By: Kyle Hey
The smell of gun oil always makes me crack a smile. That may be a bit peculiar, but I always associated that scent with my first hunting rifle, and the experiences I had tagging along with my dad while carrying that firearm. My father was the man who cared for and oiled that gun in my first years afield, and without a doubt he was the one that nurtured my love for both hunting and the greater outdoor experience.
Like many lifelong hunters, my father has been a mentor in and out of the woods. Those of us who have been lucky enough to hunt with our dads, know that we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for instilling in us an affinity for the outdoors. Even hunters who do not point to their father as a mentor can often point to a role model who fostered their passion. So, let’s take a break from admiring our trophy walls and social media accounts to celebrate the fathers and mentors who introduced us to this sport, and reflect on the most important lessons they taught us-- both as hunters and as human beings.
It is entirely too easy to measure outdoor success on inches, points, or pounds. Hunting is an amazing pursuit, but killing an animal is not the pinnacle of the sport. Without a clear sense of the greater offerings a life as a hunter can provide, we short change ourselves and the animals we pursue.
I can fondly remember my dad pointing out the distant drumming of a grouse, or chuckling at the awkward lumber of a porcupine. I can also remember during turkey hunting, him biting his tongue as I rambled on, as 12 year old’s often do, about my favorite sports team in a voice that was far too loud for the occasion. You see, he was teaching me that the point of those days wasn’t to stress over filling a tag. It was to be together. It was to learn about the broader strokes of natures, and it was to create positive memories both about the outdoors and our relationship. That sense of place and significance is increasingly important for fathers to impart, both in the woods and in a world that often operates at breakneck speed.
Curiosity and Independence:
Curiosity and a sense of wanderlust seem innate in myself, and many other hunters. Nurturing of those attributes through the outdoors has paid dividends in the woods and in life. From the first time I heard a turkey gobble or knelt beside a harvested deer, to the 100th time my father told me to explore over the rise, my Dad was stoking that curiosity and teaching me how to channel those attributes productively.
Without a sense of independence, curiosity is often hampered. When my Dad sat me down in a spot while he left to push deer to me, or parted ways with me at a trailhead, I was guided toward personal independence. I had enough space to make decisions and grow. Sure, I made rookie youthful mistakes. But, I also became confident in the successes that I achieved, which is powerful to a young person.
Many of us would not be the people we are today if it were not for someone else’s sacrifice, often our father’s. For many of us, the man who worked overtime to pay for the family vacation was the same one giving up his best stand and precious hunting time to show us the ropes. Time sacrificed to blood trail a deer, or showing a new hunter one more detail about the woods is an excellent lesson in field ethics and character. Those willing sacrifices not only made us the people and hunters we are today, but also prove to be an investment in the continuation of our collective hunting heritage.
This is a far from complete list of our debt to our fathers and mentors. As we look toward the investment we are obligated to make to the next generation of hunters, let it be one that holds value in relationships and growth, not inches and trophy photos. There are many places that offer cheap validation in this world, but the woods are one place that still easily fosters character and builds long-lasting relationships. Hunters, as a community and as individuals, are better off when we remember the first lessons we learned from our father and mentors.
So today we gladly say; “Thank you.”