Featured Story

North Fork Outdoors: When a sacred location is no longer a secret

In our brave new world of electronic awareness, no one hides. Thanks to iPhones, GPS devices and roving earth satellites, the old adage “Wherever you go, there you are!” has never been more true. 

The situation has its consequences in the outdoors. To be sure, responders perform life-saving rescues that would have been next to impossible decades ago, especially in the mountains or on the water. Unfortunately, locations one wishes to keep secret no longer remain secret for long.

Not so many years ago, a skipper who marked distant wrecks offshore kept the coordinates written down in a little black book and was sure those targets would continue to produce. The best captains knew how to steal away from a fleet of competitors in the darkness or fog and take a circuitous route, often over the horizon, to get on a choice piece of bottom and fish it in private. Sailing out of Orient, Rich Jensen, on a night bass trip years ago, would sometimes extinguish all deck lights and quietly move away from the fleet drifting the Race. The customer who tried to steal a peek inside the cabin to see the GPS coordinates on the skipper’s screen would not only be subject to reprimand, he or she might be banned from the boat from then on.

Now, of course, all one has to do is sneak a cellphone with GPS from a pocket and click a couple of times to record the hallowed coordinates.

The same holds for hunters. When we hunted in our teens, we learned a special drill, being driven over back roads with all sorts of crazy turns and detours, before stopping at some strange location and marching off into unfamiliar territory that only our mentors or guides knew. Sometimes this felt like a “Godfather” film in which you were sitting between the Corleones in the back seat. We never were blindfolded, however.

To get back to the car after the hunt, you employed a compass and so-called “woods skills.” It was understood that those areas “belonged” to the host who brought you there and that, even if you eventually figured out where you were, you would never return without him or her. If you wanted to look at that cover for dog training after the hunting season was over, you might ask the host with the understanding that only you and your kin, but never other outdoor companions, would have permission to do so.

In today’s world the guide who takes “sports” onto select farms or into select covers knows the risk is high that those spots will no longer be well-kept secrets. The old guide dreads the morning he or she pulls off the highway and finds a couple of cars parked along the side road leading to the sacred spot.

One problem for all of us in the outdoors, especially with an increasing population and decreasing availability of lands and waters, is the lack of ethics. Competition breeds selfishness, so it seems. On the water any skipper with sense knows enough to quit fishing when guests or fares have had their share of fish. Pounding a bottom piece until all the fish are either gone or spooked is tantamount to stripping a forest. It takes a while for the “growth” to return, and it’s often not the best kind of shrubbery, either. The recent rape of parts of Georges Banks and the Grand Banks killed one of the world’s greatest fisheries, one that had produced for half a millennium. Cod stocks have been replaced by dogfish and skates.

Even where the sport doesn’t involve outright removal of species, the groups that come in after areas are pounded often dine on “slim pickings.” Cover dog trials have now become one of the most popular pointing dog competitions, but lots and lots of groups are getting into the act, holding one trial after another, sending dogs through the same area to find and point wild birds, usually grouse and woodcock. (In this exercise, the dogs point and hold birds until handers come up, find the dogs, flush the birds, fire blank pistols, and take the dogs off to find more birds. No birds are harmed and everybody gets a lot of exercise, walking tens of miles in the woods.)

But recently, certain clubs have grabbed so many days for so many trials that there is literally no time between them. Last year our group of Brittanys got squeezed into a time slot behind a group of pointers and setters that pounded the area for a full five days without letup. The result was predictable: schizophrenic grouse and bird work that was at best “dodgy.” We felt like we were fishing downstream for trout right behind a bait fisher who’s trying to catch enough for a “feed.”

Acting ethically and learning to share seem to be things of the past. Sad!