Thanks dad, for everything

Nathan’s note: This article originally appeared in Badger Sportsman Magazine my senior year of college. This was my Father’s Day gift to him in 2013. It was the first outdoors article of mine that was ever formally published.

Though there are some things I would change about it structurally in hindsight, I didn’t make those tweaks. I feel this is an accurate representation of where I was in my life and career at the time.

Everyone who hunts seems to have a father and son story, if only just one. I have been blessed with many.

I feel like there is a time in every man’s life where he becomes grown up enough to realize exactly how much he means to his father. With this realization comes the natural pondering of what a struggle it must have been to raise a son. This is typically followed by an appreciation for undertaking such a thankless task.

My first realization came when I was 16-years-old. My dad wrote a letter to me while I was on confirmation retreat. Truthfully, I don’t remember a lot of it, but a certain passage is still burned in my mind to this day.

My dad wrote that, when he found out that he and my mom were having a son, he was hopeful that he would have a hunting and fishing partner for life.

Naturally, I didn’t realize it at the time, but my dad did everything in his power to make sure that I fell in love with the outdoors. Whether it was letting me tag along hunting long before I could legally handle a gun or taking me fishing at the park for bluegill on summer evenings, he made experiencing the outdoors with his son a priority.

Though it was incredibly important to him, he never shoved it down my throat. To this day he opens my bedroom door and utters the following question: “Hey, wanna go hunting(/fishing)? ”

You see, it was always my choice. It still is.

Many would think that his strain would pay off by the time I could hunt, but the growing pains didn’t stop when I turned 12. In fact, they had just begun. I took hunter’s safety online and my dad scheduled a field day for me at a location that was good hour and a half drive from our house.

Even once I was certified, I was dreadfully inaccurate with a shotgun (still am). My dad took me to shoot trap at the local sportsman’s club in hopes that I would gain a little marksmanship with my new weapon.

Clay pigeons were missed, my shoulder was bruised, and tears were shed. Still, he remained patient with me. We downgraded to a youth-model 20-gauge for the upcoming bird seasons.

So, mourning dove hunting became the initial objective. Hunting doves had recently become legal in Wisconsin and besides, what better way for a youngster to learn how to use a firearm?

Well, doves are quick. Frankly, initially, they seemed more like F-16’s with their innate ability to stop on a dime and continue flying in a new direction at a high speed.

After a few hunts, I finally managed to knock one down (to this day, I am still convinced my dad shot it first, but whatever) and we celebrated.

However, waterfowl hunting was a different story altogether.

Countless Saturdays my dad got up at ungodly hours of the morning to go duck hunting and always allowed me to come along. All so I could hopelessly miss a few streaking teal on the Milwaukee River that I never stood a chance at.

Things eventually began to look up.

My dad, one of his friends, and I did a special youth duck hunt on some public land not too far from my hometown.

I don’t really recall many specifics about that day, but I do remember the first flock of ducks coming over about an hour after sunrise. I took aim and dropped a bird out of the flock. It folded in mid-air and my dad was hugging me before it even hit the ground. To this day, I am fairly certain that the safety on my gun wasn’t even on.

Much of the early afternoon was spent riding our old Ford Ranger around Sheboygan Falls showcasing the bird to my entire family.

A few weeks later, regular season goose hunting opened. My dad and grandpa traditionally hunted the Collins Marsh Zone, so I did too.

It seemed to good to be true. Many a morning, I tagged along with dad and grandpa to Collins on an early October morning and watched them down their limits of geese. Finally, it was my turn to join them.

As it turned out, it took a few humbling trips to realize what, exactly, I was in for.

I quickly learned that, geese are flying tanks, hitting one does not ensure a successful harvest.

Eventually, I put a load of pellets right where they needed to be and dropped my first goose. My dad took off running after the downed bird as if someone was going to take it from us. It landed in some pretty thick brush, but he was able to locate it and bring it back to me. Many hive-fives and hugs were exchanged between my dad, my grandpa and I. It is a moment I will never forget.

While waterfowling success such as that eventually came, there still remained one big issue: I had yet to kill a deer.

This was a problem because there is something special about deer hunting in the state of Wisconsin. Harvesting a deer is sort of an unofficial rite of passage into manhood.

I wasn’t expecting to be able to go gun deer hunting during the first season I could legally hunt, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the lengths my dad was willing to go to get me ready to hit the woods at the ripe old age of 12.

Big D scoured the newspapers looking for a place to go shoot rifles. He was willing to haul me as fair as Menomonee Falls (over an hour away) just for the chance to feel out the big gun.

Despite numerous family-wide efforts, I was unable to down a deer in my first few seasons of hunting.

On one faithful fall afternoon, my dad and I were sitting, huddled in a ground blind near a retention pond on some private land we had permission on. We hadn’t seen anything more than a tail all day until, lo and behold, I noticed a deer standing broadside at less than 30-yards.

I nudged my old man, who hadn’t taken notice because he was facing a different direction and said, ” Dad, there is a deer, what do I do?”

He looked up, saw the animal, and with a sudden spurt of excitement said,” F***ing shoot it!.”

I put it in the cross hairs and slowly squeezed the trigger. The deer ran off into some nearby cover. Minutes (though it felt like hours) later we left the blind in search of the animal. After a few anxious moments of searching, my dad found the deer lying yards from where the bullet had made contact. Finally, my first deer.

As I have grown older, I have been fortunate enough to continue to share special moments like this with my father.

Three years ago, I dropped a nub-buck at a considerable distance on opening morning of gun-deer season. I was a little disappointed due to the small stature of the animal, but my dad congratulated me on a nice, ethical shot and was happy for me none-the-less.

Left with only a buck tag, I climbed back into my tree stand, planning on taking a nice nap, knowing full well that deer donning antlers were in short supply where we hunted.

Wouldn’t you know it? After dozing off for awhile, I awoke to the sound of twigs snapping and brush rustling behind me. As I regained consciousness, I frantically looked around for the source of the commotion.

I eventually locked-in on a deer running at full-tilt toward me. It stopped directly to my right, a marginal distance from my stand. Sure enough, it had horns, only the third buck I had seen, in person, in my life.

I grunted, the deer stopped, I raised my sights and let ‘er rip. The deer dropped like a ton of bricks without taking another step.

The first thing I did was call my dad. To this day, I remember my exact words to him, “Your son just shot his first buck.”

I climbed down my tree and walked toward my trophy. My dad soon joined me over near where the deer was laying. I immediately jumped into his arms in excitement.

I was proud of myself and I knew he was proud of me too.

Hunting continues to provide some of the best memories in my young life and I try my best to appreciate how lucky I am to have created moments such as those.

I don’t have as much time to hunt as I used to, as any real adult will tell you, that is part of growing up. However, I still cherish the moments I get to share with my dad in the outdoors. So much so, that when I found out that a project would keep me from joining my old man on his annual duck hunting trip to the Mississippi River last fall, I cried.

I know, it’s immature for a 20-year-old man to be shedding tears over such a trivial matter, but it really bothered me. I was genuinely upset. Hunting opportunities with my dad were few and far between and I missed out on one of the most unique chances of the year.

During this past archery season, as my dad and I were working at getting my bow dialed in from various distances, I realized how much I missed this precious time. The chance to just be guys and talk about manly stuff like consistent release points and tight arrow groupings.

That is why this season mattered so much to me. It presented the first chance I have had to bow hunt with my dad in over two years. We have a load of deer on the property he rents and there was a decent chance that I would be able to draw back on a nice one.

As it turns out, I didn’t bag a trophy of a lifetime. But I am still thankful.

Thankful that my father took the time to teach me how to hunt the right way.

Thankful that the knowledge he has instilled in me has allowed me to share my passion for hunting with others.

Thankful for the chance to spend time in the woods with the man who has spent so much of his own time sharing one of his greatest loves with me.

After all, none of this will last forever.

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