Stranger In A Strange Land is a new series in which we ask someone to experience the people, places, and things that Hartford has to offer that they normally wouldn’t in their day-to-day lives and write about it. It’s about discovering everything that our amazing city has to offer through the eyes of those doing it for the first time.

The Northeast Fishing & Hunting Expo took place at the Connecticut Convention Center on February 12-14. In this edition of Stranger In A Strange Land we decide to send a non-hunter (and vegetarian) to the show. These are his stories. (Insert cool Law & Order noise here.)

I’ve only ever been fishing one time in my life. It was such a harrowing experience I never wanted to partake in it again. When I was about nine years old, my father, in the most impulsive of impulse buys purchased what, I think, could technically be called a boat. It was a small, little dinghy of a thing that, in hindsight, probably wasn’t officially seaworthy. But there we were, one glorious summer day, bobbing up and down on the Barnegat Bay, a man determined to teach his son how to fish and a son determined not to drown. The only thing we caught that day was two cases of sunburn and a mussel. I caught the mussel. But pulling something out of the sea that looks like Mother Nature left a clam in the oven for too long should never be considered a win. My one “hunting” experience was even lamer. My brother, who is an avid hunter, asked me to try out his new crossbow on a hay bale target on the other side of his backyard. Truth be told I was living out a brief Daryl Dixon/Walking Dead fantasy, not dreaming of bagging a buck.

For reasons having nothing to do with that ill-fated fishing expedition, or The Great Mussel Calamity of 1984, I’ve been a staunch vegetarian for lo these last 20 years. So it’s with this background that I was (dare I say, somewhat sadistically) asked to attend the Northeast Fishing and Hunting Expo at the Connecticut Convention Center on a frigid Friday afternoon, the guinea pig in a new social experiment conducted by Hartford.com. I just needed to Wikipedia first if guinea pigs were hunted in Connecticut, just to be safe.

I had some idea of what to expect, figuring that all of these expos run a similar course – vendors selling specific items geared towards the general interests of the patrons, activities for the kids, informational booths of various sorts, and product/service booths that seem to always show up at these things (i.e. gutter guards or cell phone companies). This particular expo was no different.

The vendors selling specific items carried everything you could think of in the worlds of hunting and fishing. Booths were packed with rods, reels, flotation devices of various sizes and styles, a plethora of hunting accouterments, and, of course, lots of guns. My first observation was the amount of taxidermy present. FAO Schwartz didn’t carry as many stuffed animals as what could be found here. For someone who had never been to one of these things it was an equally impressive and bizarre development. As one vendor put it this was, “the world’s safest petting zoo.” Here are some of the things you could pet:

 

What does the fox say? Nothing. Because he's dead.

What does the fox say? Nothing. Because he’s dead.

 

Excuse me, can we show you our beaver?

Excuse me, can we show you our beaver?

 

Stiff Kitty, cold kitty, little ball of fur...

Stiff Kitty, cold kitty, little ball of fur…

My absolute favorite part was the stuff for kids. There was an array of activities for children ranging from toddler to pre-teen. But the best one was what I dubbed “Fishing for Tykes.” Picture a professional fisherman, sitting in a mock boat, giant rod & reel in hand, ready to pull in a marlin or maybe Moby Dick. Only on the other end of his line were kids in harnesses trying as hard as they can to run in the opposite direction while he gently reeled them back in. Here’s what it looked like:

Fishing for children

Nope. Too small. Throw him back.

In my head, Jeremy Wade from that show River Monsters was dramatically narrating it all in his thick British accent. (“My name is Jeremy Wade and today we’re hunting for one of the most vicious predators I’ve ever encountered…”) I have no idea what the point of this exercise actually was. Was it to test the strength of a certain type of fishing line? Was it simply a Festivus-like Feat of Strength? Who cares, I was mesmerized regardless of purpose. I had visions of this becoming a fun and inventive way of dealing with my own kids in various public spaces. I could see myself at the super market, rod in hand. “Where’s your brother,” I ask. Oh, he’s all the way in the produce section? Not anymore he’s not. With the flick of the wrist and the clicking of the reel I would start to bring in my toddler. He’d be flapping around like a fish cresting the water, other parents watching in amazement. Maybe I’d even climb into the grocery cart to get the sensation of the big fish pulling my ‘boat’ around the store as he struggled to make a break for the candy isle, all the while yelling “Fish On! Fish On!”

The folks who run these booths are very eager to talk to you about what they do and why they do it, especially if you admit early in the conversation that you don’t hunt or fish. I learned a few things while I was there:

• Did you know that the coyote is the only animal in Connecticut that you can hunt year round, with the exception of two weeks during turkey season?

• Did you know that China, Russia, and Greece are the top three importers of pelts and furs from the U.S.?

• Did you know that muskrats mate all year long and can have as many as 20+ babies at a time?

This last tidbit gives a whole new dimension to that atrocious “Muskrat Love” song. Captain and Tennille were dirtier than we thought. It also means that moving forward we should replace rabbits with muskrats when speaking about reproductive proclivity. I bet muskrats are big Barry White fans.

This used to be a cow. Now it's a rug. Feel free to moooooove it from room to room.

This used to be a cow. Now it’s a rug. Feel free to moooooove it from room to room.

It’s said that you can find art in anything. This is even true at the hunting and fishing expo. One booth, called Holes In The Woods, featured an artist who took hunks of wood from downed trees and turned them into everything from mirrors to woodland dioramas. They were amazing and for me proved to be the most fascinating booth there. Unfortunately he also seemed to be a fish out of water (pun intended) because my fellow attendees seemed much more captivated by the pick-up trucks and pontoon boats on display than these works of art. I’d even go so far as to say that maybe he showed up to the Convention Center a week early and should be displaying his wares at the Flower & Garden Show instead. (Editor’s Note: He was, in fact, a vendor at the Flower & Garden Show as well.)

Fishing & Hunting Expo

If the point of this exercise was for me to step out of my comfort zone and experience something I never would, then mission accomplished a thousand times over. I’ve never overheard so many conversations in one place about killing things or animals killing other animals. But I also have never been around so many people who view what they do as a means to put food on their tables and to reconnect with living off the land the way all of our ancestors did prior to the advent of grocery stores. Will I return to this expo again? Probably not. But at least the next time I’m on a hike and I see a muskrat if it looks like he or she is smiling I’ll know why. You do you, muskrat. You do you.