Many a time I am asked about how I got into hunting and my response generally is that I was born into it. The following is an article that was published that I wrote in honor of my mom and the legacy she passed on to me.
Black and white photos have a way of taking us back in time, as if the sepia tones have the power to soften our memories and lend a golden glow to that which once was. In the 1950’s my mom was growing up the youngest daughter of a poor farmer in Carver County, MN. No stranger to hard work, she also went out in the field trapping, hunting, and fishing. Not as a sport, but as a necessity.
As a teenager, she ran her own coon hounds and went fearlessly into the marsh to hunt ducks with her best friend Myra and an Ithaca shotgun. This is the woman who brought me into the world. A 5ft tall powerhouse with the spirit of a tiger and the heart of an angel. Now, when I look into her rheumy eyes and see the clouded confusion that the Alzheimers has lent to her gaze, I know without a doubt why hunting is such a huge part of my life. Each time I go out into the woods or marsh I think of that fearless young woman my mom once was, blazing a trail for female hunters in her own little way.
My need to hunt comes not from a desire to go home with my limit of birds but from a deep seated need to keep alive a legacy that was started on a small farm in West Central Minnesota. To get up before the sun and watch the sky give bloody birth to a new day, to feel the frigid air burning my lungs, to smell the scent of gunpowder as I take my first shot, to hear the ghost-like whisper of duck wings flying over me, and to taste the flavors that being in the outdoors lends to an ordinary Camp breakfast. These are the things that keep calling me back season after season.
These days I hunt a rich backwater marsh off the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. It has become a sanctuary, a place to leave behind the modern world and step into an untouched piece of the earth that is as healing as it is beautiful. One can walk for hours or just sit on a creek bank and watch as mallards and gadwall buoy themselves against the current, happily hidden in their wooded abode.
The hunting is unpredictable, as most things are, and I can go days without shooting a duck, yet, each time I leave a part of me stays behind. So I go back. I would go back every day of the season if I could to catch the sunrise, to feel the thrill of kamikaze teal teasing me with their sudden appearance and disappearance. Then, out of pure luck, the planets align and a small flock cups into the pocket where I am standing. Feet down, russet feathers ablaze in the early morning sun and the soft swoosh of the water as they land in front of me. Moments like this have the power of hypnotism, to blind you to your purpose as you stare dumbfounded for a moment before the adrenaline kicks in and you spook them off the water for a shot.
The hunt is not over when a duck falls, I take that flagging life into my hands and gaze down at the miracle of feathers and wings and thank the powers that I believe in for what was sacrificed, what was given. I give a prayer in honor of the bird, and to soothe my own soul and then I go home humbled. That is the way of the marsh, a circle that begins and ends day after day and those of us who are lucky enough to stand in the middle of it all are blessed in unmeasurable ways.
So, when someone asks me why I am a hunter, why do I want to crawl around the mud at 5am and stand out in the cold when I could be home in bed? I say give it a try once. Even if you don’t think you will like it, just go out there one time and tell me that you didn’t at least learn something about patience, appreciation for life, the wonder of raw nature, and a better understanding of your own self when you are removed from the modern world if only for a couple of hours. Hunting to me, is more than just bringing home bands and feathers, it’s bringing home memories and continuing a legacy started on that hard scrabble farm in Minnesota by my incredible mother.