Competition and the Outdoors

January 29, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Weigh in at a professional fishing tournament

Weigh in at a professional fishing tournament

One look at my 2-year-old son and year-old daughter grappling for a toy is proof positive that competition is instinctive among humans. Many times I’ve sat idly by, observing the escalation in use of force between my children. I intervene when the imaginary line between healthy competition and unwarranted actions is crossed.

As life wears on, competitions evolve, from achieving top score on a science project to attaining all-conference status in sports. By and large, people improve themselves by practice or studying that helps them achieve greater success in competitions. Most people view such competitions as healthy, or at least not unhealthy … to a certain point.

Just exactly what that boundary is depends on the situation and the eye of the beholder. In most cases, the line between healthy and unhealthy is crossed when competitors resort to illegal actions such as performance-enhancing drugs or cheating on tests, in order to improve their competitive standing.

While athletic and academic competitions are generally considered healthy, the jury is still out on competitions that involve the outdoors. Since it’s human nature to compete, it’s not surprising that hunting and fishing competitions have escalated over the past couple of decades.

However, since hunting and fishing are activities most people pursue to get away from the hustle and bustle and competition of everyday life, a lot of hunters and anglers are uneasy about the image created when competitive events become part of the outdoors mix.

Fish and wildlife contests can range from a simple wager like a can of soda riding on the first fish during an outing with friends, to professional tours with national championships, corporate sponsors, and thousands of dollars in prize money.

Here in North Dakota, familiar contests range from ice fishing derbies sponsored by local wildlife clubs, to big buck and longest pheasant tail contests, to goose and duck hunting contests, to professional walleye fishing events.

It’s not easy to judge whether these competitions are good or bad in the long run. Fish and wildlife contests do generate interest, they may attract short-term business to local areas from competitors and sponsors, and many raise funds for charities, local habitat improvements, wildlife projects, or other good causes.

Conversely, many hunters and nonhunters feel that any competition beyond human vs. nature degrades the heritage of hunting and the time-worn philosophy of being one with nature and the essence of the hunt. Public perception of hunting or fishing in general is eroded when rules and regulations are broken for the sole purpose of winning.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department does not officially endorse or condemn wildlife contests. The Department is, however, interested in how citizens feel about contests. The September-October issue of its magazine, North Dakota OUTDOORS, carried a feature that provided background on the contest issue, as well as reasons people either favor or oppose wildlife contests. The feature is available at the Department’s website at

The Game and Fish Department’s “no position” philosophy is occasionally criticized. Some people want the agency to be much more involved in promoting local and statewide contests and the perceived economic benefits associated with them. Others want the agency to ban all fishing and hunting related contests, period, because they tarnish the image of hunters and anglers at large.

The Game and Fish Department has little oversight of hunting contests unless the contest is held on a state wildlife management area. As long as entrants are legally licensed and adhere to all regulations, there is no permit process.

Some fishing tournaments draw anglers to waters such as the Red River which generates limited interest in winter fishing

Some fishing tournaments draw anglers to waters such as the Red River which generates limited interest in winter fishing

Since most fishing contests take place on public waters where the fishery is managed by the Department, most fishing contest organizers must obtain permits from Game and Fish, and the agency details the conditions under which contests can be held. Event sponsors are accountable for staying within these guidelines, or they risk nonrenewal of their permit for future events.

Personally, I’ve fished in a couple of ice fishing derbies and taken part in a loose bullhead derby between friends where the winner is awarded nothing but an evening of bragging rights. While the later was good for a few jabs at the most or least proficient bullhead angler, the former was an excuse to spend a little time on the ice with my dad.

For me, hunting and fishing are about spending quality time outdoors, not about competition. But there are always two sides to every story, and many enjoy competitive contests. Whether to take part is an individual choice.


2 Comments on "Competition and the Outdoors"

  1. John C. Davis on Fri, 23rd Oct 2009 10:58 am 


    Are there any type of pheasant hunting contests in North Dakota?


  2. admin on Mon, 2nd Nov 2009 3:35 pm 

    Not that we’re aware of.

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