How to Read a "How-To" Article
I've been reading every article I could get my hands on about the outdoors
since I was old enough to read. Over the years, I have noticed some
interesting similarities in the types of articles that you usually find.
Having nothing better to do during some of the winter months, I've tried to
figure out why these articles fall so easily into such a few categories,
and why so many of the subjects are so ridiculous? The only answer I come
up with is that there are a couple thousand outdoor writers across the
country who, every month, sit down at a blank piece of paper and try to
figure out how to fill it up.
by Peter Fischer
One of the outcomes of this flood of articles is the fact that you can take
almost any hairbrained idea and find an article somewhere that will support
it. The reality is that, at any given time, at any given place, ANYTHING
might work, as far as fishing or hunting technique goes. The problem is in
taking a unique incident and making people (readers) think that it will
work consistently - just by publishing it.
Take decoy placement, for example. I've read articles about the "J"
pattern, the "V" pattern, the "Inverted J", the
"Forget-the-Pattern-and-Get-Lots-of-Dekes-Out-There," and the "Only Use
Magnums," the "How To Mix Magnums and Regular Size," and the "Use the
Motorized Decoys," and "Put a Crane in Your Spread," etc., etc., etc.!
During deep winter, my buddy, Steve, and I spend Saturday afternoons
watching sports on TV in front of the fire and argue about duck hunting. It
seems that no matter what we argue about, we can both dig out totally
conflicting articles that support each of our cases.
Most of the articles I see seem to fall into three distinct categories. It
has been this way since I was a kid, and I suspect it won't change during
First, there's the "Here's the Story of My Trip" article. These are formula
articles, and always start the same way. "The splash as the lunker trout
hit the water was the first sound I heard, while the pre-dawn mist was
still on the river," or, "I awoke while it was still dark with the sound of
the bugling elk echoing in the mountains around me," etc.
All that's needed to whip out an article like this is an understanding of
the formula and a couple of good color photos. In my opinion, these can be
the most entertaining articles of all, and every once in a while you can
learn something that might be useful on your own trips.
The second type of article is the, "What's New" piece. It is generally
titled something like this: "Camo Toilet Paper - Elk Hunter's Best
Friend," or, "Magnum Spinners for Lunker Bluegill," or, "New Thirteen Foot
Fly Rod Doubles as CB Antenna!" etc.
I find these articles interesting, usually because they demonstrate how
desperate the sporting goods industry is in trying to find new products for
us to spend our money on. I would never have any use for most of them, but
occasionally I'll run across a really clever idea - which will most likely
wind up on my Christmas list.
The last and most common type of article is the "How To." I would guess
that many outdoor writers, when faced with a deadline and not having a
"Story of My Trip" or "What's New" piece ready to roll, will resort to "How
To." Some examples of typical-sounding "How-Tos":
"How to Make A Beer Can Elk Call"
"How to Use Hair From the Back of Your Leg to Make a Great Dry Fly"
"How to Stalk Antelope from a Hot Air Balloon"
But, don't think an article has to have "How To" in its title to be in this
category. "Bullfrog Tongues - Hottest New Bait for Catfish," "Building a
Practice Duck Blind in Your Bathtub" and "New Strategies for Bribing
Farmers to Let You Hunt on Their Land" are also good examples of "How Tos."
I enjoy most outdoor activities, and am an amateur at all of them. As a
result, I'm ALWAYS looking for ideas as to how I can improve my experiences
in the outdoors (and the How-To writers know that). I want to know how to
be: more comfortable, more knowledgeable than my competitors, more
productive, and safer.
The problem is: most of the How-To articles I read either don't apply to
what I do, or seem so far-out that they're just not believable, or have a
price tag attached that would bust my budget for the year! SO, here are my
How-To suggestions for reading How-To articles:
First - Read them as entertainment. If your experience is like mine, you'll
find little information in these articles that you can really use in your
outdoor trips. They are, however, often well-written and worth a little
time to read if only for the enjoyment of reading about things you care
Second - If you luck out and stumble across an article that could possible
apply effectively to your hunting and fishing style, make a mental note of
the ideas that might be worth a try.
Third - The next time you're out in the field, and everything goes wrong,
think back to the ideas you have stored in that compost heap of information
called your memory, and see if you can dust off one or two ideas to try.
Remember, "When you ain't got nuthin', you got nuthin' to lose."
Fourth - If something actually does work for you, write your own article!
Just put a slightly different twist on it, your own personal experience
into it. We'll devour it.