The Star-Herald

Holiday gifts for pandemic-confined sportsmen

As overwhelming and life-changing as the COVID crisis has been, outdoor sportsmen have enjoyed a bit of relief thanks to the normal social distancing of most of their ventures. With the recent advent of snow and cold weather, hunting, fishing and water sports become limited and adjustments will need to be made. There’s only so much coyote and rabbit hunting or ice fishing an enthusiast can enjoy. That leaves a lot of indoor sheltering hours to fill. 

I have a few Christmas gift ideas that may provide the outdoor oriented man, woman or youngster a pandemic pastime. 

Ever since I was just about to become a teenager, fly tying and lure building caught my fancy. If catching a trout, salmon or bass was fun, fooling one into eating a fly or lure I’d created with my own hands really increased the excitement and reward. Many of my early creations weren’t very pretty, nor did they truly resemble any real insect or aquatic food source, but somehow they worked.

Poking fun, my Dad would say, “It’s amazing what a fish will eat sometimes, but then if they gobble up worms they’ll choke down anything.”

Anyone can tie flies, and not only will you save money in the long run, but you will have the exact pattern and size you desire within a few minutes at the vise. It’s also possible to create your own patterns. Who knows? Maybe you will invent the next dry fly, nymph or streamer pattern phenomenon. Starting fly tying kits can be purchased for less than 20 bucks, and come with a detailed instruction pamphlet for beginners and all the material for dozens of patterns. That’s an inexpensive investment for what might turn into a lifetime of fun.

For novice tyers who “get hooked” on the hobby, there are expansion kits, larger advanced models and plenty of individual hooks, threads, feathers, furs and flosses available at the local sporting goods stores or online. Videos and books on tying many varieties of flies are also available, and a few towns will still offer fly tying classes for beginner and advance students, masks and social distancing included.

Another indoor option, and a truly beneficial pastime for hunting and shooting enthusiasts, is the art of reloading. This hobby has really moved to the forefront since COVID and the recent election caused reduced ammo manufacturing, and a run on gun shops lead to a depletion of most types and calibers of shells as bad as the toilet paper shortages due to hoarding. An increased demand for loading components and the machines and tools has occurred, as well, but most can still be located and purchased.

As with fly tying, most folks can learn to reload ammunition for shotguns, rifles and handguns using books and videos. It’s similar to baking — just follow the recipe. A couple of socially distanced lessons from an experienced reloader will be a big help, and there are plenty around. Not only will you end up with a winter, stay-at-home craft, but with better ammo at a lower cost.

If you choose not to purchase fly tying gear or loading equipment for that sportsman on your gift list, a few flies, plugs or lures or a couple of boxes of their favorite ammo will be appreciated. Perhaps a new net or digital fish scale for the angler or a pair of warm socks or gloves for ice fishing or winter hunting.

Since there are likely to be hours of indoor time to contend with, how about a video game? There are some fun and exciting fishing, hunting and target shooting versions that are quite realistic and reasonably priced. An annual subscription to a favorite outdoor magazine or a reference tome like the yearly Gun Digest or Shooters Bible offer great reading.

I came across a paperback series of wonderful, gripping mysteries with an outdoor theme that I highly recommend. Written by Keith McAfferty, they all have a fishing fly pattern in the title and Sean Stranahan, a fishing guide/painter turned part-time private detective as the main character. The Royal Wulff Murders is the first of the eight book series and I bet you won’t be able to put it down.

A week after Christmas as we stumble into a new year, every cast and blast enthusiast is going to need a new hunting, fishing or combination license. While you’re at city hall or online for a license, you could pay next year’s registration fee for their canoe, boat, trailer, ATV or snowmobile as a thoughtful gift. If you’re just not sure what to purchase, you can’t go wrong with a gift certificate to a local sporting goods store or even one of the big online outfitters like L.L. Bean, Cabela’s, Orvis or Bass Pro. 

My dear wife sputters and fumes every holiday season that I already own at least one of everything. And instead of waiting for gift-giving occasions I buy it myself when I see something I think I need. Perhaps some of you have the same problem. The good news is that companies seem to come up with a new or improved version of several outdoor items each year, so there’s hope.

As a last resort, over the years I’ve found that green goes with everything, especially when adorned with pictures of dead presidents. The isolation and social distancing is likely to continue for a while longer, so pick gifts that help fill time and occupy attention.

Try to have a happy, healthy holiday and here’s hoping Santa finds your chimney.




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