For those who have hunted with me, they would probably describe my approach as serious, detailed-orientated, focused, meticulous, and possibly overly organized. To me, it’s the small things that make a sportsman successful. I have hunted this way for better part of 20 years, but things have now changed. Being this way taught me so many things about hunting as well as life in general. Some might say I’m “too serious” and need to relax and enjoy the sport of hunting more. Believe me, I enjoy the sport (my wife thinks I do too much…), but I probably just enjoy it on another level than some. Not to say the other levels are any better or worse, just different. Recently this aimed approach was turned upside down and around 180 degrees… but all for the better!
Six years ago my wife and I were blessed with our first child, Gunnar. He was brought into our lives and changed things in many ways. As the first few years went by, it was apparent that hunting and being in the outdoors was in his blood. He constantly wanted to shoot his toy bow and toy guns at all the 3D targets in the backyard. He loved helping Dad process deer. He always wanted to climb into the tree stands as well. I think it is always a sportsman’s dream to have his or her child/children to share the experiences of the outdoors when they grow up, and I certainly, was no exception. Being a Dad for the first time gave me so much to look forward to, much like my father did when I was young. The dream of passing down the same heritage and experiences I had the fortune to when I was young gave me goose bumps!
At the age of 5, Gunnar started asking if he could “hunt with Dad”. Lord knows 5 year olds can be quiet persistent and my son takes the cake. “OK buddy you and I are turkey hunting this spring,” I conceded. The glow on his face was something I will never forget. Wisconsin’s turkey season starts up and we get everything ready. We wake up early morning and as I start to gather our things, I find myself in my normal state of mind as if I was hunting by myself. Zipping back and forth running circles around the little guy, I load him into the truck and we’re off. We set our decoys and sneak into the blind. I sit there with the same anticipation of calling a big ol’ boss tom from the roost and every so often look over at the little guy. For the first hour we had a jake walk in five yards from the blind but ol’ boss tom must not have gotten the message to come on out to our decoys. With little action after the jake encounter, Gunnar starts asking, “When are there going to be more turkeys?” and “When can we go home, I’m hungry?” I then realized, I brought out nothing but a granola bar or 2 and nothing else to keep him occupied. We stuck it out for another hour and called it a morning. Later that afternoon, I was going to head back out for round 2 and when it came to getting Gunnar ready, he replied “I’m just going to stay home”. Wow, for all the squawking I heard earlier in the year to hunt with me, now he just wants to stay at home and play with his toys??? I sat there that afternoon/evening thinking about what I did wrong. The hunt focused on the hunt and not on him.
Another year passes by and Gunnar has built up once again the anticipation of turkey hunting. This year was completely different though. We watched hunting on TV and taught him all about the habits of the wild turkey, what makes a jake a jake, a gobbler a gobbler, etc… We brought out the slate calls and box calls and practiced together. Finally the season was upon us and I made the decision to take him out just during the afternoons instead of waking him up really early. We take our time, and both start loading the truck. My mindset was completely around making this a memorable experience for him. I packed juice boxes, enough snacks to make a convenience store jealous, enough games to keep him busy for the next year, and even his toy gun. I was so focused on him. When we arrived to the hunting land, I realized that I had forgotten my release for my bow and my ammunition for my gun. Did I care? Not one bit. We trampled out to the woods, and I gave the box call to Gunnar. He looked up and smiled. After a few hen yelps, we started to goof around in the blind, not caring about being quiet or not moving. We played games and ate some of the sugary goodness the Easter bunny brought us. After a few more hen yelps, we had a group of jakes come in just outside of shooting range. As they approached our blind, Gunnar stands up and says “Dad they’re right in front of us” in a normal conversation volume. All the heads of the adolescent birds popped up and in a flash they were gone. I laughed, Gunnar laughed and I went on to explain why they ran off so fast. Three hours later, it was time to wrap it up and head home. Without question, we deemed it a successful hunt! No table fare to bring home, but what a night and day difference from one year to the next. No doubt Gunnar is a year older and has a longer attention span, but I can honestly say that he had a great time and is looking forward to this fall when we head out again.
My lesson learned was to concentrate on making the experience for the little guy come first and worry about a “successful” harvest second. My Dad tells me stories of his ol’ man taking him out fishing in the hot sun waiting for hours for fish to come. To some extent it put fishing in a bad light for him, and probably didn’t fish as much as the next kid down the block because of it. I feel fortunate to realize the similar path I was headed down and was able to correct it with hopes to build on this positive experience in years to come.