Gift Bows for Grandkids Bring Back Memories of Past Hunts

By Patrick DurkinJune 5, 2023

With turkey season underway and summer just ahead, I’ll soon begin teaching my three oldest grandchildren how to shoot the Genesis compound bows I gave them for Christmas.

I’m looking forward to those one-on-one lessons, given that they will remind me that I’ve been through it all before, roughly 25 years ago. Back then, I recall trying to pinpoint when my three daughters stopped calling me “Daddy” and switched to the more adult-sounding “Dad.”

gift Bows For Grandkids Bring Back Memories Of Past Hunts

It all changed so fast, it seemed. I assumed it happened about the same time they stopped running to the door to meet me when I came home from work. I recall struggling with the fact that my girls — Karsyn, Elle and Leah – one day quit needing my constant attention and affection, even though I stood willing and able to deliver. 

When in public, I could no longer just grab their hands or kiss them on the forehead without risk of inflicting deep humiliation upon them. Even so, I still did it at times in public, if only on the pretense of teasing.

gift Bows For Grandkids Bring Back Memories Of Past Hunts

Those thoughts often crossed my mind as I watched the girls do homework or — in Leah’s case — sit vigilantly on a deer stand with me. One day, for example, Leah and I were hunting deer in western Iowa during that state’s late archery season. Single-digit temperatures made me wonder how long she could sit with me 15 feet up a basswood tree. I needn’t have worried. She was not yet 14 at the time, but I could think of only one time she left the woods before I called it quits. She had a good excuse, though. I had forgotten to pack her hand-warmers.

I recall respecting her perseverance, knowing it exceeded that of most adult hunters. As I stood there poised and ready with the camera, I was tempted to reach over and hold her gloved hand, just as I had done when she was a grade-schooler. While the little gesture would have meant a lot to me, I could almost read her mind if I had tried it: “You’re not getting weird on me, are you, Dad? Don’t freak me out.”

The second day of our hunt, however, brought an unexpected treasure: The recognition that Leah still needed me for something tangible. Just as importantly, she wasn’t overly embarrassed to let me know I could still calm an irrational fear.

Here’s what happened: To reach one of our deer stands, we needed to walk about a half-mile down an old, recently retired railroad track. These particular rails passed over a steep-walled creek bed, whose icy surface was visible 20 feet below when looking between the old oaken ties. To cross the bridge, we used the nearly foot-wide ties as stepping stones. Although the gaps between each tie weren’t wide enough to let pass a teen-age girl, they made Leah do the math and doubt the measurements.

gift Bows For Grandkids Bring Back Memories Of Past Hunts

The first time we crossed the old bridge we were accompanied by a family friend who had grown up in nearby Red Oak, Iowa. My friend and I had crossed well ahead of Leah, and were talking too much to notice she was lagging. When I realized her predicament, I walked back, careful not to take her hand unless she asked. 

Even though Leah liked and trusted my friend, I sensed she didn’t want to show fear in front of him. Sure enough, she didn’t ask for my hand. With me by her side, though, she crossed the bridge without another pause.

The rest of the week Leah and I were on our own because our friend had to return to work. Each time we approached the bridge, Leah and I would shift our bows to the outside shoulder and hold gloved hands during the crossing.

gift Bows For Grandkids Bring Back Memories Of Past Hunts

At first I tried to maintain the grip once we were back on gravel, but I could feel her embarrassment, even through the Thinsulate and Gore-Tex glove liners. Fair enough. I let go.

She was just growing up; mature enough to not want to be babied, but immature enough not to care what other people thought.

As my daughters kept getting older, I learned that they occasionally needed their hands held or their foreheads kissed by their old man. I also learned those times weren’t reserved only for grief or trauma, but also included moments of pride, such as the birth of their own kids. Given time and adulthood, they shed the self-conscious pangs, and even felt some pride in being my daughters.

And as I start leading my grandchildren into the woods these next few years, I hope we’ll encounter a recently retired railroad bridge.

When we do, I’ll lead them, one by one, across its oak ties.

Patrick Durkin
President at Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association
Patrick Durkin is a lifelong bowhunter and full-time freelance outdoor writer/editor who lives in Waupaca, Wisconsin. He has covered hunting, fishing and outdoor issues since 1983. His work appears regularly in national hunting publications, and his weekly outdoors column has appeared regularly in over 20 Wisconsin newspapers since 1984.
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