the pursuit.

In short, hunting, fishing and trapping are the only true ‘sports’. Everything else are games or races. Athletes compete in games and races, and sportsmen participate in sports. Sportsmen need not try and compete with athletes, let them be who they are, and embrace our place as American Sportsmen and women.