Moments after my wife Penny gave birth to our third daughter in September 1988, I envisioned myself sitting in a deer stand while my kids made a drive through woody draws and forested river bottoms in Wisconsin. I’ve long since abandoned that idea. Only my oldest daughter, Leah, has a natural interest in hunting. Even though I included all three in my goose hunts and venison-cutting/wrapping chores from an early age, it soon became obvious that Elle and Karsyn have as much passion for the hunt and bowhunting as I do clothes fashion.
This 1992 photo shows the author’s young daughters with a bow-killed carp.
At first I bought Elle and Karsyn’s reasoning for begging off of goose hunting and fishing trips: They wanted no part in anything that involved leaving bed before dawn. That makes some sense on the surface, but it’s not like hunters hear the alarm, spring out of bed, and chatter happily about the values of sleep deprivation. Well, most of us don’t, anyway. No, the joys of pre-dawn waking’s don’t come until the sun rises and the woods, waters and marshes come to life. Those sights and sounds tend to make it a break-even proposition. What clinches the deal, however, is the adrenaline rush of a goose flock tilting into the decoys or a deer browsing its way into view. If those experiences don’t inspire a rush, you simply don’t have the hunter’s heart. Before my two youngest daughters were out of grade school, I realized they were so deprived. All three daughters were hunting with me for geese in mid-October in central Wisconsin, and our decoys — and possibly my mediocre calling — had coaxed in a huge flock of Canada geese.
The author’s daughters enjoy going to football games with him, but only one, Leah (on left) has been his longtime hunting partner.
As the geese hovered above our hiding place in the cornfield, their beating wings and excited calling made my skin tingle and neck hair stand on end. Finally, as the flock made its final descent into the decoys, Leah and I rose and fired our shotguns. With a couple of geese on the ground and the bulk of the flock fleeing in disarray, I excitedly turned the Elle and Karsyn, expecting to see joy and enthusiasm on their pretty faces. What I saw instead was a curious mix of boredom and relief. After getting over my shock at their lack of response, I almost expected them to yawn, tap their mouth, check their cartoon wrist-watches and ask, “Can we go home now?”
This 1991 photo shows the author’s oldest daughter, Leah, and then 6, with a buck she helped drive past his uncle, Terry Durkin, on his farm in southwestern Wisconsin.
Karsyn’s boredom didn’t fully shock me. On family fishing trips she was more inclined to read a book while perch or walleyes flopped around her on the boat’s floor. Meanwhile, I always enjoyed watching Elle hyperventilate while fighting a fish, or scream “fish!” when a rod slammed hard to stern. Even so, that seldom inspired Elle to join me on fishing jaunts that began before dawn. For much of my life I had believed the reason many folks don’t hunt is because they simply hadn’t been exposed to its excitement. It’s not that simple, of course. For parallels, I didn’t have to look any further than our pet Labradors. Our first dog, Silas, seemed to drop from his mother and start sniffing for birds. Our other Lab, Lucas, came from a great line of hunters but had no passion for anything except food and affectionate petting.
I didn’t give up all hope on Elle and Karsyn, however. After all, I was married to their mother for nearly 19 years before persuading her to try hunting turkeys one spring. Two years later, she decided it was more fun – and less pressure – to just tag along and listen. For her, the excitement was in hearing toms gobble their approach, and spotting them when they came into view. Just now, as Elle and Karsyn pass their mid-20s, I’ve mostly conceded I’ll never turn them into hunters. They seem to enjoy my stories and photos of my bowhunting trips and occasional successes, but I’d say the odds of them taking up hunting are about the same as me taking up golfing again. It’s just not happening.
The author’s oldest daughter, Leah, has hunted with him since she was 3 years old back in 1988. This photo was taken in Idaho in 2008.
Even so, I take comfort in the fact that Elle and Karsyn prefer venison over all other meats, and that they appreciate the importance of hunting in our family. I just can’t force them to fall in love with it. But maybe I’ll get them to make a little push for me some sunny afternoon during a November deer season when they’re home for the holiday. Hey, I can dream.