My 11 year-old son found a fawn and he didn’t bring it home.
The pictures he took won purple at the Butte-Lawrence County Fair and then again at the state fair. The gifts I received were found in the reverence in his voice as he bent over the new-born deer, the immensity of his eyes as he looked up in awe, and the maturity he gained when we sat and spoke in hushed tones of the doe that would come back and raise it to maturity if we just leave it for her to come back to. Through the years our family has raised a small zoo of orphans that the kids have brought home. Holding hands with my son as we left with only pictures, was a gift.
A look back through the year at Christmas time reminds me that I am twice blessed to be able to live in South Dakota and in the Black Hills. The hunting seasons serve as a mental calendar that helps chronicle the memories that are so like Christmas gifts.
I watched my eldest son Lane turn down his first trophy gobbler strutting at the end of his shot gun. He had forgotten his watch and couldn’t be sure that legal shooting light had arrived. Knowing that my son is a more virtuous hunter than I was at his age is a gift. I’m fairly certain that marrying well has had a great deal to do with that.
Watching Lane take his little brother for a spin in his own boat was a gift. I never had a brother other than the ones I made myself and the relationship my sons share, bloody battles and all, is a gift. My greatest fishing memory was made on the banks of the Belle Fourche River as I held Lane upside down by his belt and one ankle. I did so in an effort to better enable him in his attempt to land the biggest catfish of his life.
Nothing is quiet so annoying to a 16 year-old boy than a father who wants to share just a little more parenting. To discover that I could still hold and lift him out of the water was a gift that, I’m afraid, time will inevitably take.
I was there when my one son shot his first bull and the other took his first buck. Neither came easily and I am grateful that they learned to overcome adversity along the way. Hunting is about so much more than the shooting. The struggles each boy overcame helped both of them grow. I have little to no skill in video gaming or snowboarding. When I took each boy out and helped them fulfill their hunting dreams, I was fully useful in so many more ways than normal day to day life allows. Too often in their lives, I am merely a form of transportation or worse; a monotonous sound track of life lessons they have heard a thousand times before. I am grateful for the gift when hunting allows me to be a useful father.
I am grateful for the gift of failure. I am a professional hunter. I share my knowledge with clients from across the country who come to visit and hunt in the hills and I am delighted when each achieves a hunting goal. But I still fail more than I succeed. If each and every hunter was successful, hunting itself would be diminished. I’m grateful for the men and women who have experienced failures and still shared their appreciation of the beauty of the wildlife and lands I sometimes now take for granted.
I am especially grateful that hunting is more of an art than a science and that each year I am given glimpses of magnificent bucks and bulls far greater than any I have ever taken. Every year I have the opportunity to share the photographs of hunters who have taken the greatest animal of their lives. The sadness comes as they realize they may never pursue a trophy greater than the one already taken. I am grateful in my failure that that has yet to happen to me.
The promise and potential of hunts yet to come is for hunters, perhaps the greatest Christmas gift of all. God bless, and may you share many more hunting and holiday memories with those you love.