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Cayla as a child with family on a hunt

Jake Bendel (left), Bob Bendel and Cayla Bendel with family dog Hawk

My first days spent afield were in the grouse woods of central Minnesota, an annual trip that aligned with a break from school in mid-October. I don’t know if I have a full memory of what was my very first hunt, but I do have this wonderful assortment of crystal-clear snippets from those days that, when blended together, resurrect scents and sounds from those hunts collectively.

It’s funny, most of the mornings parked in Dad’s blue Caravan waiting for the sun to begin its cut through the young aspens, I had my eyes shut and was regretting agreeing to come. I was soaking in the last few minutes of warmth and comfort and dreading the word “Ready?” signifying the commencement of twigs slapping me in my face for the remainder of the morning.

And yet, today, those memories emit nothing but positivity and nostalgia. What I’d give to go back and relive one of those mornings again, just once.

Jesper Anderson with his first deer harvested

Jesper Anderson with his first deer

Last Saturday morning, my husband and I were on a hillside on a wildlife management area watching two distinctly different but wonderful bird dogs work in front of us. My mind was wandering as it tends to when hunting and I was thinking about everything that’s changed since those mornings, and everything that hasn’t. But I was interrupted by a phone call. I would normally leave my phone on silent because escaping life, if only for an hour, is among my top reasons to head afield. However, I was anticipating this call.

A coworker on the other end informing me his son had a deer down. I’ve only worked for the Department for a year, and I don’t know him super well, but his emotion was evident even through the phone and despite this signifying that our brief grouse hunt was now over, his happiness was infectious. “Yep, he got his first deer, perfect shot right through the heart!” A high-pitched “woo hoo” calls out from the background.

Michelle DeLeon (left) with Cayla on a successful duck hunt

We head that direction to get some footage for an upcoming Department video project. When we arrive at the farmyard, his son is sitting in the driver’s seat of a UTV with a huge smile, ready to take us to his first deer, but not before dad recalls the morning’s events, with still the slightest of rushed breathing. In addition to their unmistakable physical resemblance, with their equally beaming pride, it’s tough to tell whose first deer it is.

I haven’t had the opportunity to experience what it feels like to take your own child on their first hunt and be a part of their first deer, but I certainly hope to one day. I have, however, had the privilege to take other adults and kids on their first hunts, some of them successful, some of them not, some of them still on their journey to their first harvest.

Cayla and Emily Schwartz on a chilly hunt

What I do know, it clearly wasn’t limits of ruffed grouse that shaped the person I am today. And while some days were fruitful, those don’t seem to be the parts as crystal-clear today.

We can never see our favorite movie again for the first time, and I can’t go back in time and smell the crisp leaves on a frosty October morning with my dad to my left and big brother to my right, and Hawk, the late German shorthaired pointer in front, and some grousey cover and my whole life ahead of me. But we can make sure someone else gets a life full of those experiences.

Successful or not, if my coworker is any indication of the emotions of taking someone new can provoke, in a way, you can relive your first hunt.

Share your mentorship stories with us on social media #ReliveYourFirstHunt.

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