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Pay it Forward

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Hunting dog holding a pheasant rooster

It’s Friday after Thanksgiving and believe it or not, I’m in the office today writing this. My plans of taking the day off for a four-day pheasant “huntcation” were foiled by an unpunched deer tag the week prior. I opted to exchange a few Fridays in hopes of filling our freezer. Fortunately, it paid off, but that doesn’t make sitting here today any easier.

Cayla and her husband out hunting

Yesterday, we met a good friend in the morning for a pheasant hunt. As we rolled out of the driveway at dark, the pickup’s thermometer read minus 2 degrees … yikes. We watched birds from warm vehicles head to the fields to feed as we waited for them to return to thicker cover. Finley, and his hunting partner for the day, a German shorthaired pointer puppy, whined with anticipation, while we grew antsy ourselves.

The past few years my husband and I have started making this our Thanksgiving Day tradition. A half-day of hunting, followed by a traditional meal with all the fixings and some relaxing, before a full weekend in the uplands. I love the opportunity to “earn my bird,” to tire Finley out enough to snooze away the rest of the day on the couch, and to reflect on everything I’m thankful for in the place I feel most connected.

And thankful I am. For my health, my husband, family, the old friends who have been with me through most of my life, the new friends who haven’t but feel like they have, for the bird dog snoring on the couch, a full freezer, fresh North Dakota wild turkey, homemade pecan pie in the oven, and both the tangible and less tangible bounties of an outdoor lifestyle.

In October, I asked a favor of you all. I asked you to embrace the gratitude you have for this lifestyle and pay it forward by introducing someone new to hunting. I asked you to help make sure someone else has the opportunity to live a life full of the experiences only the outdoors has to offer, and I asked you to share your stories with us with #ReliveYourFirstHunt. Some of you answered.

“My daughter got her first doe during the youth season. Greatest hunt I’ve been on since I’ve been deer hunting.”
-Brandon Sailer

Brandon Sailer's daughter with her first deer
Proud dad, Brandon, said his daughter’s first deer (pictured here) was his favorite hunt yet.

“Last year I bought my first bow tag, I got to go out twice before my wife was over it and wanted me home to help with our son who just turned two. I gave my 2 cents as I complied to her demands lol! She surprised me while I was away learning to work on helicopters for the National Guard and she got her hunters safety. This year was her first time deer hunting. November 6th at 08:24 A.M, 160 yards she shot one round and hit this mule deer perfectly in the middle of the heart. We had the little man with us and he got his first introduction to being in the field, though his time was spent climbing on a hill and watching a movie on his iPad while I tried to show her how to handle the deer. It was a great shot that boosted her confidence and was a great morning as a whole getting to be out there together.”
- T. West

“My first year hunting and I had a buck tag to fill. I went out with my husband and father-in-law. Watched for a while, then decided to go walking. We snuck up on a few mule deer does and fawns. We were going to move on when I spotted this guy, whitetail, laying down just 10 yards from them. He never got up! What an awesome experience!”
-Erin Essler

Erin Essler with husband and her first deer
Erin and her husband pose proudly together with Erin’s first deer ever.

“Three generations of hunters were there for my youngest child’s first deer.”
- Diana Kuznia

“That’s me, the stepfather on the left and his dad on the right, sharing in our son’s first deer. This is what it means to be family.”
- Craig Hauglie

Chase and Shawn Cummings
Chase and dad, Shawn, return from a sit in the deer stand with one less arrow than they came out with and Chase’s first ever deer.

“My son, Chase shot his very first deer with his bow and arrow. He worked all summer shooting his bow and he got good enough I felt he could harvest a deer. We hunted about a dozen different times before we had an opportunity, but he shot and missed. The look on his face was priceless. He now understands what buck fever really is to this day. We went out the next day and I remember it like yesterday, we had a buck come into range. Looking over to see my son full draw arrow shaking uncontrollably and that moment right before that arrow left the bow, he took a big breath and calmed down. The shot was perfect, the emotion that came after the shot so real and pure. He made an absolute perfect shot. He gave me a big hug and told me thank you, I remember it bringing a tear to my eye. I was more excited than he was. I am so blessed to have a young man that is going to be an outdoorsman the rest of his life because of the opportunities in this state.”
- Shawn Cummings

What I provided is simply a sample of the stories that filtered in. Some readers provided their names, some didn’t. Doesn’t matter because it was a joy to read their abbreviated tales. If you are inspired reading them, fret not. There is still plenty of hunting season left and unusually mild forecasts on the horizon. Our upland bird seasons (pheasant, grouse and Hungarian partridge) are open through January 2 and tree squirrel through February 28, two types of hunting that can offer great scenarios for new hunters and excellent table fare. And it’s not really about what you harvest or if you harvest anything at all, it’s about being out there together, showing a young boy what it means to set aside differences and be a family, and finding more gratification in someone else’s fist hunt (your words, not mine) than your own.

Tired hunting dog sleeping on couch


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