Harold, Tom and Gordy. Jerry, Wayne and Jake. Sherby, Ken, Dave & Kurt. Bob, Harry, Lee, Dale, Matt and Dick. The list goes on. Old flames from my youth? Not hardly. This is a partial list of the men who have knowingly or unknowingly been my hunting Dads over the years. Oh, I have a biological Dad, but he has been largely absent from my life and in fact, several of the aforementioned gentlemen have been more of a Dad to me than my own father ever was. With some of these men, the spoken and unspoken father/daughter dynamic is quite clear. But most of these guys have no idea that I regard and appreciate them in a paternal sense. In fact, All My Dads range from 18 to 80 years old, so it isn't about age.
I used to watch my Dad come home after hunting trips with a deer strapped to his trunk or with strings of birds, and I would long to go hunting with him. But most men did not take their daughters hunting back then. I used to sneak into the hall closet when no one was around, take out his guns, and savor how good they felt in my hands. Their heaviness, the cold metal, the etched wood, the kachink of their precision metal actions, the smell of residual gunpowder. I knew then that guys had their own world of hunting and hunting toys, and I knew these toys gave me a special feeling about nature and being a predator. I wanted to be a part of that more than anything. I knew then I would hunt some day even if I had to do it alone. Even if I had to teach myself. I used to watch Dad leave to hunt, or to do his many volunteer activities. I watched Dad drive away forever at age 11 when my folks divorced. His guns and his hunting hobbies gone with him, I had only memories of him and them to carry my hunting dream into adulthood. At 21, I made a wish list for my life. On it, was to have a gun collection and to hunt. Today, I have the start of that collection, together with archery tackle and I am as avid as hunters come. Of all my Dads, I do have several favorites.
My first hunting Dad was Harold, a mild mannered accountant who took my son and I varmint hunting in the Sierra Mountains in California. He patiently taugh me how to read the features of topo maps and how to select hunting spots. He was kind and didn't laugh when I showed up with a bright noisy ski parka and no day pack. A scheduled pig hunt with Harold was foiled by a job transfer to Minnesota where we met our second Dads, Tom and Gordy. These two men took my son and I under their wings and taught us whitetail deer hunting, both rifle and bow, from start to finish. Last year Tom chuckled at what a hunting fanatic I had become. I was quick to point out that he'd created a monster and he was equally quick to respond that I had been a monster all along and that he had simply unlocked the cage. Very True. We initially hunted public land and gained the respect of all the guys at Tillies Corner, the public access parking lot where we all camped. This group saw us take our first deer, and helped us drag them out. They were always ethical and offered encouragement and camaraderie. Now that I have purchased my own hunting land, I have acquired another group of Dads, my neighboring landowners. Three of these gentlemen are my favorites... Sherby, Ken and Dave. They are all about my Dads age. Dave has a collection of tractors and pulled us out of the mud with one of them on our first tree clearing trip at our property. Sherby grooms the road with his tractor and is a caricature of tattered Carharts, grizzled beard, with a wry smile and a cigarette hanging off his lip. Ken is my guardian angel and keeps an eye on our property. He stops by periodically on his six wheeler with his grandson to make sure I'm safe and to catch me up on the latest local news and wildlife sightings. I trade homemade goodies with all these fellas in an effort to repay their kindness, but they all seem to stay a step ahead of me. They act rough and gruff, but they all have hearts of gold. I am grateful for good neighbors. Part of the reason I even have this land, is because of another of my Dads, my friend Kurt. He helped me negotiate the purchase of my land, and gave hundreds of tidbits of advice over the year I spent improving it, as well as being a fountain of knowledge with hunting. He has my Dads blue-gray eyes, stature, personality, and even laughs like my Dad. They could be brothers.
But I have two favorite Dads. The first one has been my #1 hunting buddy and friend for a long time. He is teacher, peer and student. We share many attributes in the woods. We are both tough , have the constitution of a horse and have intuition about things unseen. We can push ourselves to the max and go further still. We hunt together, laugh together and cry together. We both shot our first deer together and half killed ourselves dragging them back to camp. We get angry and bark at each other, but we always make up fast. We laugh till we cry sometimes and we read each others minds. We act like goofy kids together. He is very much like my Dad and very much like me... with an inborn instinct for the woods and hunting. Who is my favorite Dad? He is my teenage son, Matt. Since age 14, he has been my equal in the woods. He touched my heart recently by writing an essay paper telling how when I was old and feeble, he would take me hunting even if it meant dressing me, carrying me up into the tree stand and holding my gun for me. I turned away, not wishing him to see the tear that trickled down my cheek upon reading those words.
My second favorite Dad has all the attributes of the first, except with a keener instinct concerning whitetails and hunting in general. We laugh, but we are serious. We can be on top of our game, or we can act silly. When we are together, we stop people in their tracks. We are both passionate, dynamic, driven and physically strong individuals and have at our core a love for hunting and the outdoors. This person is fifteen years younger than I, and can outshoot me and outhunt me. Someday I hope to be half the hunter they are. Who is my other favorite Dad? Its not a man at all, but a woman - my friend and fellow wild woman, Deb the Doe Slayer.
All My Dads. I love these guys. Each year, I am befriended by others who play both peer and, unknowingly, a paternal role. The adult in me is one tough, confident, and articulate woman who has graduated with honors from the school of hard knocks. The child in me will always crave a Dad, and the generous mentoring of fellow hunters fills that void. I am thankful for them and that they have made my life happier for their imprint upon me.