“Dad, we haven’t even seen an animal yet, do you even know how to hunt?” “We must be doing this wrong.” “Sometimes you just have to be patient and keep looking, Edger, don’t worry something will come along.” A few hours pass and it is well into daylight. The grass and weeds have flat dagger looking icicles protruding off their strong stems and leaves, and the crisp cool air chilled our bodies. The morning seemed like a flop; my heart sunk.
I woke up excited but painfully early, my heart rushed thinking of my first big day of official hunting. I imagined myself shooting a bull the first day out and having a majestic set of antlers just like my dad. I felt prepared with my orange hat and vest, along with all the hunter’s safety knowledge I had just gained. My glorious Savage .308 rifle and small hunting knife made me feel like a total beast. I had knowledge, equipment, and I knew what to do and what not to do when handling a gun and shooting an animal. Nothing could stop me!
However, my 12-year-old self was only entertained by the lifesaving snacks we brought. Thank goodness for those that early morning, I thought I was going to die from boredom. We were in the truck now searching for somewhere new to explore. As I munched away and swore off my dad as the worst hunter known to man, he laid on the gas!
He told me to look out his window way off into the distance. There I could see a big ol’ herd of elk. He pulled off the road and we sprang into action. I scrambled out, snatched my gun, and started hustling to keep up with my dad. My small 12-year-old legs were starting to trot following my dad’s 6’ 2” ranching man frame across a giant field. We had the privilege of being able to hunt on our own private land, but I still felt like I was in the woods walking through all the tall grasses that quickly.
We didn’t have time for stealth mode and my dad knew it. He saw the elk starting to shift. We pressed forward a little more. We were making our way into a bowl where we would be more concealed. He asked me if I saw the bull, I confirmed his location, and I got into position. My little arms were shaking trying to hold up my massive rifle. Being an attentive father, he could tell I was struggling to hold up my gun. My dad kept a knee on the ground and lifted a foot up patting his leg to come sit on it. He put his hand in front of mine to take some of the weight off my extended arm.
The bull was facing us. My dad whispered softly for me to line up on the elk for my shot. However, me being the argumentative child I was, I told him that I wasn’t supposed to shoot the front side of the elk. Panicking, I told him I was supposed to shoot an animal in the crease of the shoulder. He coached me through the different shot and reassured me I could take his word for it.
I clicked off my safety.
This royal 6×6 bull elk lifted his head and looked right at me. This bull didn’t move for what seemed to be the longest moment I had yet experienced in my short life. It was as if I could hear our slow grand-father clock keeping track of the time that my soul was being penetrated by this dignified animal: tick…tock…tick…tock.
Finally, I felt confident about my crosshair’s placement. I closed my eyes and squeezed the trigger! I don’t recommend closing your eyes to anyone shooting at something, however, there was lead in the air so there was hope! Low and behold, it worked in my favor. The elk started to turn around to run. He then turned back around and stared into my eyes one last time before he reared up and keeled over backwards.
Thank goodness for my father’s understanding of my young mind believing that instant gratification would rule my first opening day. Hunting can often be more of a family event then a simple excursion. Like all good things hunting with family has the opportunity to teach meaningful lessons that last a lifetime. I may have got my dream bull that day, but the things I remember the most have nothing to do with his beautiful antlers.
Patience could be considered one of life’s greatest lessons. We have to exercise it literally every day for some reason or another. Patience or the lack of it can forlorn frustration or bring the presence of peace. Taking your family out to hunt can help us to learn the glory in waiting to gain the true prize we seek.
Hunting can be hard work. Hunters often have to travel a long way by foot sometimes in treacherous conditions. Snow, rain, steep mountain sides, or shale rock can become your worst enemy when you are tramping through the mountains. It is the push to keep going that keeps us alive in all circumstances and hunting with your family can teach them to fight against the enemy and never let it get them down.
Like all good lessons there is an equally important lesson on the flip side. Sometimes, we have to accept defeat. In life, winning isn’t always the outcome. In those moments we can become sour and sore about it or we can learn and press forward. Just because there is one bad hunt does not mean they will all be that way. After my first hunt, my dad and I came across many challenges while hunting together. He still took me out every year with an undefeated attitude. We have to remember that it is not just about the trophy, rather, it is about the hunt.
Nature creates a bond in people that touches their heart in a special way. Most of all, nature teaches us respect: respect for God, respect for family, respect for living things, and respect for the circle of life. Families are our glue. Hunting is our sport. Luckily, hunting can give our glue a chance to slip into the cracks we need special opportunities to fill.