Professional team sports often generate intense opinions about player skills, and myriad statistic tables about pro ballplayers can support a claim one way or the other.

Here’s an example in Major League Baseball that most people know:

A fan might say, “Hank Aaron ranks as pro-baseball’s best home-run hitter of all time, and to prove my point, let me say that he hit 755, steroid-free homers, more than anyone else until Bonds broke the record with 762 round-tripper in 2007 — a feat under a cloud of suspicion.”

Cracker-barrel orators argue into the night about Aaron vs. Bonds, using stats that highlight the longest distances of their home runs, most in a day, most in a season, strings of seasonal home-run figures — ad nauseam. When I researched Aaron vs. Bonds for this lead, the meticulous home run info on the two astounded me. Talk about living life under a microscope.

On the other hand, life-recreation sports in the outdoors often lack statistics or contests to prove who reigns as the king of anglers, hunters, canoe trippers or you name it, so average hobbyists may feel intensely that they are mighty special, strictly an opinion by friends or themselves, an opinion lacking solid statistics for comparisons.

Not long ago in a magazine, I wrote an article that covered a topic that intrigues me big time. In life-recreation sports, practitioners often have no clue as to whether they are poor, average, good, very good or excellent because of the lack of statistics and head-to-head contests, and I used myself as a woeful example in one of my favorite sports — bicycling.

In the early years of my adult bicycling life, the late 1980s and early ’90s, I fancied myself as an excellent climber. In short, if I came to a hill or mountain, no matter how long and steep, I could climb it. Period.

However, it took me years to figure out most avid pedalers fall into that category. They’ll pedal over any hill, probably with glee. However, if folks consider themselves excellent climbers, here’s the real question:

How fast can they ascend a hill or mountain?

That’s the real point to oppugn.

I put the first speedometer on my bicycle circa 1994, which quickly showed my uphill speed proved dismal. Eight years later, informal racing verified that I am indeed a poky climber.

For starters, even in my best of times, I weigh 195 to 200 pounds — just too damned big for bicycle climbing. The great ascenders in pro-bicycling tip the scales at 125 to 145 pounds, a great advantage for getting up steep inclines. To increase my speed significantly, I’d need to lose 60 pounds off my 6-foot, 2-inch frame and look like a POW survivor.

…Back to hunting.

Some Maine hunters may shoot a buck every year and consider themselves a top deer slayer. That string of successes takes great skill in this state because of our low deer densities.

However, in the 1970s, a Texas deer-hunting writer put this question of great whitetail slayers into perspective for me. I was reading his deer-hunting book, and in the introduction, he listed his credentials for writing it:

First, for the previous 20 falls, this writer had shot his limit of eight deer per year to feed his wife, children and himself — 160 deer.

Second, to assure readers that he possessed significant knowledge, he added that he guided deer hunters and had assisted clients in about 25 kills each autumn for two decades — another 500 deer.

Third, each year, he traveled for a week to hunt game such as caribou, moose, mountain goat, pronghorn or bear from the Rockies to Alaska.

Then, this guy absolutely shocked me. He apologized for his lack of experience, so in short, after 660 deer and additional big-game critters, he humbly defended himself as a deer-hunting author.

(Circa 1976, I lent this book to a fellow, who moved to Virginia and took my book with him. I can’t remember the author’s name, and both men have long since died.)

In life, I have enjoyed the opportunity to travel quite extensively to hunt and fish, and trips to new places furnished me with experiences that put the outdoor life into perspective in a hurry.

For starters, when we go to many new destinations to hunt or fish, and I have, we often meet guides who are experts in the sport in their particular locale. They teach me skills that I had no idea existed, which underscored my hunting and fishing shortcomings — humbling right to the core.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at [email protected]

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