America the Beautiful

Hunting and fishing in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The right to hunt and fish across millions of acres of land is an icon of American freedom, one that has burned brightly in the mind's eye of many young Americans who, over the years, have shipped out to fight for-and die for-our country. In celebration of America and our unassailable right to liberty, Field & Stream presents a photographic tribute to the American sporting experience, our most American ritual of freedom.

These are images that capture the essence of wildness, of companionship, of home, of independence.

In short, of America.

Touchstone
by Lionel Atwill

I landed in Vietnam in January 1968, the day after the Tet offensive broke out. We were mortared as we got off the plane. I knew then and there it would be a long year. A butter-bar lieutenant, I was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division as a Recon platoon leader with the 2/18th Infantry. Given the timing and my job, only the military was dumb enough to give me a life-insurance policy.

But I came home a year later less scarred and a hell of a lot less dead than many of the guys who served in Nam. I segued into civilian life quickly-a bit too quickly, perhaps. I got married, bought a house and a dog, got a job, and put Vietnam behind me. Or so I thought.

Three or four years later, a friend asked me if I would like to go to his deer camp. I'd grown up hunting-got my first rifle, a .22, when I was 6 and my first shotgun when I was 12-but college, then the Army, and then my rush back to a normal life had overshadowed my desire and my opportunities to hunt. My friend insisted, however, and that fall I found myself deep in the Adirondacks at a squalid lean-to, a camp that had been nurtured over three generations.

I also found myself back in Vietnam. I saw trip wires in the bush. The scurry of a squirrel was a squad of NVA waiting in ambush. When the late-fall sun dropped behind the mountains in midafternoon, I could feel myself tense, certain that mortars would soon rain down.

Those first few days in deer camp I fought a battle nearly as intense as anything I had experienced in Asia. I fought most of it alone in my mind, until one evening my friend asked me what Vietnam had been like. His question was honest and straightforward, lacking the challenge and rancor that so often accompanied the same question when posed by someone of my generation. My friend was older than me by 10 years, a kid of the '50s whose draft years fell in the peaceful crack between Korea and Vietnam. He simply wanted to know what had happened, what it had been like, and in his own way he wanted to let me know that he respected me for what I had done. So I told him.

The next day, the woods became less hostile. I stopped looking for trip wires, though for a while, as I walked miles from camp, slinking through dense spruce thickets and climbing to the tops of mountains, I found myself actually looking for the bad guys. But instead of finding ambushes and base camps, I found serenity. Slowly the evil evaporated, and I began to see the woods as an unchanging touchstone for my life. At night, over venison steaks and bourbon, I continued to tell my stories to sympathetic, attentive listeners. After several years of keeping it all in, I had come out of the Vietnam closet. I came out in a deer camp.

Thirty-three years have passed since I served in Vietnam. I don't dwell on it anymore, though rarely a day passes when I don't think about it. The wife up and left, the dog died, the house was sold, and the jobs have come and gone, but hunting has remained my touchstone, the constant in my life that has transcended all the ups and downs along the way. And my hunting pals, as valuable to me as the experience itself, have become my tribe. Whenever I go into the woods-to sit out a turkey, to stalk a deer, to kick up a grouse-I return with a profound sense of peace d order and clarity. I rarely look for trip wires anymore.

Homecoming
by Geoffrey Norman

The day seemed as if it didn't want to end. We had been paddling and fishing for 10 or 11 hours, and that seemed like enough, even though it was still broad daylight. So we beached the canoe on a small, nameless island that was mostly spruce and beech. We laid a fire, cleaned the fish we had kept-a couple of smallmouths and one walleye-put up the tent, and did all the usual housekeeping.

When we had finished all that, there was still too much daylight to start cooking supper or pouring whiskey. But it was too late to lie down for a nap. "Nothing for it," my brother said, "but to keep on fishing."

"Darn the bad luck," Bill, his old college roommate, said.

"Yeah. Fish, fish, fish. All we ever do is fish. How do you get a transfer out of this chicken outfit, anyway."

"Not happening, bro," I said. "So hat up."

I took the stern and paddled while my brother and Bill worked the bank with topwater plugs. It seemed as though I didn't take more than three or four strokes on the paddle before one of them had another strike. None of us had ever had fishing like this before. Nor had we been in country like this before. We were all Southerners, and here we were up on the Canadian border, in the old voyageur country, a mosaic of lakes and islands that had us feeling both awe and a sort of gratitude that is, I suppose, one of the reasons for going off into new country to fish or hunt.

Gratitude, surely, had to be part of what my brother was feeling, given where he'd just come from. I'd set this trip up for him because they weren't giving parades for the guys coming home from Vietnam. Not in 1971. We fished for another two or three hours. The loons were in full throat by then. We got the fire going and opened the bottle and sat on our air mattresses and talked. About the sort of things that you talk about in those circumstances. We cooked bacon for grease and then potatoes and fish fillets in the grease.

"Man," Bill said, "this walleye is special."

We cleaned up the dishes, built up the fire, and waited for the light to die, which took a very long time.

After a while, my brother said, idly, that it reminded him of where he'd just come from. The way the light kept hanging around, that is.

Then he told us the story about how his company had been cut off from a fire base called Rip Cord in the A Shau Valley. He was the forward observer, and he'd stayed on the radio all night long, calling in artillery support and illumination. The 105 howitzers back at the fire base fired illumination rounds over their heads all night long.

"We were moving to an LZ where we could set up a perimeter and get the choppers in to take our dead and wounded out."

It had been a long night, he said.

Then he changed the subject-to fishing and what great country this is. I read about Rip Cord later, in a very good Vietnam novel called The 13th Valley. It was worse than my brother let on. Then, or later.

Every night, for the rest of the trip, we would stay up after we had finished eating and cleaning up the dishes. We would pass the bottle around and listen to the loons and watch the light die. One night, late in the trip, my brother said, "You know, if it's going to be light when it should be dark, then this is what it should look like. It's a lot better than illumination rounds."

Then he slapped me on the shoulder and said, "Great trip, bro, I really appreciate it. I'll take this over a parade every time."

** Lost and Found**
by Wayne Mcloughlin

When high school ended, I became a class clown without a circus, a juvenile joker with vague dreams of tramp steamers and exotic lands where sultry blondes would ask me if I knew how to whistle. Naturally, when the Marine Corps recruiter promised shipboard travel to faraway places, I enlisted.

My first two years were an adrenaline rush of chopper rides, amphibious landings, survival schools, and rifle practice, interwoven with all the hedonistic adventures one could indulge in on $76 a month. Then came the day when we were actually expected to earn our wages. On March 8, 1965, my outfit (the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade) landed at Da Nang. The fun part was ending. The Vietnam War had begun for me.

Six surreal months later, all of the patrols, roadblocks, ambushes, and listening posts finally ended. After the longest nights and weirdest days I've ever experienced, our unit was headed home. Some of us had been killed, some of us had been wounded, but all of us had been changed. My old school friends said I seemed like a different person. I wasn't funny anymore. And when my sense of humor did make an appearance, it showed a dark and bitter edge. And why not? Life suddenly had become a very serious proposition that could end quickly.

Alienated and adrift, I began pulling away from all the people I'd known before, family and friends alike, choosing instead to spend more and more time alone in the outdoors. I understood the woods and rivers; they always had been a haven, a place of balance and clarity. After Vietnam, those were two commodities in very short supply.

It took a long time and many miles with pack and paddle, but somewhere out in the bush, I finally left the war behind, freeing it to become a memory. The wilderness, the world of trout, birds, and deer, and the simple pleasures of hunting and fishing with like-minded friends, had given me joy, a profound sense of being alive, and the certain knowledge of where I belonged. I was home.ow to whistle. Naturally, when the Marine Corps recruiter promised shipboard travel to faraway places, I enlisted.

My first two years were an adrenaline rush of chopper rides, amphibious landings, survival schools, and rifle practice, interwoven with all the hedonistic adventures one could indulge in on $76 a month. Then came the day when we were actually expected to earn our wages. On March 8, 1965, my outfit (the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade) landed at Da Nang. The fun part was ending. The Vietnam War had begun for me.

Six surreal months later, all of the patrols, roadblocks, ambushes, and listening posts finally ended. After the longest nights and weirdest days I've ever experienced, our unit was headed home. Some of us had been killed, some of us had been wounded, but all of us had been changed. My old school friends said I seemed like a different person. I wasn't funny anymore. And when my sense of humor did make an appearance, it showed a dark and bitter edge. And why not? Life suddenly had become a very serious proposition that could end quickly.

Alienated and adrift, I began pulling away from all the people I'd known before, family and friends alike, choosing instead to spend more and more time alone in the outdoors. I understood the woods and rivers; they always had been a haven, a place of balance and clarity. After Vietnam, those were two commodities in very short supply.

It took a long time and many miles with pack and paddle, but somewhere out in the bush, I finally left the war behind, freeing it to become a memory. The wilderness, the world of trout, birds, and deer, and the simple pleasures of hunting and fishing with like-minded friends, had given me joy, a profound sense of being alive, and the certain knowledge of where I belonged. I was home.