The beginning of a family tradition
Flashback ... The older I get, the more I appreciate my youth and growing up hunting. Some of my happiest of times were with my father, my brother and the close group of friends we spent nearly every weekend with from mid-September to November archery hunting in the woods of Luck, Wis. Part of the annual routine started with the preparation of the pending season by visiting Tom's Archery Shop in Excelsior, Minn., to see what was new for the year. We would bring in our bows, and Tom would adjust, tune the bows and outfit us with some of the latest and greatest. As kids, we never had much money to spend so Tom would make us deals all the time. He was a true mentor for all of us kids in making sure we had safe equipment and financing our dream bows with a great layaway plan that would allow us to shoot our new bows in his shop, while making weekly payments to him. And when opening day arrived, miraculously, the bow was paid for and Tom would send us home with it. I realize now how many favors Tom did for us. We would shoot in his indoor range; compete for accuracy and dream of the perfect shot at that big buck we would be bagging shortly in the woods. That was some 35 years ago.
Flash forward ... My wife Cindy and I have been blessed with two beautiful girls, Katie and Maddie. Raising a family takes faith, focused commitment, love, time and patience (best to put my hunting habit on hold for a few years). Many of my friends that know my passion for the outdoors and have asked me if I wish I had had boys instead of girls so that I could hunt and fish with them. Are you kidding me? One of my hot buttons is that statement. Why would you think that a boy can hunt and a girl cannot?
Cindy and I purchased a piece of recreational property about three years ago in northwestern Wisconsin. We were so lucky to find this place, 2 1/2 hours from home, close to family, and right in the middle of some of the best upland game, deer hunting and trout fishing areas I have ever seen. We spend countless amounts of time with our dogs and family and friends at our cabin. We happen to have the benefit of having an extra couple of cabins on the property, one of which Grandma and Grandpa now occupy. Grandma and Grandpa's cabin quickly became the kids' favorite place as Grandma always had special treats for the girls. We spent the last two years upgrading our cabins. We constructed, painted, carpeted, re-plumbed - you get the picture. We would have "work weekends," and Grandma became the camp cook, making all of my childhood favorites. I recall sitting around the fire last year. Just mom and I were sharing a bottle of our favorite wine at the end of a long work day. The fire was crackling, geese and ducks were swimming on the ponds, the kids were playing on the hammock, and Cindy and Grandpa were off preparing a treat for us to have around our fire. I recall Mom turning to me with tears rolling down her cheeks and saying, "Thank you for putting all of this together. I know you have added 10 years to your fathers' life. We just love it here, and having my family around me is the best gift I could ever receive." We hugged, shook it off and returned to watching the sunset, and the kids laughing and playing with the dogs by the shore of our pond. Ironically, Mom passed away very unexpectedly this past February.
Talk about memories, family campfires, walks in the woods, training our British Lab Murphy and yes, hunting! Both of my daughters share the outdoor passion like their dad. A few years back, Maddie and Katie took first and second in an archery contest at Gander Mountain in Woodbury. They attend weekly fly-tying classes with me during the winter and this year went to the Wisconsin Youth Deer Hunt. Katie could not wait until this fall so she could participate. I am also very fortunate that Cindy's family comes from a long line of deer hunters. In fact, last year Uncle Howie hung up his gun and retired from deer hunting. One day, he showed up at our door with a load of guns and a piece of paper detailing each gun and its complete history. I decided right then and there that our family would have a tradition of deer hunting. Katie has inherited Grandpa Maki's deer rifle - A 280 Cal Model 740 Remington Woodsman. What a sweet gun. I had the local gunsmith go through the gun, and Uncle Butch refinished the stock for us. According to Howie's note, Grandpa purchased the gun in the early to mid 50's.
Thinking back to my childhood, I knew the importance of preparation. Katie and I spent countless hours learning about Grandpa's gun. We practiced loading, unloading, safe handling and shooting it this past summer. We learned of the WI Youth Mentoring Program Katie was in. She talked about deer hunting all summer. We scouted areas to hunt, trimmed trails and shooting lanes and learned together how the deer move in our woods. Anyone age 10 or older, born on or after Jan. 1, 1973, can obtain a hunting license and hunt, without the need to first take hunter education. We tried to get into a Hunter Safety program but all the local programs were full with a waiting list. The mentoring program is new this year. Kids age 10 and older are able to purchase a hunting license ($35 for non resident junior sports deer/small game/fishing). They can hunt with a parent or legal guardian age 18 or older. One gun only between the two hunters. For more information, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/HUNT/ and click on the mentoring program. On Oct. 10 and 11, we participated in the Wisconsin youth deer hunt. We invited our good friends, Mark and Nick Holm, to join us. We put up stands and ground blinds, scouted and hunted. The wind was blowing extra strong, and we awoke Saturday to two inches of snow on the ground. That did not faze the kids. They were so excited they could hardly wait to get in the woods. We were in our stands by 6 a.m. and saw many deer. They would come to edge of the field, check the wind and bolt across the field to the woods on the other side. You could not hit a target like that even with a machine gun. Katie and I decided to move to a ground blind in the woods that evening. We were in the blind by 3 p.m. All settled in waiting for the opportunity. Katie and I had the greatest conversation. I shared hunting stories from my youth and stories of hunting with Uncle Dan, Uncle Howie and Uncle Don (Cindy's side of the family). We talked a lot about Grandma and the silly things she did for the kids and how much we miss her. Katie brought along Grandma's quilted work jacket for good luck. In the ground blind, we have some real comfy portable chairs; it's sometimes hard to stay awake. After a few hours of sitting in virtual silence with the exception of our friendly chatty red squirrel and a few blue jays, Katie came over and sat in my lap. My little hunter still likes to cuddle with her dad. Katie turned to me, looked me in the eyes and said, "Dad thanks for taking me hunting." I knew right then and there we had started a new family tradition that will last for years to come. I hope Katie will have the same great hunting memories that I have of my childhood. We had deer within 20 yards of us, but always behind trees or thick brush and never a good clean shot opportunity. We saw six deer that evening. So I think I have answered the question of whether or not I wish I had a boy. Daughters rock!
The Holms did not bag a deer that weekend but saw a few. The kids cannot wait until the Wisconsin season opener in November to get back in the woods. I think Katie and Nick might even have a friendly competition starting. As for Mark and I, we are both so thankful for families, friends and the time we get to spend with them. Most important is the lesson that I learned; quality time with your children is the greatest gift you can give them. Next year we will introduce Maddie and Mark's next generation to our new family tradition of deer hunting. I do so enjoy the outdoors, especially when I am with my family and my friends.
A special thank you to the State of Wisconsin for recognizing the importance and value of taking a kid hunting.