One of the great appeals of hunting and fishing is these activities generally are, or should be, largely an individual effort. When most of us head to the woods or water in search of game or fish, we often are also seeking any number of self-interests - everything from relaxation and solitude to exercise and a special sense of accomplishment. A day afield is not measured by innings, quarters or similar measures. We begin and end such outings on our own timetable, be it a simple getaway of an hour or two or a dawn-to-dusk adventure.
As hunters and anglers, we willingly abide by the various seasons, bag limits and other rules and regulations that govern our sports. Yet we also tend to impose additional codes of conduct upon ourselves. Personally, I will not shoot a grouse on the ground or perched in a tree, and I only fish for trout with fly tackle. These rules are a personal choice and not meant to imply any sense of snobbery or self-importance.
As humans, however, we also tend to be competitive by nature, and not surprisingly, formal competitions have sprung from most areas of human endeavor. The outdoor sports are certainly no exception. Over the years, all kinds of "sports within the outdoor sports" have evolved to satisfy the need for some outdoors enthusiasts to compete among themselves.
Sadly, competition at any level too often seems to bring out the more unsavory side of human nature in a few individuals. That can include everything from bad behavior on the part of both winners and losers to bending the rules of the contest to gain an unscrupulous advantage to outright cheating. Fortunately, the positive attributes of most outdoors competitions far outweigh the few negative aspects.
Probably the earliest sporting competitions were shooting contests. Well before the advent of gunpowder and firearms, I'm sure from time to time folks lined up to see who was the best with a spear, bow and arrow or whatever other weapon happened to be the state of the art for that period of history.
Nowadays, skeet, trap, sporting clays, and many other types of target shooting are extremely popular, both as standalone activities and as an enjoyable and effective way of honing one's shooting skills for hunting.
Field trials for various breeds of hunting dogs offer trainers and owners a venue in which display the talents of these remarkable animals. These events provide performance benchmarks for individual dogs, not to mention dramatically increasing the value of those dogs that do well in competition. That value can transfer to their offspring as well, because puppies from champion-caliber bloodlines can be highly desirable to someone looking for a new hunting dog.
The art of turkey calling used to be a closely guarded secret among the few folks who understood the language of these great game birds. That situation has changed with the restoration of the wild turkey during the past 25 or 30 years, which in itself is one of the greatest success stories in modern wildlife management. Wild turkeys now rival white-tailed deer in popularity over most of their current range.
Modern turkey hunters are dedicated to learning about their quarry and are willing to share their knowledge. Turkey calling contests are now commonplace from the local to the national level. These events allow accomplished callers to showcase their skills, which gives the rest of us a chance to learn talk turkey as well.
Fishing tournaments for almost every species of fresh and saltwater fish are everywhere nowadays. These events comprise everything from small local fundraisers for clubs and civic organizations right up to the professional level complete with huge cash prizes and live TV coverage. And again, this universe of competition has ultimately benefited anglers of all skill levels.
Competitive fishing has lead to the development of better performing and safer fishing boats. Tackle manufacturers have become relentless in the refinement of rods, reels, lines and other gear. And the anglers themselves continue to search for new or improved fishing techniques and lures to give them that extra edge on the water.
So even if you're a hunter or angler who has never entered an outdoor contest or tournament, it's highly likely that some of your favorite gear or techniques are the byproduct of competition.