By Tony Martins

Have you ever wanted something really badly, but for one reason or another just couldn’t find a way to obtain it? Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you have probably faced this sort of dilemma at some point in your lifetime. When I was the young son of a second generation dairyman/farmer father and homemaker mother, the reason was money. Later in life during my second attempt at husbandry, the reason was more complex. Fidelity, self-preservation and $200.00 an hour divorce lawyers come to mind.

When the new in-line muzzleloaders appeared in the mid-1980’s I just had to have one. Unfortunately, my wife did not share my sense of need, and there was little wiggle room in our budget at the time. As Christmas approached, I had an idea. My hunting partner Virgil and I had always exchanged gifts of approximately equal value at Christmas. He would usually give me a box of shotgun shells, and I would pick out a nice camo t-shirt for him. It occurred to me that I could probably convince Virgil to buy the muzzleloader for my Christmas gift if I reciprocated with the new wall tent he was wanting. The plan was risky, but it just might work!

“Honey…Virgil’s wife just called, and you’ll never guess what he got me for Christmas – that new $400.00 in-line muzzleloader! You know, the one I’ve been wanting so badly? I know it’s a lot of money, but I’m going to have to reciprocate with something of equal value or our friends will all think we are cheapskates.” I gritted my teeth, and waited for the reaction – err, detonation… but there was none. Wow! There was only mild protesting; no screaming, no threats of bodily injury and no promises to deprive me of the basic human necessities. Thus, the reciprocal gifting scam (RGS) was born!

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We were careful and conservative at first. After several successful exchanges of gift items like laser rangefinders, handheld GPS units, compound bows and personal pontoon boats, we moved up to bigger ticket items – like purebred hunting dogs, hunting club memberships, and European made premium binoculars and spotting scopes. Within a few years, gift values had moved well into the four-figure range. Now things like four-wheeler ATV’s and guided big game hunts were within reach, and the RGS continued to work to perfection. In fact, it worked so well that we decided to expand and also include birthdays. The main problem with the birthday gifting extension was that our birthdays were almost six months apart. Thus, the first birthday gifter (me) would have to trust that the reciprocator (Virgil) would follow through. This seemed like a pretty safe bet, as Virgil was now his own boss since separating from his wife and taking up residence in the wall tent.

Now I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about charging the substantial deposit required to book a sailfishing trip in Costa Rica including airfare for Virgil’s birthday. I worried that my wife would come unglued when she saw the credit card billing statement, and that I would be eating beanie weenies for dinner for months. But to my surprise, she wrote the checks to make the payments, and never said a single negative word.


Illustration by Brandee Snyder

Looking back, I suppose her reaction to this particular gift should have made me suspicious, but I just naturally assumed that she was anticipating the reciprocal gift for my next birthday. When my big day finally arrived, I expected a call from Virgil, but there was none. The next day I received a letter from my wife, who had been out of town visiting her mother. The letter began: “Dear John…” Odd, since my name isn’t John. “I just wanted to let you know what a great idea your little gifting scam turned out to be. Costa Rica is so beautiful! Virgil and I are enjoying every minute! No, I’m not visiting my mother, you fool. My attorney will deliver the divorce and eviction papers in a few days. Please move your clothes, guns, stuffed animals and bird dogs out of the house into your camp trailer. There’s enough money left in our checking account to buy something nice for yourself like a new porta-potty, or maybe some of that sexy doe-in-heat scent. Happy birthday.

It took a while, but I’m back on my feet again, with a new wife and a new hunting partner. He gave me a box of shotgun shells this year for Christmas. I’ll be reciprocating with a nice camo t-shirt…