“Excuse me sir, do you deer hunt?”

“Uh hmm, excuse me sir, do you deer hunt?”

The second time around woke me up from reading a deer hunting article in Outdoor Life magazine.  I looked up to see a well-built rugged looking young man with a load of outdoor looking straight at me.  “Uh yes, well no, I mean I used to and I would like to again” I stuttered.

“Well, if you want to, what’s stopping you?”

“That’s a good question and unfortunately there’s no short answer to it,” I answered.

“Hey, we’re stuck in the Detroit airport on the day before Thanksgiving and we’re not going anywhere soon.  Give me the long version.”

And so I began.   I grew up in a blue collar hunting household in Indiana where the biggest holiday of the year was opening day of shotgun deer season.  I hunted mushrooms, mammals and birds, fished like it was going out of style, trapped furbearers and even harvested wild ginseng.  I guess it came natural with my Cherokee indian lineage.  I picked up a bow when I was about 12 years old and fell in love with it.  For a couple of years, it seemed to have grown roots into my hands as I hardly ever let it go.  I even won a state-level championship for my age group and couldn’t ever imagine not having archery be the focal point of my life.

Then I discovered girls.  To be more precise, I found the wrong girl.  In trying to please her, I strayed far from my outdoor roots.  My father wasn’t about to butt into my business but I knew it hurt him that I was nowhere to be found during hunting season.  We fished together on Father’s Day each year but that was it for me.  It was always in the back of my mind, and I even dreamed about being outdoors, but I could seem to fnd a way to get there.  As a result, with each year my discontent grew.

Flash forward a few years and I find myself with a new girl, the absolute right girl for me, with a house and a career and a baby on the way.  Everything was going very well, except that I still wasn’t out in the wild.  Occasionally we would do some hiking but there was little time for anything else.  My discontent had been replaced by happiness with a simmering desire to get reconnected with the woods as soon as possible.  Life was good for the most part, then the bottom fell out.  My father died of cancer just a few months too early to see his first grandchild be born, and I had my own brush with mortality.  As I recovered, my son was born to have problems of his own.  He would spend considerable amounts of time in and out of hospitals and treatment centers.  There was so much going on and so much grieving to do, that I didn’t have time to miss the woods even though I needed it more than ever.

Flash forward again several years and my life has been rebounded nicely.  I am healthy, my son’s health is improving, I now have three kids with a big house and my career is booming.  There are only two downsides.  First, I am still not in the woods as much as I want and second, I am stuck in the Detroit Airport trying unsuccessfully to get home for Thanksgiving dinner with the family.

And now standing before me is my hunting/trapping/fishing/outdoor guardian angel and neither of us have a clue how much he will impact my family’s life.

He listens patiently to all the reasons why I am not in the woods and then hits me with the truth bomb.  “You need to be outdoors with your kids.  They are growing up fast you know.”  A profound statement from a guy still too young to legally drink.  He proceeds to tell me his story, which is that he is nineteen years old and trying to make a connecting flight to hook up with his dad for a whitetail hunt in Minnesota.  He is particularly excited about this because since his mom and dad got divorced the relationship with his dad hasn’t been good.  It seems the only time they get along is when they are hunting or fishing together and he misses all of the good times.  His words were giving me flashbacks of myself and my dad, as well as thoughts of me and my oldest son and our struggling relationship.  He mentioned that being in the woods seemed to provide solutions to problems in the rest of his life, and boy did I ever need to come up with some solutions myself.  He had just finished a hunt in Ohio and harvested a really nice buck but this upcoming hunt was really important to him because it was with his dad.  Man, how I wished that my dad was still around to go hunting with again.

We talked for a a few more hours about family and all aspects of deer hunting and then he leaned over and said, “Get back into deer hunting.  You need it and your kids need it too.”  As if on cue, the voice over the intercom announced that his flight was now ready for board and he jumped up to leave knowing he was going to make the hunt he so desparately wanted.  I leaned back in my chair not knowing if I was going to make my holiday dinner, but definitely knowing that I was going to get my kids up in a deer stand as soon as possible.

Flash forward one day and I am sitting at home enjoying a great turkey dinner rattling on about this great kid I met in the airport and how I had decided that the kids were getting new bows for Christmas so they could take up the sport that had been so much a part of my life.  They did get their bows for Christmas and so did I thanks to a great wife who heard every word of what I had said that day.

Flash forward to present day and all three of my kids have sat in the tree stand with me.  My middle son even called in the deer that I harvested with a bow three years ago.  My daughter is actively involved in 4-H shooting sports and my oldest son is starting to fall in love with trap shooting.  And to top it all off, today on my lunch hour I stuck wooden stakes in the ground marking where my new food plot is going to be planted in a few weeks.  About twenty yards from the edge of the plot in a big tree is a buddy stand where me and the kids are going to spend some quality time this fall.

It is hard to imagine things getting much better.

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