As I look back on my childhood in rural Missouri I can remember a lot of great times and I have also forgotten my share of moments that were probably worth recalling. What will remain crystal clear in my memory are the images of sitting next to my dad on the ground against a large tree deer hunting. If I close my eyes and look back to my youth I can still hear him whispering to me to be still and not talk. He would tell me to simply observe the sights and sounds all around while in the woods and to do so very slowly. To kill an animal in its own environment takes tremendous luck, skill and supreme confidence he would constantly remind me. His mindset has always been to enter the woods, enjoy the process and fill your tag. Rarely did a hunting season go by when dad would possess an un-punched deer, elk or turkey tag compared to scores of other hunters we knew. Dad was my first true teacher. He was the best instructor on how to properly hunt, fish, camp and do everything else in between. All of the important life lessons that are instilled in me originate from him. As a hunter and father of three I believe that it is crucial to pass on traditions of the past to future generations.
By the time I was eight I had already become my father’s hunting sidekick following him up and down the steep Ozark Mountains. The alarm would go off early and dad would slowly wake me holding his favorite beat up mug filled with black coffee. He would have my hunting clothes already laid out and a simple breakfast of boiled eggs, bread and apples ready to go. Within no time our old yellow truck would be parked somewhere deep in the woods and dad would do a quick mental checklist of everything we would need. He would grab our gear and make sure I was warm enough from head to toe. We would then proceed into the cold dark woods with nothing more than a couple small flashlights. To this day I swear that my dad can see in the dark. I can still remember trailing close behind him into the silent woods before daylight wondering how he knew exactly where to go. It was just the two of us doing what we both loved to do without a care in the world except to fill our tags and fill the freezer. I often wish I could transport myself back in time to those times when I was kid following my dad in the dark. I try to embrace these similar moments with my own children because I have learned that once they are gone they are gone forever.
In my father’s office on the wall hanging between two huge Missouri whitetails is a decent six point that is in fact the first deer I ever killed. I shot it with a .243 Winchester rifle that I still have in my gun cabinet to this day. It was 1984 and I was in fourth grade. We were hunting far behind my childhood home in Mark Twain National Forest. It was in the morning and I was sitting side by side with dad at the base of a tree on the side of a hill. We were watching a good trail below us and suddenly out of nowhere my buck walked directly out in front of us. It might as well have been a Boone and Crockett record for all I cared; in my eyes it was a beast. Once I had a clear shot dad whispered for me to breathe, take my time and shoot when ready. Suddenly I could feel my heart racing and time seemed to slow down. I used my knees to rest the rifle and once the crosshairs were behind the left shoulder and the safety was off I squeezed the trigger. Boom! I can still remember not being able to hear anything for a few seconds as well as the smell of smoke that briefly permeated the air. The reaction on the face of my dad confirmed what I had hoped for. The buck went down immediately after the shot. I would have to learn how to track at another date. Regardless, I had harvested my first deer and a buck no less.
Throughout the years there are countless stories of exciting hunts with dad that would follow my first deer kill. This includes this past fall elk hunting in Colorado with the old man who is still punching his tag at the golden age of seventy five. Every hunt is amazing in its own right but the time with my father is what makes each one of them so unique and special. Kids are young for only so long and who they will eventually become as adults is based so much on childhood experiences. I have learned this lesson first hand from my own life. My dad taught me to be independent, tough and to absorb every piece of information that might improve my life as well as others. By the time I was in junior high it wasn’t unusual for me after school to ride my dirt bike into the woods alone to hunt with a rifle. Or shoot my bow for hours and hours by the light of the garage until dad would eventually get home from work and join me. Unlike this current generation I was never absorbed by technology although you cannot compare the past with the present. Like most kids in the eighties I too had an Atari which I played occasionally yet it was the moments in the woods with dad that really stand out. Hunting has taught me so much about myself and life in general.
I am now trying to pass on this tradition to my own son and eventually to my daughters when they are old enough. Outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, shooting, hiking and camping are all positive actions that children simply need. We have stumbled upon a time when our children would rather be on Facebook and cell phones than have true interactions with nature and humans. I learned so many amazing life lessons through the moments with my dad in the woods. I believe it is our great responsibility as parents that hunt to share the experience with our own in order to bestow virtues in them that the world simply cannot and will not provide.