Pass heritage of hunting along to future generations

A cold snap Tuesday night left a chill in the air Wednesday morning as I jumped in my car for my morning commute. Cooler weather gets me dreaming about the coming archery season, and it becomes hard to concentrate on less important things like daily tasks, a job and family. OK, I really do love my family, but I spend 365 days a year with them, and deer season’s only a couple months.

I start thinking about which broadhead I’ll tip my crossbow bolts with and whether I can find a target that will stop those bolts but still allow me to remove them. It’s time to set up trail cameras (I know, those of you with your own land did that a long time ago), check the ground blind for wasp and mouse nests, trim shooting lanes, dig out the warm-weather camo gear and a dozen other tasks.

I do believe that preparing for the hunt is almost as much fun as the hunting itself. When walking down the aisles of our favorite sporting goods stores pre-season, we are all on a level playing field and any of us are capable of dragging out a jaw-dropping buck.

Hunting’s an individual sport, and that’s doubly true of archery season. Bowhunters and crossbow hunters (really the same thing for the most part) are facing the wily whitetail on the deer’s terms. There’s not many deer drives or group hunts among archers, other than to travel together to a camp and then split up to hunt our own spots (gun hunting has gone this way, too, but with the sheer number of gun hunters afield, even the simple act of walking to and from stands becomes a way to move deer to other hunters).

There’s a lot less luck involved in archery hunting than gun hunting. Each year, we see first-year hunters with big rifle-killed bucks in the local papers, but that doesn’t happen often with bowhunters. To get within 40 yards of a wise buck or even old doe takes a lot of skill.

I’ve been bowhunting deer since 1974, and as I grow older (I turn 59 on Sept. 3), my hunting goals evolve. Bowhunting is a somewhat selfish sport, but that’s not necessarily bad. Being isolated from other humans for a few hours in the woods is amazingly therapeutic and relaxing, and bagging a beautiful deer completely on your own is supremely fulfilling.

Then my little girl started to grow up, and I had to drag her along.

Kalispell does not have the interest in hunting that I had at her age. Not even close. She approaches hunting as a curiosity, as a chance to hang out with Dad and as an opportunity to munch on chocolate. I think she can shoot a deer, but she’s not had a shot yet. It could happen this season.

After almost six decades on earth (wow, I’m old), I’ve shot enough deer to be satisfied. My name’s not in the Pope and Young Club or Boone and Crockett Club books. There’s a dandy eight-pointer on my living-room wall that would make many hunters jealous, but some chuckle. My first buck, a scraggly seven-pointer shot with a smoothbore Ithaca 12-gauge in 1978, remains my most prized trophy.

When I crawl into my ground blind on opening weekend, waiting in the pre-dawn darkness for the sound of a cracking stick or the vision of a deer’s outline, what are my goals? What would make 2018 the perfect deer season?

Delicious, organic, wild venison is high on the list. Deer meat is low in cholesterol and high in tastiness. Does and fawns (those deer born this year, not necessarily the spotted variety) taste better than older bucks because their flesh is young and tender. I’ll have a total of eight deer “tags” (not really tags anymore, but “deer harvest authorizations” is just a completely silly term that I refuse to use) this season, the same as last year, so why not bag a few does?

My perfect season would involve my daughter getting a shot at a deer. Bagging her first deer would be the ultimate, but she hasn’t paid her dues to the sport yet. I’d rather see her practice more and earn that animal, but sure, I’d hug her and forget to let go if she dropped one.

Having fun is high on the list, as always. Sharing it with Kali, or other hunting friends, only increases the enjoyment. Spending time in the woods — away from responsibilities and the chaos of cell phones, time clocks, interstate highways and all the other manmade potholes on the road to happiness — always makes me feel a part of the natural world, even if it’s only for a few hours.

Have you hunted for so long that maybe you need to re-examine the reasons you started hunting in the first place? If you want another big buck on the wall, more power to you. If you want to give a youngster the chance to do the same, even better. We need more recruits to our amazing sport, and the kids are just too busy playing Fortnite or Minecraft.

What can you do for the sport? Do you have a place that could spare a few does and introduce a youngster to a life-changing sport? Could your knowledge help your neighbor put more meat in the freezer or maybe a nice buck on his or her wall?

Yes, bowhunting is naturally an individual sport, but you can still share your knowledge, your skills and maybe even your land or your time with someone else to pass along our hunting heritage.

If you don’t, who will?

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.