Preparing The Path: A Father's Journey

“Until you have a son of your own, you will never know the joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he looks upon his son.”

-Kent Nerburn

When I started this article, I was sitting perched on a rock, approximately ten miles into a wilderness nestled within the heart of Idaho.  The majesty of that place was enough to cause temporary paralysis as you couldn’t help but get swept up in the enormity of its footprint.  But it also allowed for a few moments of inspiration, so using the notepad feature of my phone, i feverishly worked to put words down I would most assuredly forget if I did not.

I’ve written at length (both here and in my book) that the spring holds a variety of challenges when chasing bears.  But the one uncontrollable factor I despise most, is heat. I don’t mind the cloud cover and unpredictable storms—I welcome them. They almost assuredly bring increased animal activity.  The unrelenting heat, on the other hand, pounded the landscape into submission, and forced us to retreat to the shade beneath burned out logs while we chugged liters of water to try and stay hydrated. 

Of bears and other game, we saw relatively little.

Despite the fact that we are in a spot of good game density, commanding views, and a group of friends with quite a bit of hunting experience...we were coming up empty.

It happens.  In fact, it happens to most people far more often than success.  We had two days left as of the start of this writing and anything could have happened (it didn’t), but despite the lack of action, it wasn’t the primary thought occupying my mind.

Interlaced with the focus of hunting and the joys of comradery, one idea kept licking at the edges of my consciousness.

I missed my family.

It’s a topic of conversation I don’t see often discussed as a hardship when it comes to hunting.  It’s certainly not a subject that’s unique to the backcountry (or hunting in general), but one that I feel can take precedence the fewer creature comforts are available.  When it becomes you, with only the silence of the mountain and your own inner monologue to keep you company, profound and serious topics are always at danger to rise to the forefront of ones thoughts.

My wife will never hunt (this fact doesn’t bother me), though she is crucial to my time spent in the woods in these far-off locales. Hunters have a tendency to thank their significant other in passing, but I think it goes deeper than that. Meagan is my hunting partner as much as Scott, and the support at home is an essential part of our team.  She is, arguably, more crucial a partner.  Despite my continued proclamations, she doesn’t realize the degree to which she is tied to our success.  She doesn’t have to understand my passion in order to support it, yet support it she does.

My sons are growing to have a significantly different set of interests than their mother.  They have participated in the pursuit of waterfowl and a few front country hunts, but  aren’t yet ready for the rigors of a backcountry adventure, though their time is coming.  This is what I have come to sense will be an important moment as Scott and I continue to push and explore further outside the boundaries of our home state.

We are preparing the path for that hypothetical moment to become a reality.  Of course, one can argue that’s what parenting is about on a macro scale, but the vulnerability of introducing your passion to your kids is a different monster altogether.

Landon, our youngest, was running around the house the night before we left with his binoculars looking for bears, and I couldn’t help but smile.  I have tried to picture the moment of their first success.  Will it be a front country draw tag?  A doe perhaps?  Or will they break the mold and spoil themselves for the rest of their life with a coveted tag and a notch a buck to dwarf my meager success?  There’s no jealousy from me, and I can’t imagine a finer trophy for my wall than one either of my sons placed there.

Father’s Day has changed for me as my kids have gotten older.  As my boys have gained personality and grown into the shades of the men they will one day become, I can’t help but feel my excitement growing as the moment they will begin hunting is nearly at hand.  My oldest turns eight this summer, and within the next year, I plan on getting him his first rifle and beginning his instruction.

My own father and I walked a different path when it came to hunting.  We would skirt east of the cascade mountains, and find ourselves walking along ditch banks sandwiched between corn and alfalfa fields, our chocolate lab Ky (who deserves an article all of her own) worked the thick brush up one side and down the other, her tail wagging with intensity when she stumbled onto the trail of a ring-necked pheasant. 

My first season I carried a small, single shot, twenty-gauge shotgun.  Its shorter length fit perfectly against my ten-year-old shoulder.  I distinctly remember my dad pulling up to a small “corner” of cornfield covered in tumbleweeds and sage brush.  The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would pay farmers to leave corners of their fields un-planted and wild in order to provide cover for upland birds.  They were sometimes extremely effective, quick hunts.

We hopped out of the truck, lowering the tailgate quietly, and letting out the dog.  She shook her coat, her collar jingling slightly in the mid morning sun.  A crisp edge still lingered from the frigid November morning.  She took a few steps towards the brush, and immediately started to work, her tail flopping back and forth aggressively.  I remember seeing her swing wide to my right, my dad on the left.  She moved forward quickly, and then slowed nearly to a stop, doing the pseudo point she always did.  I was attempting to move closer when the rooster exploded from the brush.  I brought the gun to my shoulder, putting the bead just in front of its beak, waiting, trailing, hoping this would be my first bird.

Kaboom!

The little single shot rocked and the bird fell from the sky into the corn.  Ky quickly located in and brought it back.  I remember seeing my dads face when I looked up, bird in my hands.  There was undoubtedly pride in his face, but it was also spidered with veins of pure joy.  I think my young eyes accounted that joy for success in the field, but the eyes I look through now know better.

He had spent his life preparing the way for me, so that in that one moment, he could witness my success, which was undoubtedly reflection of his own. A moment of knowing he had successfully passed on his passion.

I stand on that precipice myself.  The moments of my son’s own success in hunting closer every day to being a reality, and the anticipation of such brings me greater joy than I ever could have imagined. 

So, I wait.  

The exact same single shot twenty gauge currently sits in my safe, waiting for the first of my sons to take it up and realize the same success of his father.

Happy Father’s Day to all those great dads out there!

 

Team Bad Decision: An Evolutionary Tale In Backcountry Hunting is back in stock, and we are running a Father’s Day Sale of 10% off on the paperback, and 30% off on the eBooks!  Sale ends at Midnight of June 16th, use code:  FATHERSDAY2019