30 Years Outside
Looking back on 3 decades in the fresh Chester County air
This past week marks the 30th anniversary of that fateful moment, three decades ago, when the fine but unsuspecting folks at the Daily Local News first gave me the opportunity to cover the world of the outdoors in this weekly column. Who could have guessed that 30 years later I’d still be on the job? That’s neither a complaint nor a boast, but a subtle epiphany — and an excuse to reflect on the journey that carried me from there to here. From my first column, “Dove season in full swing,” that appeared in the Daily Local on Sept. 21, 1986, until today, that comes to about 1,560 columns written in celebration of our great out-of-doors (some admittedly more inspired than others).
It all began when the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Wildlife Conservation Officer Keith Sanford, whose column on wildlife, hunting, and trapping once appeared here, was transferred upstate in 1985, leaving a vacuum in the Local’s outdoors coverage beyond Ron Kometa’s summertime saltwater fishing reports. I eventually approached Hannah Gardner, who was then the editor at the Daily Local, and volunteered my services as the paper’s outdoors columnist.
As an avid outdoorsman and an English teacher who taught writing at Kennett High School, and having already published an outdoorsy article, “A Case or Two for Persistence” (about pheasant and deer hunting) in the October 1984 issue of the now defunct Pennsylvania Sportsman magazine where the late Lou Hoffman was editor, I felt I had the right credentials for the job. Acknowledging my passable writing chops, Hannah hired me as the Local’s weekly outdoors correspondent. Years later, when Kometa faded from the writing scene, saltwater fishing became a part of my outdoors repertoire.
In 1988, two years after I began writing for the Daily Local, John McGonigle, then the outdoors scribe for the Coatesville Record, invited me to join the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association (POWA). My membership there introduced me to many of the outdoor writers I had admired in my youth and allowed me to become fast friends with many other writers and editors. In the years that followed I became archery columnist for Pennsylvania Game News magazine and was published in a number of others. Eventually I served as president of both POWA and the regional Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association (M-DOWA). I also became active in two national organizations, the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Professional Outdoor Media Association.
Reflecting back on the wide array of subjects I’ve tackled in my column over the years, I’ll admit it’s been a remarkable ride. Some of my more controversial topics have included gun control, the NRA, representation of hunters in Disney movies, clashes with the Game Commission, and animal rights. A column that ran back in 1990 prompted an army of animal rights activists to take me to task. This occurred after I defended the Brandywine Trout and Conservation Club’s Annual Trout Rodeo — and in the process
made light of animal rights activists who protested the practice of impaling worms on hooks.
A few days after that tongue-in-cheek column ran, my name appeared on the editorial page of this paper about 35 times in three different letters all dedicated to Tatum bashing.
Nonetheless, I came away with new respect for the impassioned dedication of the animal rights people, although our mutual jabs continued for a few more years — often occasioned by the annual Fred Coleman Memorial Pigeon Shoot held in Hegins. That event was a yearly forum for the animal rights movement that regularly made the national news until it was prudently terminated a number of years ago.
Once, in a column that appeared on April first one year, I wrote a fake exposé on the Game Commission’s top secret “Squeer Project” where agency biologists were mixing squirrel DNA with deer DNA, resulting in an antlered squirrel, aka the squeer, a new hybrid animal intended to cater to small game trophy hunters. An amazing number of readers fell for it, at least until they came to the April Fool’s punch line at the end. That was prior to the internet and before my column was posted online, so I was surprised when the phone rang a week later and the caller ID read “Squirrel Lovers Club,” an organization based in Ohio.
Yes, that column even fooled the Squirrel Lovers Club president who had been sent a copy by one of his club’s members who lived in Downingtown and who also believed the squeer story was authentic. He liked the column so much he had called to ask my permission to run it in his club’s newsletter. I was happy to comply.
Many of my columns have catalogued hunting and fishing excursions to Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New York, Texas, Alaska, and Costa Rica, along with a focus on saltwater adventures right here on the east coast, especially Ocean City, Md., where our beach house is located.
But my favorite columns have always been the most personal, especially the ones about my hunting dogs like my springer spaniel, Jesse, and the heartache that their
passing brings as well as the delight inherent in raising a new litter of puppies. The column “My Last trout,” which chronicled my family’s having to leave our hillside home in West Bradford in order to accommodate my disabled daughter, was among the most popular with my readership. The prestigious Outdoor Writers Organization of America awarded that column first place that year. Another well received column, “The fisherman’s father; the fisherman’s son,” also won state, regional, and national awards, all writing kudos I mention with a great deal of pride in the spirit of my late father’s advice that “sometimes you have to blow your own horn.”
But sadly, the rural landscape of Chester County and its wildlife have been significantly altered over the course of these past 30 years. Pheasants and quail are long gone, but wild turkeys have moved in — as have coyotes. Canada Geese and whitetail deer, both in short supply 30 years ago, now overrun much of the county. High-power rifles are no longer legal for hunting here, but crossbows are. Countless wild, natural places have been paved over and transformed into housing developments, shopping malls, and parking lots. I can list at least a dozen wild haunts I once hunted that have been bulldozed over and claimed by “progress,” including the huge new development now displacing acres upon acres of fields and forest in Romansville.
This advance of civilization has not been kind to our ecology, but fortunately we still have organizations here that fight for open space and clean streams and provide opportunities for young people to sample the simple joys that the outdoors can offer. These include the West Chester Fish, Game and Wildlife Association, Trout Unlimited, Brandywine Trout and Conservation Club, the West Caln Sportsmen’s Club, Backyard Bucks, and others. Here’s hoping they all keep going strong. I’d also like to give a shoutout to Chester County Waterways Conservation Officer Bob Bonney for his many years of service with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and also for providing me with his expert fishing reports each spring.
What the next 30 years
may hold for the county and those of us who cherish its fields, forests and waterways is anyone’s guess. I’m not counting on filling this space with a 40-year retrospective in another decade, but you never know.
So, on that note, I’ll offer a heartfelt “Thank You” to all the folks at the Daily Local News, past and present, who have provided me with this enormous opportunity. I’ll also express my sincere gratitude to all of those loyal readers who follow this column and share their unbounded love of the outdoors with me. In the meantime, let’s continue to respect and enjoy the rural beauty and wild creatures of Chester County while we still have them. Here’s hoping they endure for a very long time to come.
Statewide archery season now open
While archers here in Wildlife Management Units 5C and 5D (and 2B in western Pennsylvania) have been hunting deer for the past two weeks, for the rest of the state’s bowhunters, the season got underway this past Saturday, Oct. 1. Archers statewide can hunt for antlered or antlerless deer from Oct. 1 to Nov. 12, and during the late archery deer season, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 14.
On the whitetail wagon with Carson Wentz
While rookie quarterback phenom Carson Wentz has enjoyed well deserved accolades for his on-field performance with the Philadelphia Eagles including his record-setting undefeated debut, his selection as NFC Offensive Player of the Week and NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the month, one of his most memorable moments occurred during the birds’ Bye Week in the wilds of North Dakota. That’s where deer hunter Wentz bagged a respectable eight-point whitetail buck, his first ever with bow and arrow. Congratulations to Wentz on his archery acumen afield and best wishes for continued success on the Eagles’ gridiron.
Some of Tatum’s most popular columns over the years have featured stories about raising puppies like this lapful of English springer spaniels and training hunting dogs.
Carson Wentz with his North Dakota 8-point buck, the first he has gotten with his bow.