If Doug Beach was a doctor, he would happily prescribe healthy doses of hunting, fishing and camping to both heal and entertain Yuma’s families.
Seeing things with the heart of a father and avid outdoorsman, Beach says he’s sad to see more and more families spending less time together, especially when it comes to fun stuff out in Mother Nature’s desert playground.
The Yuma man realizes that what he’s proposing won’t be a good fit for every family, but it’s still a darn good suggestion.
“Whether they hunt or fish, I don’t care, just get kids outdoors and families back together doing activities outside,” Beach said. “That’s what I did for my kids and what my parents did for me. We have drifted away from that over the years. Moms and dads are busy and the kids are busy. Personally, I think it’s hurting the family.”
Beach isn’t just shooting blanks with those statements, staying lots but doing little. Instead, he’s taking aim on this issue and he’s making a difference in the local outdoors community as president of the Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club. One of the group’s many missions is introducing new generations of sportsmen to hunting and fishing by offering young folks fishing clinics at local lakes and hunting campouts in the desert.
“Not every kid is going to want to hunt or fish, but I feel we should at least expose them to it and let them decide. With my two sons, one loves to hunt and the other one doesn’t enjoy it at all - and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Beach said. “My father exposed me to hunting and fishing and camping, and I have fond memories of that. My kids, we still talk about what we did camping out in the desert or when I took them fishing. It’s building memories, that’s what it’s doing.”
But his argument doesn’t stop at just having good, old-fashioned fun. Beach sees a lot of lessons that families can learn in the great classroom of the outdoors.
“Camping brings families closer together. They learn how to rely on each other. Family members look to each other for support and entertainment,” he said. “Time together is just good for families. There are hard times when you get stuck or get rained on, but you think about it later and you laugh about it.”
To Beach, getting around the wilds of rural Yuma County isn’t just a pleasure, it’s a joy he certainly doesn’t take for granted these days. That’s because, following a serious accident in 2004, Beach considers himself downright lucky to be able to walk, let alone be chasing critters with his bow and arrow out in his beloved desert.
“I had the big idea to build a house by myself and I fell off the roof,” he said. “In the past, it was nothing to put on a backpack and hike 20 miles to go hunting. I get around and do things, but because of the neurological damage, I just don’t do it at the speed I used to do it at.”
But what was taken from his body, was certainly given to his expanded awareness of how precious life is and how capable he is of finding a way to keep active and having fun.
He thanks a certain doctor for passing along some golden advice.
“This is not going to get any better. It’s something I will deal with for the rest of my life. You can sit around and boo hoo, but that’s not going to change anything. You might as well move on,” he said. “The doctor gave me the best advice ‘Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do.’ I have that.”
Beach lives up to that outlook on life, whether he’s giving his time and talent to the rod and gun club or tracking a bear in the Alaskan wilderness.
That 300-pound black bear, by the way, lost its battle with Beach. Its head and skin now hang off the back of Beach’s couch. He loves telling the story of how he brought the beat down, an experience that would be impressive for anyone, but especially with for a bow hunter with limited mobility.
“You have to consider, I can’t run! I’m not going to outrun a bear, any way,” he said, chuckling.
The challenge of using a bow instead of a gun doesn’t amount to an obstacle for Beach. That’s where he finds the true thrill of the hunt. “It’s a lot more challenging with a bow. The success rate isn’t as high, but you see more game.”
He sees bow hunting as maybe being a bit more fair for the prey. “The animals are afraid of man, so it’s a matter of sneaking up on them and getting close. When you are 30 yards from a bear, you have accomplished something,” he said. “You have to be at their level to harvest the animal and I really enjoy that.”
Beach got his first taste of hunting when he was 12, growing up in rural South Dakota. But after living in Seattle and San Diego later in life, he was certainly looking for a new home that was a lot more country - slower, quieter and with more places right in the backyard for hunting and fishing.
The former U.S. Marine found exactly that in Yuma.
“I love it here. You can spend seven to eight months out in the desert and not have to worry about the weather or being overrun by people.”
Beach owns a trucking business and had taken a break from the road. But with the economy the way it is, he’s back driving. “I still work. I’m going to Vegas this afternoon,” he said.
But when he isn’t working, Beach is playing or giving back to his community. That latter part is a gift of his accident, an experience that showed him what really matters in life.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Beach has felt called to work with fellow veterans, especially young guys coming back from current wars who have lost limbs. “There is a mindset, a determination and an acceptance of what you have been given - and moving on. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds”
The rod and gun club certainly benefits from his booming enthusiasm.
“I have really tried to focus on the club. I want to put something back into something I have taken so much from. The club does so much more than just hunting and fishing. It does all kinds of things the general public doesn’t know about it.”
In addition to hosting lots of community events, the Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club also focuses a lot on conservation, an issue close to Beach’s heart. “Conservation is a passion in Yuma and there is a long history of it here. There are some really great people who put a lot of effort into conservation here.”
The club works closely with Arizona Game and Fish, for example, to install watering tanks for area wildlife. So far, there are more than 500 sites being used by thirsty animals for miles around Yuma.
To some folks, hunting may seem to be all about death, but Beach says the opposite is true. He stressed that hunters actually care a great deal about an animal’s life, knowing that humans have a vested interest in that elk or wild turkey’s health and wellbeing.
“If we take all the animals, we don’t leave anything for future generations. There won’t be any animals. We need to manage wildlife with science.”