If you’re anything like me—which frankly might not be a good thing in many aspects of life—June is a time of year when hunting seems farther away then ever. Sure, a few carp have recently stirred their last batch of freshly laid bluegill eggs thanks to a well-placed bowfishing arrow, but the June lull makes me long for fall bears and whitetails, winter coyotes and spring gobblers.
A recent trip “home” during Father’s Day weekend took me on a stroll down memory lane, and refueled something in me I didn’t realize was running dangerously empty.
It wasn’t a typical father/son bonding moment, that’s for sure—and maybe a bit perverse in the eyes of a few close-minded folks—but I stood next to my dad and watched him work the hatchet with a single, swift, prefect blow as he had done so many summers while I was growing up on our rural Minnesota farm. I reveled in amazement for a moment, and then realized Dad was looking to me to repeat the deed. This surely wasn’t my first rodeo, bit it had been a while since I had been in the saddle.
I laid my target across the block, took aim and surprisingly met blows with the same speed and precision that dad had. Subconsciously, I looked immediately to Dad for approval, who smiled briefly when our eyes met.
And so the days of my boyhood came alive for a few brief hours, and I couldn’t get enough. For me, butchering chickens was an annual late-June event, but just as Dad often quotes Tracy Lawrence, “The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.” I didn’t appreciate those words when I was a boy, but I surely do now. And, as a boy, I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was growing up butchering chickens, either. We ran a hog farm in my youth, so pork was aplenty. And so was beef, thanks to neighboring farmers willing to barter for hogs. And of course there was fresh chicken to be had, and a full freezer of venison once I took up bowhunting at age 14. Throw in Dad’s enormous vegetable garden, and our farm was the definition of self-made efficiency.
But hunting magazines don’t headquarter on gravel roads—though thankfully much of my work is done in similar locals. It snuck up on me, but my chicken-chopping, hog-slapping days were replaced with college exams and now key-pounding afternoons. I’m lucky enough to wear camo more than most, but there are still plenty of days spent rocking my khakis. I’m surely not complaining, but it felt phenomenal to be working the hatchet with Dad again.
The chicken pen was about 60 yards from where we had set up the “processing center,” where Mom and my sister’s boyfriend where taking the reigns to make the chickens freezer-ready. There were only 30 birds total, but it was on that 60-yard back-and-forth route that something very important hit me. While cleaning up, there was a blood trail leading away from the kill sight that looked remarkably similar to that left by an arrow-punctured whitetail.
A blood trail in June made me smile.
And it’s those little things from past hunts that hold me together this time of year. Not so much the size of the antlers or the placement of the shot, but the little things that make hunting memories so personal—a little blood on the leaf of a weed, or a smile from a loved one at the end of the blood trail. Whatever it is that makes you literally smile … those are the things that really matter.
Thanks for helping me appreciate the small stuff, Dad.
Keep your nose to the wind.