Harvesting Memories: Thanksgiving Afield

Harvesting Memories: Thanksgiving Afield

Thanksgiving, the quintessential (and my personal favorite) American holiday, is finally here as we go about prepping turkeys and gathering with family and friends for holiday feasts. Outdoorsmen of all stripes know that our lifestyle represents a unique tradition that sets apart our celebrations from the so-called “mainstream.” We look forward to the holiday weekend all year long as we anticipate braving the crisp November air to the echoes of camaraderie and laughter, crackling campfires, the boom of shotguns and the smell of freshly fired gunpowder and marinated wild game meats.

PheasantFest, Troutsgiving, RutVember and More
As an avowed fall angler and trout enthusiast, I’d be remiss if we didn’t cover Arkansas’ newest initiative, where anglers in the know can celebrate "Troutsgiving," named as a playful nod to combining the pursuit of the Robert Traver’s “king of fish”—the mighty rainbow trout—with the Thanksgiving spirit. “The cooler water lets us bring trout to some of our anglers who don’t get to visit the White River, Little Red River or any other of our famous trout tailwater fisheries,” said Maurice Jackson, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Family and Community Fishing Program coordinator, in reference to the state’s Troutsgiving stocking efforts. Stocked ponds are also still expected to maintain a healthy supply of channel catfish from spring and late summer stocking efforts in Arkansas, and anglers in other states can check state regulations books for in-season targets—from the legendary fall tuna bite on the East Coast (producing record catches in recent years) to fall steelhead and winter king runs on the West Coast.

If feathers are more your thing than fins, pheasant hunting is a time-honored Thanksgiving tradition (much the same as my family did for generations) from coast to coast—a time when all your uncles gather to hunt pheasants through stocking programs similar to Nebraska’s Game and Parks Commission initiative to get families outdoors for the Thanksgiving holiday. The notion of bonding over the pursuit of game is a vital aspect of the outdoor lifestyle, highlighting the shared experiences that hunting fosters. There are no greater joys, especially for first time or early-career hunters, than those of bagging game alongside loved ones, each moment etching memories as indelible as the fall scenery itself. Even in the bitter cold of Alaska, my 8-year-old and I will be chasing grouse.

Thanks, NRA, for Supporting Hunters Sharing the Harvest
Yet, in the spirit of gratitude and generosity, November isn't just about reeling in fish or bagging limits of fat rooster pheasants. As we all know, the spirit of Thanksgiving is rooted firmly in the urge to give back. The NRA designated this month as National Wild Game Meat Donation Month. The popularity of this initiative, which brings the health, conservation and community benefits of our hunting heritage to families less fortunate, is a testament to the kindness and generosity of hunters and showcases their commitment to supporting the communities in which we hunt as good stewards.

In fact, the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum director of communications and editor-in-chief Karen Mehall Phillips personally championed this cause, going so far as to pen the proclamation draft for the Governor of Wyoming to follow suit in declaring support for the program. It's a true testament to the community spirit of hunters, and as America embraces the season of giving, hunters continue to step up to ensure that no one is left hungry.

The Reason for The Season
So, as we gear up for Thanksgiving to give thanks, let’s tip our hats to the cherished traditions that unite us in the great outdoors. From family pheasant hunts in Nebraska and beyond to fishing for "Troutsgiving" in Arkansas or giving back by donating wild game to those in need, hunters embody the spirit and original intent of Thanksgiving beyond the confines of the dinner table.

As the chill of November settles in, I look forward to reveling in these traditions with my own children, celebrating not only the harvest of the land and waters but also the bounty of full hearts and full bellies in a full household. Happy Thanksgiving, fellow sportsmen and women. May your hearts be as full as your freezers.

About the Author
Cody McLaughlin is a conservationist and conservative thought leader on public policy issues including hunting, fishing, gun rights, free-market tax and wage policy and the environment. He recently launched Trout Stream Studios as an executive producer for podcasts and livestreams in the hunting and veterans’ affairs spaces, including for the popular Blood Origins podcast. He also works as an advertising consultant for conservative political causes, managing clients’ digital communications and online presence. He currently serves on the board of the Alaska Outdoor Council, the Last Frontier’s State’s NRA affiliate, and is a former board member and lead spokesman of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance.