On Second Thought

by Chris Elkins

Published: December 4,2000

“Animals are like people in many ways, especially their tendency to follow familiar paths and the

easiest and most direct route.”

My Grandfather, 1966, deep in a Smith County swamp

Many retailers are worried, and they should be worried.

Commerce on the Internet is growing at a phenomenal pace. Even toy stores are advertising online.

Fathers can now buy all of their children’s toys and even a nice gift for their wife without ever leaving

the comfort of home.

Some speculate that this Christmas season may be the one of the worst on record for retailers. The

shopping season began this past weekend with mixed results. It will be a couple of weeks before the

experts begin to assess the full impact of Internet commerce on the holiday retail market.

Like many Southern males, I avoid Christmas shopping for as long as possible. Malls are a kind of

repellent, as far as I am concerned. I just can not imagine why anyone in their right mind would want to

spend a “relaxing day” at the shopping mall. Hordes of people frequent these meccas of corporate

America daily. Hunting, for Southern men and some women, is a way to avoid all the insanity.

For the most part, I consider my wife to be a rather sensible and practical woman. She enjoys a good

football game, is a danger to life and wing for rising quail, and only occasionally spends a “relaxing

day shopping.” Something about the holiday season changes her, however, and like millions of other

otherwise rational individuals, she loses it the day after Thanksgiving. She is always out there, shoulder

to shoulder with countless others, in search of those great early Christmas deals. It is like some kind of

disease!

Fortunately, I was immunized very early in life. My grandfather, who lives in rural Smith County,

introduced me to hunting at age three. I remember that Christmas for a number of reasons, primarily

because my sister was born on Dec. 3 of that year and I was sent off to stay with the grandparents while

my parents adjusted to having a new member of the family. When grandmother went shopping, we went

hunting. It would be many years later before I realized the true gift grandfather had given me, that is,

other than a way to avoid Christmas shopping.

Hunting was a series of lessons about life and death, all under the carefully supervised tutelage of my

grandfather. He approaches hunting and all sports from a very different perspective. He studies the

habits and activities of his adversary, whether it be a squirrel or an opposing team. Losses are an

opportunity for reflection, personal growth and learning. I learned a lot about myself and the world

following my grandfather through the woods as a child.

The full impact my grandfather had on my life was not realized until my senior year in high school. A

neighbor was having a very difficult time catching a fox that was stealing chickens. He had been trying

for weeks to catch the thief with no success. Others had also tried and failed. I offered to give it a try

and the following day presented him with the fox just after daylight. Astonished, he asked, “What is

your secret.”

Without even thinking I blurted, “Animals are like people in many ways, especially their tendency to

follow familiar paths and the easiest and most direct route.”

It was the very first hunting lesson my grandfather taught me. My response even surprised me a little.

Unfortunately, I missed the first week of deer hunting season this year. Apparently I was not alone.

According to recently published reports, hunters are not spending as much time in the woods as they

once did. There could be a number of explanations for this phenomenon. Perhaps the multitude of

football games available on cable television is an attractive alternative to sitting in a tree stand on a cold

winter day. Or maybe the urbanization of our society is the culprit. I have a theory.

Perhaps there is a connection between the decline in the population of hunters and the rise of Internet

commerce. If you can shop from the computer at home, why go hunting? My grandfather would surely

agree. Shopping on a computer is “the easiest and most direct route.”

But then again, I plan to purchase everything for Christmas by telephone or the Internet. In fact, I hope

to spend Christmas Eve hunting, for the very first time, instead of standing in line for hours purchasing

gifts because I could no longer delay the inevitable.

Internet commerce may have a negative impact on retail sales this holiday season but smart retailers will

soon adjust. In fact, they might do well to learn a thing or two from the wisdom of an old hunter in

Smith County.

Donald C. Simmons Jr., Ph.D., a regular contributor to the Mississippi Business Journal, is an

award-winning author and lecturer. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and holds the

Ph.D. in history from the University of Denver.


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