Ernest Hemingway said every writer needs a "shockproof B.S.-detector." My B.S.-detector has been getting a workout, as the presidential candidates have been hunting for votes this autumn. In particular, they are seeking the votes of the 47 million Americans who hunt and fish. In a race this tight, politicians see this as a bloc as valuable as soccer moms and NASCAR dads.
George W. Bush shakes hands at
Cabela’s sporting goods store; John Kerry flaunts his
wing-shooting skills at local skeet clubs. You would think each had
that Looney Tune hunter Elmer Fudd as a running mate.
Most Washington, D.C., political groomsmen don’t know a
woolly bugger from a royal coachman (they’re fishing flies,
for those not in the know), so the candidates are flying solo here.
It’s fun to watch.
It’s flattering to be
flirted with, but those of us who worry more about hitting targets
than reaching a target audience can easily see thin spots in the
orange-wash. President Bush and John Kerry answered questions posed
by Outdoor Life and Field &
Stream magazines, the "hook-and-bullet press."
These well-born, Ivy League elites worked hard to come across as
Bubbas, everyday deer-slayers, a latter-day Theodore Roosevelt. But
it was obvious they spend more time reading the polls on the
campaign trail than reading the sign on a game trail.
Field & Stream asked the president a logical
question: "What guns do you have in your gun cabinet?"
couple deer rifles and a varmint rifle. A .248?" Bush guessed.
Ding-ding-ding goes the B.S.-detector. There is
no such thing as a .248 caliber rifle. (Of course, there’s no
such thing as an Iraqi WMD either, but that didn’t stop
"You mean, perhaps, a .243?" lofted the
interviewer. Right, Bush said, swinging for the softball. "A .243.
Beg your pardon."
Not to be outdone, Kerry bombed, too.
The reporter asked what the biggest deer he ever shot was. "Oh, I
don’t know … Probably an 8-pointer or something like
C’mon, John. "Something like that?" Any deer
hunter worth his boot grease knows exactly how big his biggest buck
was and can tell you how long the shot was and how cold his feet
were when he pulled the trigger.
Life asked the candidates to identify their favorite gun.
Bush said he was particularly fond of a Weatherby shotgun he was
given. Weatherby is an American-made brand of gun, the kind of
expensive, glossy collector’s piece you might expect the son
of a Texas oilman to shoot. Bush did better on this answer —
he named an actual firearm.
John Kerry said his favorite
gun was "the M-16 that saved my life and that of my crew in
Vietnam." Zinger! Kerry wins the macho points on
that one, but his answer has nothing to do with hunting.
No reporter asked either candidate if they had ever been caught
violating a fish and game regulation. We don’t know
Kerry’s record on this, but a little research reveals that
Bush, when gunning to become governor of Texas, blew away a
protected songbird called a killdeer, which he mistook for a legal
game bird, the mourning dove. But hey, he’s not seeking the
approval of the Audubon Society here.
When all the
posturing is done, you can always look at the record. Republicans
blast John Kerry for his "F" rating from the National Rifle
Association for his Senate votes, such as supporting the Brady Bill
and the ban on assault rifles. I’ve always maintained you
don’t need exploding bullets or an AK-47 to hunt whitetails,
so this NRA rating fails to motivate me.
Then, you can
look at Bush’s record on publicly owned land, where most of
us Westerners hunt and fish. For four years, he has worked to
increase oil and gas exploration on some of America’s prime
hunting and fishing habitat, and relaxed protections on the
roadless forests where hunters like me enjoy solitude, peace and
quiet, and some of the largest bucks and bulls around.
You can’t hunt without habitat. As a friend of mine, who
happens to be an NRA member and a staunch Republican, says:
"Hunting and fishing isn’t just what we do, it’s who we
are. An attack on our public land is an attack on our very core."