I remember sitting on the garage floor as a 6-year-old with my family’s old yellow lab, watching as my dad butchered his wildgame kills. His knife strokes were so beautifully meticulous, each with a strategic purpose. I was always afraid to say a word, as it might interrupt his focus. In these moments, my little heart was filled with such admiration and awe – and those emotions have stuck with me even now, 17 years later.
I grew up in a family where hunting spanned across generations. My dad, grandfathers, uncles, some aunts, and most of my cousins were avid outdoorsman (and women). Like I am sure those of you who come from similar familial situations, hunting was somewhat a rite of passage. It existed as a tradition and ritual in which we all could partake in. I was exposed to a plethora of hunting stories, harvested animals, and different hunting styles and beliefs from a very young age growing up in the family that I did.
My dad must have saw my early interest in the hunting lifestyle through the way that my eyes lit up when the topic arose. My dad never forced the issue onto me, but rather facilitated the passion that was innately within me. When I turned 12, he drove me to take my hunter’s safety course. I recall my excitement on this day, and I bet that he was feeling the same emotions. I am sure that me being a little girl that was interested in hunting made it that much more exciting for him.
As I grew older and spent more and more time in the woods, gaining experience and insight in whitetail, turkey, and rabbit hunting, my dad would “up the ante” in a sense, to aid in the development of my own hunting style and set of beliefs. He questioned me, challenged me, and placed the demand on me to make decisions as to treestand placement, observations of deer sign, and thoroughly understanding my weapons.
We would have frequent rather intellectual conversations regarding strategy and analysis of the topography of my family’s land. But above all, the spirituality of hunting was paramount in his guidance, as well as always highlighting how blessed that we were to be able to participate in the sport. His favorite quote that he still says to me to this day is: “always enjoy the hunt”.
Let’s back up for a second. I would like to revisit the hunting story that is the thank for my hunting identity, as well as my personal identity overall. This was the hunt where I took my first whitetail, and I had my dad by my side. It was a bitter cold morning, I had my rifle in hand, and I don’t think that I stopped smiling from the moment that we climbed into the treestand. I refused to take my eyes off of the woods in front of me, as I feared I would miss an opportunity if I took even a second break from scouring for the brown coat of a whitetail. Just then, a beautiful 8-point buck showed himself. I lifted my rifle, nestled it into my shoulder, and placed the crosshairs of my scope just behind his shoulder blade as my dad had taught me to do at the shooting range. I felt my dad’s arm come around me as he said: “whenever you’re ready hun, pull the trigger”. Down he went. I looked over at my dad and his eyes were filled with tears. He wrapped me up in his arms and we hugged for a little while, taking in the moment in silence.
We then crawled out of the treestand to admire my harvest. As we approached the buck, my dad took my hand and explained that from the time he was young, he always took a moment to stand over the animal that he harvested and thank the animal for the hunt and for providing him with meat. It was a simple prayer, and it immediately resonated with me. I still say that same prayer each and every time that I harvest an animal.
From experience, I cannot stress enough the importance of introducing children to hunting. Through hunting, I learned some of life’s toughest lessons, the process of seeing where my food comes from, and sharing an experience like no other with those that are closest to me.
I idolized my dad as I watched him pursue and harvest wildgame over the course of many years, and I followed in those same footsteps. Now, it is impossible for me to fathom living any other way. Because of hunting, my dad and I have developed a life-long bond that could never be broken. Our hearts and souls intertwine, while our roots lie side by side. I have an immeasurable amount of love and thanks for him not only helping me to live out my passion, but for helping me to find and to feel something so deep, so raw, that it feeds my soul. And for that, I am forever grateful.