The Good Old Days Are Here and Now

By David LaMere

Humorist and author John Hodgman famously said “Nostalgia is a toxic impulse.” He was right. I am not nostalgic. I’m particularly confused by people nostalgic for a romanticized past through which they didn’t live. I treat people who use the phrase, “The good old days” with the same patronizing care I show those suffering from dementia. “They sure were,” I might say. “Would you like some pudding…then maybe a nap?” This tendency perplexes people who know me, my respect for our hunting traditions, and my adherence to them.

With social media, I try to create compelling posts representing days spent in the woods or on the water using images and videos of hunters from the past. I search archives and library collections for the images that strike me as some small part of our collective story as hunters and so, of humanity.

As the preacher saith, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and there’s nothing new in my gun safe. My deer rifle is a Winchester 94 lever action, built in the 1940s when Winchester records were vague. Much of the bluing is rubbed off by almost a century’s worth of hands. I don’t know the hunter who carried it, hand cradling the receiver though the north woods, but we are connected. My upland shotgun is a disreputable looking Savage Fox Model B side-by-side, built in Utica, New York, also in the 1940s. In the American tradition of side-by-side shotguns, it is heavy and inelegant. I have handled fine shotguns that felt alive in my hands. The Model B feels like a sturdy and trusted farm tool. The rib was inexpertly resoldered, and the stock replaced at some point. The replacement stock, with its semi pistol grip rasped down to a straight grip, looks like it was done by someone on a short deadline. It may be the world’s ugliest grouse gun, but it shoots where I look, and I am unreasonably fond of it. I am also fond of the unskilled hand that repaired the rib and modified the stock.

I’m dismissive of new camouflage patterns and hunting clothing classified as “systems,” preferring wool and waxed cotton. When I go out into the wild places, where I’m closer to understanding the world and my place in it, I strap on a simple, mechanical field watch. The design of the watch I wear hasn’t changed much since the early twentieth century. It functions better than I do. That doesn’t mean I want to live in the past, nor do I feel I was born in the wrong century.

We have gained quite a bit in science and in medicine, in comfort and convenience over time. We’ve made small, hard-won, steps towards a better and more just world. I am thankful for these things. I use the internet, social media, satellite navigation, and a vehicle, the complexity of which baffles me. I gave up my recurve for a modern compound bow and I have had much to do with contemporary modern firearms with their synthetic stocks, polymer frames, and all. They are, with very few exceptions, great tools. But it ends there. I don’t feel any more connected to them than I do my microwave. 

Why then am I drawn to old rifles and shotguns, to stories of the past and hunting clothes that wouldn’t have seemed alien to a hunter in the 1940s? Because there is value in beauty and craftsmanship, in using an object built with human hands by someone whose skill took years to acquire. There is value in simplicity and in connecting to those who walked the trails before us. For good and ill they are part of our story. Just as we will be part of the story of future generations, with all our faults and transgressions.

My lever gun, chambered in 30-30, shoots well. It is an ethical and effective choice for a north woods hunter who limits himself to one hundred and fifty yards. When I miss with my side-by-side shotgun it isn’t the gun’s fault. My waxed cotton keeps me dry and comfortable, and my wool is warm and quiet.

The word “classic” is as worn as my Winchester 94, but appropriate. I get more out of, and feel more connected to, firearms and hunting gear that are classic; clothing that works well and is immune to changes in fashion. So many aspects of our modern lives are complicated, disconnected, and harried. I go into the wild places to live simply, to feel connected to the world and to those who went before me. 

But when we meet in the fields, the woods, or the marsh, regardless of the gear you use or the clothes you wear, I won’t notice or care. I’ll be interested in whether you see just how beautiful it is, how perfect, and how blessed we are to know it. And I’ll welcome you to share the moment.
About the Author

David LaMere is the host of The Wild Huntsman Podcast. He enjoys hunting and overthinking things. He may be found on Instagram at @thewildhuntsmanpodcast.