By Ken Root
It is good to have friends! It is especially good to have friends who are retired and have a man cave and wives who leave for the weekend to allow a flock of guys to come in and set up camp for the alleged purpose of hunting turkeys. Such was the situation in late April in western Oklahoma, as a college friend hosted his annual event.
For those of you who approve of such activities, this was as you’d expect: Dedicated hunters getting up early, dressing in camouflage clothing to stalk their prey. For those of you who don’t think anything good comes from a group of men taking guns and assembling in a remote place to camouflage their card playing, drinking, eating and story-telling by acting like they were hunting; you’d be right, too.
The real heart of the weekend was camaraderie. It is rare that I have allowed myself two full days to do nothing but be in the presence of sportsmen with no motivation other than to socialize in slightly rugged surroundings. I slept two nights on a cot. I did not bathe. I utilized the cover of small trees for nature’s call. It was an invitation to come back to my Oklahoma roots and to join in conversation with hope that the world’s problems would be solved by late Sunday afternoon.
The man cave had a television set that remained on Fox News as we watched the Boston bombing play out. The broadcasters squeezed five minutes of news into each hour of speculation but it kept our attention and elevated the conversation.
We had deep political discussions, led by a seasoned high school history teacher, who also hunts upon occasion. The focus was: “Liberal vs Conservative.” I consider myself a moderate but in this group I was definitely the most liberal. I had to defend positions that I did not endorse. I was the only one who would bring up the concerns of the left, and I was the only one who did not have 10 guns and a thousand rounds of ammo stored in my vehicle or home.
The reaction of rural America to the Barack Obama administration is a little frightening to me. The election of this president by the urban majority has disenfranchised many in rural areas. As a result, they believe that their rights are going to be trampled, especially the constitutional right to bear arms. What a boon for the gun and ammunition industry. During the weekend, we looked at all kinds of legal weapons that have limited use in the field. The prices are said to be about three times what they cost before 2008. The run on ammunition produced stories on how long it takes before an order is filled and the exorbitant price paid.
I’m not anti-guns. I think there is great satisfaction in hunting and target shooting. A young man in the group showed me a highly specialized gun that he used to hit a target at one thousand yards. I was very impressed by the optics, equipment and the skill that were necessary to accomplish such a feat. However, the justification for “right to carry” just doesn’t seem to be there for me. In Oklahoma, I was told that you can legally carry a gun in a holster that is exposed and walk around Wild West style.
Are these men likely to form a militia? I didn’t see that but I saw a growing hysteria about unknown actions of the U.S. government. We are continuing to polarize the political views of the country and that is breeding ill-advised actions, at least on the conservative side.
So we continued to talk and I stated the facts about the number of people on nutrition assistance (47 million) the percentage of the farm legislation that goes to food and nutrition (77 percent) and the estimated number of illegal immigrants in the United States (12 million). Once we had real numbers on the table, the conversation turned to dealing with the problems. There was thoughtful problem solving that was interspersed with stories and jokes but the conversation was never heated and no impasse was ever reached. We agreed that personal responsibility would accomplish the goals of society in a better manner than creating a welfare state or decreasing the rights of individuals.
We managed to get a few turkeys and blamed the drought for the shortage of mature birds this spring. We ate well all weekend and the accommodations were appreciated. We tried to buy our host a big TV for next year but he declined our contributions.
As I waved goodbye and continued the loop through my home state, I thought of the weekend as a retreat that encouraged examination of alternative points of view. It was revealing and satisfying. I think our affluence is a sizable part of our dilemma. We all showed up in new pickups and vans. We hauled in more food than we could eat and my friends had an arsenal of weapons. We just don’t have enough real problems so we invent imagined adversaries. In this case, all talk and no action may be the best outcome.
Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.