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North Fork Outdoors: A gift-buying guide for the grizzled outdoorsmen

Looking for the right gift for the outdoors person in your life?

With the Christmas holiday fast approaching, your columnist sits at the word processor and looks hard for inspiration. December combines winter doldrums (a low sun angle; cloudy, cold days; the closing of certain fish and upland seasons) with a frantic workplace as one tries to “get it all done — before January one.”

Sometimes the toughest chore this month is procuring and/or sending gifts to friends and family far and near. Go online or not? Take the time to go shopping or not? Shop local with merchants we know or go big and brave the chain stores or discounters? Still, when everything is done, you realize that you’ve made most of those who received those gifts pretty happy. And you’re happier, too — something biblical about “giving being better than receiving” perhaps.

Giving gifts to grizzled, experienced outdoors persons is necessarily trickier than giving gifts to tyros just getting started with an activity. If you know the expert well and know exactly what he or she needs, so much the better. If not, maybe a gift certificate from a big outdoor chain or even a local sporting goods store is a better idea. Keep in mind that older outdoors persons still look at that thing called “print,” so subscriptions to publications might be more appropriate than a new app for their iPhones. Once in a while, you can hit the right note with a gift that inspires new activity, but you’re usually better off sticking with what the recipient does right now.

There are lots of choices for gifts to beginners, of course, but beware of those that require guidance, unless you yourself are there to provide that guidance. Many years ago, I made a practice of giving fishing tackle to nephews and nieces who lived on a prime fishing lake upstate. I would visit them from time to time and take them out on the water, recalling the old proverb: Give someone a fish and you give that person a meal; show someone how to fish and that person will feed him/herself for the rest of his/her life.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. None of them ever took to fishing. It may have been distractions in their lives or a lack of empathy for the outdoors, but I think it had more to do with the lack of constant mentoring. Modern tackle requires basic skills: tying knots, spooling lines, linking lines to leaders and maintaining equipment. This isn’t the era of your grandfolks’ cane pole and bobber anymore! And then there’s processing and cooking one’s catch. Preparing fish for the table takes a lot more time than calling for takeout! My nephews and nieces never had a skilled adult fishing with them on a really regular basis, someone who could teach such skills over a long period.

Giving a young person a pet for the holiday often comes up and always should be considered very carefully. If we’re talking about dogs, for example, winter is a tough time to housebreak any dog, let alone an active pup. And if your dog is a sporting or working breed, or a mix thereof, it’s going to require exercise as it grows up — lots and lots of exercise.

If we’re talking cats, this is not a problem because the cat ought to remain indoors at ALL times. Nevertheless, bringing any animal into a home at a busy, hectic time cannot be a good idea unless it can be isolated and kept away from the hullabaloo. Responsibility is everything. If the new pet-minder shirks his or her responsibility, which parent or sibling takes over? Neglected or badly trained pets are at best accidents waiting to happen, and at worst tragedies.

One also has to give some consideration to “stocking stuffers,” those holiday gifts that get tucked under the tree at the last minute, but often provide the most pleasurable moments. People with horses or dogs always appreciate appropriate trinkets, jewelry or even just tchotchkes. If you don’t have a source for a call-in or online order, try the local jeweler or tack shop or even a good pet-supply store. Calendars often work, too, and for the angler on your list, Southold writer Tom Schlichter (P.O. Box 462, Southold, NY 11971; [email protected]) always makes up a good one. For the sports person with dogs, plenty of pocket books are available. Although we train and compete with pointing dogs (Brittanys) ourselves, we just received a nice-looking manual for training retriever gun dogs from Robert Milner (duckhillkennels.com) that we’ll pass along to friends with golden retrievers.

So much for our own list. Once we’re through and everything is wrapped, we’ll put some trimmings on the tree, pour a favorite libation and write last-minute holiday cards — good through January, I hope!

Meanwhile, we wish all our readers a Merry Christmas, a fine New Year, lots of powder for skiers and cod for the diehards!