When Nearly Everyone Was a Hunter

There was an era in which Main Street, Hollywood, and pro athletes all came together in the gamefields of America. Will it ever come again?

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig stand with a hefty game bag.

 

I stopped by our local high school a few weeks ago. School begins after Labor Day, so the parking lot was quiet. There were no cars or trucks driven by either teachers or students, and no buses picked up or dropped off underclassmen. Yet vehicles were everywhere over by the tennis courts at the East End! Two-a-days were in full swing, and that’s why I was here. I wanted to see pigskin fly.

A sweet smell of freshly cut grass lingered in the 95 degree, 100 percent humidity air. It reminded me of the days when I used to tighten my cleats and button up a chinstrap. I heard the familiar sound of hands clapping in unison as a huddle broke. Following that were audibles called by first- and second-string quarterbacks. Then there was the unmistakable sound of smacking pads and whistles blowing. Now and again a guard that held during a block or a linebacker that missed a tackle paid the price in down-ups until they were green.

But today’s focused sessions were buzzing with sideline activity. Members of the media frequented our field to document the job done by Mike Sherman. The former head coach of the Green Bay Packers and former coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Texas A&M, and other schools, runs ball at our sleepy regional high school. It’s an honor to have Coach spend his retirement here.

 

Ted Williams squaring off for a wingshot.
Ted Williams squaring off for a wingshot.

Back in the day there was a subtle difference between an athlete and a sportsman. During a season, any season, just about all of us played sports. In the fall it was football, in the winter it was basketball or wrestling, and in the spring some of us ran track while others played baseball. In between practice and games we were sportsmen. Some days we’d hunt upland birds, waterfowl, or big game. If we weren’t hunting we’d go fishing. We’d hit the salt and sweet waters, and we’d use spinning, conventional, and fly tackle. No one complained of boredom, for there was none to be had. Life was great.

Did we mirror our heroes, or were they an extension of us? When professional athletes weren’t working they hunted and fished. No one blinked an eye when they saw pictures of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig hunting pheasants or waterfowl. They were sportsmen following their passions in the offseason. Others, like Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, and Branch Rickey, hunted, too, and they even captured some of their hunts on film. Their pictures would appear in newspapers and magazines, and readers enjoyed seeing their favorite big leaguers at play.

 

Babe Ruth showing he can put the "bam" in Bambino.
Babe Ruth showing he could put the “bam” in Bambino.

It was no different in Hollywood, as actors and actresses did the same. Clark Gabel and Gary Cooper knew the working end of a side-by-side and were the frequent hunting guests of Ernest Hemingway in Sun Valley, Idaho. Humphrey Bogart kept his 20-gauge L.C. Smith at his friend David Nivens’ house so they could shoot trap in Nivens’ backyard. Fred McMurray was a hunter, and women were, too. Sophia Loren loved Brittany spaniels and side-by-sides for bird hunting, while Bridgett Bardot owned English field cockers.

 

Sophia Loren and a Brittany.

But these days there is a shortage of notable folks posing for hunting advertisements like Catfish Hunter did in 1976. Today political correctness rules the roost. I am all-ears if someone can explain why a consistently outstanding Olympic medal winner like shooter Kim Rhode is overlooked for endorsements while Ryan Lochte gets the nod. Evidently hunting is no longer palatable for mainstream America. That said, Bob Svetich, the owner of The Outdoor Group, Inc. works with celebrity sportsmen and had this explanation for the change.

 

Bob Svetich and Bo Jackson kneel with a bison they took.

“The Industrial Revolution consistently changed our society from rural to urban,” he said. “And in many ways, the need to harvest wild game has been replaced by well-stocked supermarkets. Today people look to the outdoors for recreation instead of sustenance, and as a result, their choices are becoming tamer. Car camping, hiking, kayaking, and bird watching increase regularly, while fishing and hunting decline. It’s odd, but in many circles even catch-and-release fishing is considered cruel.

 

Stan Musial and Branch Rickey after a successful hunt.
Stan Musial and Branch Rickey after a successful hunt.

“We are a technologically connected generation, with over ninety-five percent of Americans having cell phones. Connectivity to the Internet, with its newsfeeds and social media, means that information travels at an unprecedented rate of speed. That combination means that celebrity sportsmen have become more discreet. Their concern is that they will be unemployable due to their personal life choices. You don’t need to think about that fact for too long before you realize there is a position of reverse-discrimination.

“But the truth is that I work with a tremendous number of celebrities on a regular basis who are avid sportsmen. Most people suspect professional athletes are sportsmen, but I guarantee you this: You would be shocked at the number of sportsmen there are in Hollywood.

 

Well, she's trying at least.
Well, she’s trying at least.

“I’m respectful of their decision to maintain their pubic versus private personas. As they wind down their careers, they reach out to us to help promote traditional sporting activities. Some that are comfortable are showcased on my website and regularly make public appearances without fear of retaliation (theoutdoorgroupinc.com/celebrity-sporting-lifestyle-ambassadors). Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee recently joined my group, which is timely given that 2016 is an election year. Governor Huckabee is an avid waterfowler, and we look forward to working with him on a variety of new projects. The folks I work with today are similar to Babe Ruth’s and Gary Cooper’s of the past. I’m hopeful that the trend will continue.”

Who knew that Kim Kardashian was a shotgunner? Perhaps she represents our newest legion of celebrity sportsmen. Until then, I’ll just head back to Coach Sherman’s practice field. We’ve got a game coming up.