There is always room for improvement in our personal outdoor behavior. Ethics are principles we apply to such behavior, even when we know nobody is watching. It is doing the right thing, simply because we know it is the right thing.
The effort may be as simple as picking up someone else's trash, releasing a foul hooked fish, or respecting a fellow hunter's territory. There's no award or pat on the back, just a personal sense of satisfaction.
We should conduct ourselves in a manner comparable to what we expect from others and extend a similar respect for fish, wildlife and the environment.
Outdoor etiquette is more involved than simply yelling, “Please get the net!” In this photo, Craig Dickie of Lake Clear brings a lake trout to the boat as Tom Hagar of Saranac Lake handles the net.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
Many outdoor travelers like to believe they are the first to discover a special waterfall or visit a unique location, even when they know otherwise.
It may be an ancient compulsion retained in our genetic stew, a relic deeply recessed in our psyche that provides a dusty reminder of a time spent as hunter-gatherers.
This urge reveals an unwavering human curiosity to discover what lies beyond the far horizon. It is this inexplicable force that continues to draw climbers to Mount Everest, divers to the deep seas and astronauts into space.
Quite simply, it is our need for adventure and the unique sense of freedom that results from such experiences. However, we must realize that our sense of freedom and the adventures that accompany this travel are often limited by our own actions and the actions of others.
Royal Robbins, a well known climber and kayaker explained it when he wrote, "A simple equation exists between freedom and numbers: the more people, the less freedom."
Regardless of the remoteness or the wild character of the lands we travel, our personal sense of adventure can easily be diminished and even ruined due to the actions of others. If a cigarette butt is found discarded along a lonely trail, a worm container left floating on a remote pond or a banana peel left atop a soaring mountain, it is evidence of the hand of man and an intrusion on the natural landscape.
Whether on a trail, in the woods or on the water, all outdoor travelers should attempt to understand the needs and desires of fellow enthusiasts to encourage a spirit of goodwill and cooperation in the sharing and protection of our precious natural resources.
Passing on the tradition
The first book published on the principles of fishing with rod and reel was entitled "The Compleat Angler." Authored by Izaak Walton in 1653, it addressed the topic of sharing our outdoor experiences.
Walton understood the mentoring process, writing "As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an angler."
As far back as the 1650s, Walton knew the most effective method of instilling goodwill and cooperation among fellow outdoor travelers is best accomplished by example. This remains true in 2011.
Most outdoorsmen and women didn't just pop out of bed one morning to declare, "I'm going to become an outdoor enthusiast today."
It simply doesn't happen that way. We learn our outdoors skills somehow, somewhere, from someone largely by hands-on experience.
Surveys indicate the vast majority of outdoor travelers acquire original sporting knowledge from experiences with a mentor. Typically a father or a friendly uncle is the cited provider. Angling is the usual introductory activity.
As part of the process, most sportsmen report receiving instruction on the basics of outdoor travel and learning how to bait a hook, cast a line and catch a fish. Rarely is there mention of the ethical aspects of outdoor endeavors.
More often, we develop our personal outdoor and sporting ethics through observation. We are taught to respect our elders and we learn by mimicking their behavior.
Although outdoor travelers comprise a very diverse fraternity of men and women, it is quite surprising to consider our commonality. Most outdoor travelers we meet, whether afield or afloat, share similar interests and/or backgrounds.
We may not be mirror images, but the resemblance is often undeniable. The complete angler of today is an ethical angler, sporting a wide grin.
We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home, in towns and cities. -Nessmuk, 1863
I believe the most successful outdoor traveler is the one having the most fun, and the second most successful traveler is the person sharing that experience. Yet sharing often causes problems.
Unfortunately, the majority of outdoor travelers rarely distribute evenly throughout our wild lands. The most concentrated use is typically found within a few specific locations contained in a few specific wilderness areas, where the vast majority of people journey to seek solitude.
In fact, over half of all travelers utilize less than 10 percent of the total designated wilderness in the Adirondacks. Additionally, most backcountry travel occurs on less than 10 percent of the total trail miles.
Research indicates visitation patterns are unevenly distributed and certain seasons tend to be more popular. Weekend and holiday use is always high, with weekends attracting five times the traffic as weekdays. Travelers are likely to find the highest degree of solitude during midweek or off-season.
The ability to get along with fellow outdoor travelers is really a matter of treating others as you would expect to be treated. However, there are a few rules beyond simply extending common courtesy.
Respect privacy and peace of mind by maintaining a sensible distance at all times on the trail or the water and when making camp. Be as quiet as possible and speak in low tones, especially in the evening and near the water.
Travel light, travel right
There are a variety of concepts used to explain the idea of responsible recreation. However, the popular framework established by the Leave No Trace (LNT) program offers some of the finest and most widely accepted principles for enjoying the outdoors with minimal impact.
Originally, the LNT program was established for backpackers in order to provide a simple set of environmentally sensitive methods that, when properly applied, would insure a satisfying and sustainable outdoor experience for everyone involved.
The LNT ethic employs a common sense approach to outdoor travel and incorporates seven basic tenets:
Plan ahead and prepare
Travel and camp on durable surfaces
Dispose of waste properly
Leave what you find
Minimize campfire impacts
Be considerate of other visitors
All outdoor travelers, regardless of recreational pursuit, should make an effort to enjoy the outdoors without the risk of spoiling anyone else's experience, or the environment in the process.
Most outdoor enthusiasts understand this concept and they are willing to invest the time to restore, enhance and conserve the backcountry for the benefit of all.