30 Years Out­side

Look­ing back on 3 decades in the fresh Ch­ester County air

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Tom Ta­tum is the Out­doors Columnist for the Daily Lo­cal News, and has been for the last 30 years. You can reach him at tatumt2@ya­hoo.com.

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.

Tom Ta­tum Columnist

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