Outspoken outdoors writer has right to his own opinion

Have you ever wondered if something you said on the spur of the moment - let's say an honest opinion about a hunk of metal and plastic - would torch your job and career?

I'm sure that most of us don't worry about speaking our minds. It's what makes this country strong.

But I'm worried.

I'm worried because an outdoor writer named Jim Zumbo - author of 23 books and "Outdoor Life" writer and editor since 1962 - lost his job and his career after writing a Feb. 16 blog about AR-15 rifles.

Zumbo said he was against using AR-15 rifles - the semi-automatic civilian version of the rifle our Marines and soldiers carry - for hunting. "Outdoor Life" dumped Zumbo, and so did most of the sponsors for his television show.

Whether Zumbo was right or wrong about using AR-15 rifles for hunting isn't really the issue here.

The issue is whether our society is splintering into factions that can't tolerate anyone with slightly different beliefs.

I'm afraid that we're all gathering in groups to glare at each other over fences - and I'm just talking about the outdoors world.

Since when is anyone evil for saying what they believe?

We can't all be alike

The Zumbo controversy - OK, let's just call it for what is really is, which is a burning at the stake of a good man - shows how a slightly different opinion than the party line can get you in a lot of trouble.

Log on to the Internet, and you'll find plenty of pro-gun bloggers celebrating Zumbo's fall from grace - for one opinion that differs from theirs.

It's important to realize that Zumbo - a strong supporter of the National Rifle Association for decades - didn't call for banning AR-15 rifles. He was just talking about how he felt about hunters using those weapons to hunt game.

I hope all outdoor people realize we are more alike than we are different. We all love the outdoors - and we all depend on the tolerance of others.

If we can't live with the differences among ourselves, how can we expect most of the people in our increasingly urban society to tolerate hunting, angling, target shooting or anything else?

Our entire society depends on people understanding our differences - and living with each other.

I've had ignorant people say horrible things to me while I was fishing, surfing, snowboarding, skiing, hunting and even cycling.

Yes, I have my own dislikes.

I really, really hate Jet Skis - they whine and rattle like chainsaws on steroids and spook the bejabbers out of the fish I'm trying to catch.

I understand that lots of people love their Jet Skis, so I go to the lake early in the morning and late in the day - when those wretched machines are docked and silent.

I would never support a movement to ban Jet Skis. We all find our outdoors joy in different ways.

We can't all be hardcore gun people, and we can't all feel the same way about AR-15 rifles. This planet would be one boring place if we all felt the same way.

Hunting thoughts

I own two firearms: a Browning 12-gauge shotgun and a Browning Hi-Power 9mm handgun.

I've hunted upland birds and ducks. I've killed - and eaten - one deer. I discovered that deer hunting wasn't for me in the process.

I think it's great that millions of other people love to deer hunt.

I haven't shot the Hi-Power handgun - which was developed for war and is not commonly used for hunting - in years.

I hope to do a lot more hunting for quail and pheasant.

Hunting - if done legally and safely - isn't for everyone, but it is the pinnacle of life for many.

Good hunters are at one with the outdoors, and there is simple honesty in killing your own food.

Don't like hunting? That's fine - don't do it. But don't impose your values on other good people.

A good man

Zumbo is one of the true experts on western hunting. He's aimed a rifle at deer in all 50 states, and few people know more about elk.

I've talked with Zumbo at outdoor shows a few times, and he's always been classy and gracious.

He's given me advice on good fishing spots in the Rocky Mountains, and he's answered my silly questions about elk behavior.

Zumbo is a good man. Like the rest of us, he is not perfect.

An honest opinion is no reason to trash a person.

The outdoors brings out the best in most people. We learn a lot about ourselves - and each other.

We need to remember that.

Chester Allen's Outdoors column appears Tuesdays in The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-4226 or callen@theolympian.com.