As far as Mom knew, I ‘d fallen out of the back of the truck at the farm. Well, as far as she knew for about 30 seconds anyway. She was aghast and giving me the third-degree about the bruises on my shoulder that were getting darker by the minute. Wanting to protect my Dad from the firestorm that was brewing, I came up with the best excuse I could for the strange gun-stock shaped bruising. I fell out of the truck. She wasn’t buying it. Within minutes my Dad was in the room and to his credit he let me do the talking. He knew I’d eventually crack and “make honestly my policy,” as he’d always taught me.
Crack I did; I came clean about him finally giving-in to my incessant pestering and letting me take a few shots with his double-barrel 20-gauge.
I don’t really remember the argument they had in the wake of my confession, but I know there was one. And a similar one when I received my first BB gun from him at the tender age of seven. And probably another one behind closed doors when I later shot a sparrow in the back-yard.
But my history with guns probably isn’t much different than any other hunter’s. We all have our stories of our first shots and probably different stories about the first time we hit what we were aiming at. I know I’ve got stories about my first duck, my first double, my first 25 at the trap range and my first win in a state rifle match in high-school. But each one was inspired and supported by my Dad. Sure, my Mom was supportive too and appreciated my successes as much as he did, but my Dad was more than my support; he was my sponsor.
He still is of course. I get weekly updates about the whitetail season back home, the waterfowl migration on the Mississippi, and inquiries about how my seasons in the west are going. But I owe so much of my worldview, my appreciation for the outdoors and my connection to the Midwest ethos to my father. He is a regular character in many of the articles I write and has been just as frequent a character in many untold stories throughout my life. I used to think about how grateful I was to have a dad who liked to do cool stuff. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the gratitude was less about what my dad enjoyed, and more about the fact that he enjoyed seeing me grow into things that I enjoyed.
My good friend Chris (a non-hunter) has a really enthusiastic 11 year old son, Julian, who loves to try everything. A year or so ago Julian wouldn’t shut-up about wanting to try hunting. Being a non-hunter, Chris went out of his way to set up an opportunity for Julian to tag along with a co-worker’s husband on a duck hunt. Julian is hooked, and although neither Chris nor his wife have any interest in suddenly taking up the gun, they couldn’t be happier that Julian has found (yet another) something he enjoys. They continue to help him get into the woods every opportunity they can; Julian, and I, have been really lucky.
Over the past several months, I’ve been working with a local non-profit organization called the Watershed Education Network that takes grade school children to rivers and streams in western Montana to give them positive experiences in nature and teach them about the importance of being watershed stewards. Many of the children we work with have never even been to the river just blocks from their homes and school, much less into the mountains or hunting and fishing with their parents. Some kids, similar to Julian, have simply been born into homes where there is no hunting or fishing interest; however, they are also unfortunate to have been born into a house with parents who have not afforded them the opportunity to have an interest in it either. But even worse, some kids are unfortunate enough to have a father or mother who is just unwilling to interrupt their own hunting or fishing schedules to let a kid tag along. Knowing the intense generosity of time that my dad spent with me over the years in the outdoors, it’s unfathomable to me that some kids simply are not welcome hunting buddies.
So when I am able to work with these kids and see their faces and eyes light up like mine must have the first time I felt the odd sensation of cold water compressing waders around my bone-dry legs, and hear the excitement in their voice when they make a new discovery by the river, I am grateful to be able to help make that experience happen. But it makes me even more grateful that the similar experiences I had didn’t happen in the company of strangers on a school field trip; it makes my appreciation for the role of my father as my sponsor, and my mother as a supporter that much stronger. So I’m not ready for kids yet, but when I am, you can bet that if they want to shoot guns and play in the water I’ll be right there beside them.