7 Life Lessons the Outdoors Taught Me

By Tom Claycomb III

The outdoors can teach us
countless lessons —

here are 7 you shouldn’t forget!

Outdoor life lessons learned

As a young rodeo champ, the author learned some good life lessons. (Photo: Tom Claycomb III)

How observant are you? Over the years I’ve witnessed a lot of things in the outdoors — and learned many of life’s lessons from what I’ve seen. Here are just a few, in no particular order.

1. Ever sneak up on a herd of deer and notice one doe that’s super vigilant? She’ll bob her head and stomp her feet — it’s maddening. If it weren’t for her warning the others and spooking them to take cover, I’d have made a million easy kills by now. (OK, maybe only a half million …)

What’s the lesson? The world has all kinds of dangers humans need to watch out for, too. Some threaten life, others destroy relationships. When I’m with my family and friends, I need to be more like that doe and notice danger when others don’t.

2. You’ve probably noticed when the big bucks fall, or when wary gobblers come running to a call. It’s when they’re chasing the girls. Back in ’73, I won the Bareback Champion saddle at the Winnett Indoor Arena. Hoyt Winnett took me aside and asked, “Have you ever heard of …?” and named a couple of great rodeo riders. “Yeah, everyone has!” I said. Then he asked, “Have you ever heard of …?” and named another rider. “No, never heard of him,” I replied. Then he said, “We started all those boys. The last one was just as good as the others, but women and whisky ruined him. You’ll do fine, Tom, just avoid the women and whisky.”

What’s the lesson? The habits that kill the mighty and majestic in the outdoors can do the same with men. I’ve seen many fall and lose everything since Hoyt gave me that sage advice years ago.

Little Jack fly fishing

My best buddy Dude Kissel was fly fishing in elk camp. Unbeknownst to us, little Jack had been watching his dad and thought he’d give it a try. We think that’s cute, but that’s not the issue. The issue is kids are watching, so what kind of example are you going to be? (Photo: Tom Claycomb III)

3. Nowadays, everyone idolizes and indulges their pets, but not many years ago — before they reached this royal status — household animals were trained for a purpose. Have you ever hunted with a dog that ran 100 yards in front of everyone flushing all the pheasants? Ever have a dog run off so you spend the morning hunting for him? Have you ever been on a pack trip and had a horse spook, and wipe out a pack train? We had one spook and roll himself and two mules down the mountain into the river below. That horse ended up as bear bait.

What’s the lesson? An untrained animal is useless, maybe even harmful. It’s the same with kids. They won’t ever get a job or be productive in life if they aren’t conditioned to be productive. Training people or animals to be useful, disciplined and productive is just one way we show them love.

4. Donuts are like crack cocaine to bears. Habituate a bear to a pile of pastries and you’ll likely get a good shot. Grain is the downfall of horses. Approach a straying horse with a bucket of oats and you can probably catch him. A trapper knows the importance of bait. A mousetrap always has free cheese. Every animal needs to eat, and you can use food to gain control.

What’s the lesson? Yes, food is necessary for life, but if you can be controlled by your stomach you can be controlled by others. You don’t necessarily need to diet, but eating right puts you in control. However, this lesson is about more than food. Remember this — the better the bait, the worse the deal. Be wary of deals that are too good to be true.

5. I do a lot of knife-related seminars at some of the major conservation organization conventions and sport shows. I’m always amazed at how sliding a knife’s edge along a steel produces such incredible sharpness.

What’s the lesson? The same is true of men. If we want to be our best we need to choose an inner circle, those we allow to get close to us and influence us, because iron sharpens iron. We’re better men when we respect the advice we’re given by trusted friends. (Brace yourself now — you might even need to listen to your wife!)

Iron sharpens iron - sharpening a Havalon blade

Iron sharpens iron. Even a used Havalon blade can be tuned up on a sharpening steel. Likewise, one man sharpens another, too. (Photo: Tom Claycomb III)

6. Does it make sense to throw your line into a trout hole and beat the water to a froth? Or to study the hole, see where the trout are feeding, what they’re hitting and how they’re using the current — all before you wet a line?

What’s the lesson? Don’t be impulsive. Give some thought to a new idea before you try it. Study new situations and come up with a game plan before you jump in. Not many situations in life turn out very well if you don’t approach them with a plan, even if your plan has to change.

7. There are seasons in the outdoors. Winter predator season. Spring gobbler season and bear season. Summer crows and varmints. Fall whitetails and elk. Then there’s morel hunting, and crappie fishing. Everything in its due time.

What’s the lesson? Life has its seasons, too. When your kids are small, maximize your time with them. That season will change soon enough — they’ll become teenagers and you’ll lose that special teaching relationship. You’ll have plenty of time for personal interests later.

Being outdoors with your kids can teach great life lessons

I’m sure people bond playing soccer or other sports, but the ultimate is being in the outdoors with your kid. Seek opportunities to be together — just you and them. (Photo: Tom Claycomb III)

Every outdoor experience offers lessons worth learning. What are some you’ve learned?


Author Tom Claycomb IIIAbout Tom Claycomb III:

Tom lives in Idaho writes outdoor articles for various newspapers, magazines and websites. If it’s something outdoors, he probably likes it. You can read some more of his writings at: www.Amazon.com, www.TomclayComb3.com, and www.BassPro.com.


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