The State of Hunting and Fishing, Post 9/11

In the early 1970s, when I began flying to hunt, you could take a rifle on board a plane in a soft case and ask the stewardess (which is what they were called then) to give it to the pilot and have him keep it in the cockpit. Contrast this with last year, when prior to flying home from a hunt, a vigilant security employee relieved me of a 1/2-inch safety pin before I was allowed to board.

At the Charlestown, West Virginia, airport a couple of years ago, a bunch of my fellow gun writers were forbidden (in contradiction of TSA policy) to take riflescopes with them onto the plane by a dedicated if brain-damaged TSA agent who informed them that the scopes “…could be used as clubs.”

Nor is fishing immune. New York City gets its water from a series of rivers that flow from the Catskill Mountains north of the city into a reservoir system. Prior to 9/11, you needed a permit to fish any part of this system. It was granted pro forma, and was good indefinitely. Immediately after 9/11, all permit holders were told that their cards were no longer valid, and that they must turn them in and await new ones before they did any angling in the city’s water system.

We were issued handsome new permit cards and placards which had to be displayed in our car windows when we parked to fish. But that wasn’t the end of it. Formerly, no one cared much if you had a reservoir card. Now they did. Deeply.

As an example: I am given to fishing a spot called the Five Arches Bridge on Willowemoc Creek (actually a river) that you can reach only by parking and then hiking half a mile through the woods.

On several occasions, I have been accosted at the Five Arches pullover by agents of the D.E.P. (which, I learned to my surprise, did not stand for David E. Petzal, but Department of Environmental Protection). These encounters always follow the same script. The agents are in Lethal Pounce Mode and demand to see my card. I mean, here is this geezer (me) whose most lethal accoutrement is a 5-weight flyrod, and they are acting like I have a copy of the Koran in one pocket of my fly vest and 50 pounds of botulinus extract in another.

I was curious about what kind of havoc someone could wreak with New York’s water supply by meddling with the Willy (as its fans call it) and asked a friend of mine who is not only a terrorism expert but a formidable angler.

“You’d have to get a railroad car full of poison and dump it,” he said.

Sometimes problems arise because people don’t know anything about guns--or bows and arrows. Last year at the airport I had to show a cop how a lever-action rifle worked. This past June, a friend of mine put his compound-bow case on the check-in counter at JFK airport. The ticket agent asked him what was in it and he said, “A bow.”

“Is it loaded?” she snarled. She was not kidding.

But the all-time example of security run amok doesn't even involve a gun or a bow. It involves the Medal of Honor and one of our most distinguished outdoorsmen, who made the mistake of carrying his Medal of Honor through Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix on January 11, 2002. His name was Joseph J. Foss, and in case you aren't familiar with his record, here it is in brief:
1: As a Marine Corps aviator, Foss was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
2: He was twice elected Governor of South Dakota
3: He was the first commissioner of the American Football League.
4: He served as president of the National Rifle Association, and was host of the television show, "The American Sportsman."

Foss, who was 86 at the time and lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, was attempting to board a flight to Washington, D.C. to attend an NRA meeting, and from there he was to continue to West Point to address the cadets. Thus, he carried the Medal, which he thought they might like to see. In his pockets he also had a bullet with hole drilled through it for a keychain, a metal nail file bearing the inscription from his Medal of Honor, and the Medal itself.

Foss could not go through the metal detector because he wore a pacemaker, but when he was wanded, the hardware showed up. Despite the inscription on the Medal’s back, which stated why it was awarded, and to whom, and when, the people who grilled him had no idea what it was. After being harassed for 45 minutes by two separate security crews, the verdict was that the bullet was “ammunition” and would have to be mailed home, as would the nail file, since metal nail files are prohibited from aircraft cabins under FAA regulations. (It’s not hard to see how an 86-year-old man with a pacemaker could take over a plane with a nail file.)

Foss was allowed to keep his Medal of Honor. He was not bitter about the incident--he knew we needed airport security--but he was unable to comprehend a United States of America whose citizens did not know what a Medal of Honor was.

Joe Foss passed away on New Year’s Day, 2003, his duty to his country done. Sadly, it was hardly the same country he had served so valiantly as a Marine aviator.