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Outdoor experiences for more than just hicks and hillbillies

Hoggin’ is one wildest things Dale Bowman has experienced (Rend Lake 2004) but TV show ‘‘Hillbilly Handfishin’  ’’ makes him questihow

Hoggin’ is one of the wildest things Dale Bowman has experienced (at Rend Lake in 2004), but the TV show ‘‘Hillbilly Handfishin’  ’’ makes him question how sportsmen are perceived. | Dale Bowman~For the Sun-Times

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Updated: November 10, 2011 5:59PM

Our Monday conversations wander. They range from the gritty aspects of marital sex to the nuances of practical theology — sometimes in the same sentence — to hunting or fishing trips we shared.

‘‘I was sitting on the sofa, doing — what do you call it?’’ my dad asked last week.

‘‘Surfing,’’ I said.

When our mother was near the end, the six Bowman siblings each took a day of the week (God could handle Sunday) to call and check in.

I stuck with my Monday calls after my mother passed because I value the conversations. Sometimes I think my dad values them because he can delve into subjects openly with his black-sheep son, but that might be vanity on my part.

‘‘And I see this show, ‘Hillbilly .   .   . ,’  ’’ he said, trying to pull up the name.

Oh, I knew it.

‘‘  ‘Hillbilly Handfishin’,’  ” I said.

There was a silence. I could visualize the head that bears a remarkable resemblance to mine shaking back and forth in puzzlement.

‘‘I don’t know,’’ he finally said.

That’s as damning a condemnation as he’ll give anything. I’ll give it a stronger curse: ‘‘Hillbilly Handfishin’  ’’ makes sportsmen look like damn fools.

The thing is, I handfished for flatheads and channel catfish on Rend Lake seven years ago. And I loved it. I highly recommend it as an intimate way to learn about catfish and their environment. In southern Illinois, it’s called hoggin’. The more common terms are noodlin’ or handfishin’.

But nuances are everything.

Handfishin’ is part of life in parts of the country. If ‘‘Hillbilly Handfishin’   ’’ simply represented a slice of an unusual lifestyle, it would be a different show, another version of ‘‘Swamp People.’’

To turn media critic for a moment, ‘‘Swamp People’’ is a slice of life that most of us have no inkling about whatsoever; it teaches us another view of the world.

By contrast, ‘‘Hillbilly Handfishin’  ’’ is a contrived TV stunt with the outdoors as its overt theme. But its true theme — one rotten to the core — is that hands-on outdoors experience is the stuff of hicks or hillbillies, as the name implies.

The name of Andy Simo came back to me earlier this month. As a prelude to archery deer hunting in 2004, I did an interview with the founder of New Archery Products, literally the cutting-edge in archery hunting equipment.

Simo had taken one of the most fascinating journeys of anybody I had interviewed — from being born in pre-Hitler Czechoslovakia to having a father who ran a Berwyn tavern (Andy’s Old-Timers Club, a shot-and-beer joint on Ridgeland) to being an aerospace engineer to designing innovative arrowheads.

Near the end of our interview, Simo went off about how hunters need to present themselves better. He said too many looked like slobs when they went out to eat lunch or dinner on hunting excursions. My initial thought was, ‘‘Well, isn’t that some elitist stuff.’’

But I see his point more and more, even on a personal level.

The opening day of dove hunting Sept. 1 was the hottest weather I ever hunted in. They carried one hunter out with heat exhaustion.

At the end of the hunt, I stopped by the nearest Shell to replenish. As I walked in with a sopping T-shirt and tattered cut-offs, Simo’s spiel popped into my head. I bought my bottle of water and can of Arizona Iced Tea anyway, but at least there was a recognition, a sense of guilt, about how I looked as a hunter.

I really shouldn’t be contributing to the idea of ‘‘Hillbilly Huntin’ .’’ None of us should.

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