2020 in the Rearview Mirror

Getting to play Dad again was my blessing in a mostly dismal 2020

By Rob Breeding

We’re near year’s end, the time when columnists often take a look back at the 12 months just concluded. In normal times I might do that here, but does anyone need a reminder of how much 2020 sucked?

No.

Still, wading through the events of the worst of my many trips around the sun reveals there remain gems to celebrate.

Earlier in the year I wrote that fly fishing was social distancing before social distancing was cool. The final figures aren’t out yet, but there is quite a bit of evidence suggesting the pandemic left folks with time on their hands, time they spent social distancing outdoors.

That makes sense. Hunting and fishing take place in an environment unfriendly to virus spread. With movie theaters closed, sporting events canceled, or played in empty stadiums, and restaurants focused on takeout, why not go fly fishing?

In Montana, fishing license sales were up 16% through mid-November and big game license sales were up 4% through the same period.

This seems a free-time-related phenomenon, rather that a reaction to post-apocalyptic fears of empty grocery shelves. Still, it’s nice to know one is capable of providing protein if needed.

R3 advocates — Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation — must be scratching their heads. They’ve been on the job for years trying to reverse the trend of declining hunter and angler numbers, when all it took, apparently, was a life-threatening virus shuttering the distractions of modernity.

I don’t know how that translates into an effective R3 strategy post pandemic. Hopefully, the extra time outdoors reminded folks that the flash-bang of modern entertainment ain’t all that, and they’ll stick to the field or water in 2021 and beyond.

Politically, the year was possibly the most incomprehensible in U.S. history.

Still, amidst the chaos, the Great American Outdoors Act became law. Thanks to the legislation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is now fully supported for the first time since it was created in 1965. That’s $900 million annually for improving habitat and public access. Also included was $9.5 billion for a backlog of maintenance projects in National Parks.

When the final votes were cast, the U.S. Senate race between the Montana Steves, Daines and Bullock, turned out to be not much of a tossup. The other Senate race that fueled support for the Outdoors Act, in Colorado, wasn’t that close either. But a wariness of offending hunters and anglers, shared by both political parties, played a key role in getting this bill passed.

Let’s hope this serves as a lesson for lawmakers: we like it when they work across the aisle to make good law.

On the personal side, I added a new puppy to my bird hunting unit. At six months, Jade still has a lot to learn. Despite her youth, she’s now hunting with her nose, pointing (sometimes) and backing the big dog, Doll, consistently. I can sense the canine gears spinning in her head when we’re afield. So far she’s processing it all well.

I also developed a new hobby: baking sourdough. It’s not really an outdoor thing, but sourdough does provide the base for shore lunch sandwiches. And a buttered slice goes well with a slab of game meat.

But my 2020 highlight was the crowding of my empty nest. For two months in the spring, during the confusion of the early pandemic, one of my adult daughters moved in. We ate sourdough, walked under skies filled with migrating cranes and the kid caught her first largemouth bass, and quite a few others.

I’m a content empty nester, with no plans to construct a permanent basement apartment, and neither of the twins has a need for such an arrangement.

Still, getting to play Dad again was my blessing in a mostly dismal 2020.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.

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