The buck’s head came clearly into view. His non-typical points were hooking out the side like an ancient torture device and his eyes searched the prairies for the source of his alarm. My Ranger read 54 yards exactly. One more step, he needed to take one more step to be completely clear of the wild rose bush that was guarding his vitals. He turned to look back over his shoulder, still unsure as to why he was leaving. Finally, he took that step. I never did see the arrow hit, but a second later I could see just the tip of my yellow fletches buried in his shoulder. As he ran his head slowly lowered, but he never slowed his pace until he slid into a summersault at full speed.
Shock shook my body as I turned back around to my cameraman. The reality of what I had just done started to take hold, and even though I was supposed to say something to the TV audience that would be watching I was at a complete loss for words. “I can’t believe that just happened” was all I was able to get out. “We’ve been working so hard for this deer,” I continued, the emotion starting to build in my voice. “I just smoked him!” That’s when I noticed tears welling up in my cameraman’s eyes and rolling down her cheeks. It’s not often you see that type of emotion in the person running the camera. But my situation is a little different; my “cameraman” is my wife. She had been along on every second of that hunt, she had covered the same miles, she made the same stalks, and when it all came together it was as much her success as it was mine. That success was OURS.
The ability to share experiences like that is just one of the many benefits to having your hunting partner as your life partner. Not only do we have a vast collection of shared experiences, but we also now have common interests, common goals, and a common understanding of what makes each other tick (not to be confused with a common understanding of where to find ticks on each other)! I remember the first time I brought home a pair of Sitka pants with a price tag of $149. At least one eyebrow was raised since she was convinced there was “surely a pair of pants that did the same thing for half the price.” However, several seasons later and with more than a few backcountry hunting trips under her belt, my wife wears Sitka from head to toe. She has a firsthand understanding of how high-quality gear can make your hunts so much more enjoyable, like staying dry and warm.
Hunting together has strengthened our relationship, given us the opportunity to spend more time together, and made each of us a better person and partner. In fact, while compiling lists of pros and cons with my spouse, I was hard-pressed to come up with any downside. One of the positives I’ve already mentioned could be considered a negative when considering the expense of buying two sets of expensive gear. Another possible downside is that I’ve spent a lot more time behind the camera than in front of it the past few years, but I don’t even consider that a drawback. I get the chance to go hunting now more than ever, and if I’m holding a Canon camera or a Mathews bow, it doesn’t matter to me. In fact, I get even MORE pumped for my wife when she gets an opportunity! Anyone who has introduced a new hunter to the sport can confirm there’s something immensely rewarding about watching a new hunter finally “get it.”
The fact that the pros far out way the cons is common knowledge. The trick, however, is figuring out how to make the transition from going single and solo to being a life partner and hunting partner. After quizzing my wife on the subject I feel like I’m now qualified to present the following tips on ensuring your partner grows to appreciate the outdoors with you.
First and foremost, the personal quality you will need to exhibit above all others is PATIENCE. Remember, you’ve probably been honing your woodsmanship and hunting prowess for years, spending countless hours behind a gun or bow learning to channel your inner predator (I assume I’m writing predominantly to men who are introducing their ladies, however, these techniques will work equally well when introducing anyone to the sport). Your wife/girlfriend hasn’t been dreaming about killing a deer or making a perfect shot on an elk since she was knee-high to a grasshopper. This will all be new to her and trying to push the learning curve will only hinder the ultimate goal. Be encouraging and supportive by setting easy goals initially. Remember, she is likely trying this in the first place because she just wants to spend more time with you and if that time isn’t pleasant than it won’t last long.
For me, part of the magic in hunting is being able to experience nature in a way that others don’t. Don’t get so caught up in trying to be successful that you forget to watch the sunrise together or listen to an owl as the sky fades from red to starry black. These special moments are what keep you coming back, and they’re going to have the exact same effect on her if you take the time to appreciate them together. A yellow wildflower on a mountainside, a chattering grey squirrel, a crystal blue lake, a handful of tiny wild strawberries are all opportunities to soak in nature’s beauty together.
By turning hunting trips into date nights, and special moments into shared memories, she’ll soon start developing her own love for the sacred tranquility that hunting provides. This is the moment when the majority of men make their most fatal mistake. They rush out at the first hint of interest, buy an entire setup, a pocket full of tags, and expect they have a new hunting partner for that fall. I caution you, this is not the time to leap forward. Instead take a step back and push for a deeper appreciation of the little details that make what we do so beautiful. Slow down your approach, take selfies, bring snacks, and don’t go out if it’s -20 and blowing snow. Keep it FUN!
Once you realize that this introduction to hunting is a long-term commitment it opens avenues for a whole host of memories to make together. After our first season of mule deer hunting, my wife, Missy, came to the realization that her fitness level was a major factor in her lack of success. Our type of hunting requires the stamina to hike 5-10 miles a day for several days in a row in steep unforgiving terrain. With that knowledge from season one still fresh in her mind, she decided to take up running as a way to train in the off-season. Her first training session was an attempt to run 1 km. She made it about halfway. Since then she has pushed herself and started training on a daily basis. She ran her first 5K race before season two and developed a love for competing along the way. Today we both run obstacle races together as a way of staying in shape for hunting season, but also as a way for me to join her in participating in what she loves to do.
Through hunting, we’ve also discovered a love for competitive archery. What started out as a way for my wife to spend a little more time with me in the fall has turned into a year-round activity. We train and run in the off-season and shoot our bows on a regular basis. Our evening activities revolve around our mutual interests. No more is it about me going golfing with the guys while she hangs out with her friends. We plan hunts together, hang stands together, compete in 3D shoots and obstacle races together, and spend our weekend’s fly fishing and scouting new territory. Although it has taken years of patience and encouragement to get where we are today, every second of it was well worth it!
This past September I watched in the viewfinder as a beautiful buck got up from its bed and started feeding toward Missy’s ambush spot. She slowly got in position for a shot with her bow held high. When the buck’s head lowered she hit full draw and settled into a solid anchor. Time stood still, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, he moved his shoulder forward and 20 minutes later we were standing over her first mule deer buck! It was 5 years after her first hunting season, 4 years after her first 5K race, 3 years after her first 10K race, 2 years after her first half marathon, and a couple weeks after her first triathlon. All her preparation over those past 5 years built up to that moment and the emotions poured down her face as she accomplished her goal. I’ve never been more proud in my entire life! That, my friends, is why you take your time when introducing your girl to hunting. It’s something worth doing, and like my grandfather used to say, “something worth doing, is worth doing RIGHT!”