This isn't Dan Rather's first time in hot water

Dan Rather's fall from journalistic grace happened — for some of us — a long time ago. The evening of Sept. 5, 1975, to be exact.

On that night, a much younger and very dashing Dan Rather was the host of a CBS special titled "Guns of Autumn."

As some of us gathered that night to watch, those of us who called ourselves hunters were both proud to be a prime-time subject (a mighty rare event) and apprehensive about what dirty laundry a national network like CBS News, the home of heroes like Edward R. Murrow, might uncover about hunting or those who call themselves hunters.

But back then, I trusted Dan Rather, the journalist. He'd be fair, I figured.

Being a proud Texan, Rather would understand a bad seed or two shows up in any field of fine cotton, and he'd keep the pros and cons as balanced as a cowboy on a bucking bronc.

I was wrong; the cowboy hit the dirt. When the program ended, I realized Dan Rather had lent his journalistic credibility to a hatchet job on America's hunters. "Guns of Autumn" wasn't an examination of hunting; it was largely a one-hour condemnation of hunting.

I remember I kept waiting to hear interviews from knowledgeable and thoughtful resource leaders, who would tell America about the many and historic conservation achievements of hunters.

I wanted Americans to know that America's wildlife-management programs are the best in the world, thanks largely to the hunting fraternity.

I was waiting for Rather to explore the spirit and soul of folks who kill their own meat, while most Americans only stalk the meat counter. It never happened.

Instead, "Guns of Autumn" became a prime-time embarrassment to hunters from Maine to Washington.

A New York Times reviewer the next day said "Guns of Autumn" was like a television program that wanted to explore the human love story but filmed it all in a whorehouse.

For Dan Rather, perhaps it was the best little whorehouse in Texas. While Rather today is apologizing for his lack of judgment over the fake Bush documents, I'm not expecting any, "I'm sorry' for the Guns of Autumn show."

A hunter in America today has learned not to expect much positive coverage of so-called blood sports.

Hunters mostly make the 10 o'clock news these days if they shoot somebody or themselves. If they save a wetland or preserve a prairie or teach a kid to be safe with a gun — well, who cares? Dan Rather and CBS News didn't.

Ron Schara may be reached at ron@mnbound.com.

Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling 888-755-3155.

October through December 2004, Ron Schara's short feature, "Backroads with Ron & Raven," airs Saturdays on ESPN2 at 7:55 a.m. ET. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.