Every fall I get asked the same question: Why do you hunt?

     The answer is simple. I have always found peace in the woods.

     When I was a child I went hunting to accompany my dad. I wanted to see wild animals. On numerous occasions I had small birds land on the brim of my hat. I also had chipmunks and red squirrels scurry up my legs. Every time we went to the woods I came back with a memory.

     At the time I didn’t think these events would hang around in my memory, but as I get older the memories become more and more alive. These memories make me see how how those cold days in the woods every fall helped my dad and I create a bond that nobody can truly understand but us.

     As humans we all have best friends. I have been fortunate enough to have two of them throughout my life. My father is one of these friends. My other friend, who I also have shared many trials and tribulations with, is now gone.

     As I head to the woods this fall it will be a new era for me. I will be forever thankful that my dad will be by my side to comfort, guide and help me get through the tremendous pain and hurt that goes along with losing a person so close to me.

     When I shuffle through the leaves and trudge through the wet snow, I will have a constant reminder of this person: the gold medical alert necklace that dangles from my neck. My friend was thoughtful enough to give it to me just in case I ever need it to save my life.

     I used to sit in the woods and wonder what my friend was thinking. I would ask now and then, but I never felt like I knew for sure. I always wondered what I could do to make our friendship better. We had been friends since childhood. We had counted on each other for comfort and security. Now, more than ever, since I lost this dear friend, I’m thankful that dad and I formed the friendship we did when I was young. He doesn’t replace my friend, but he is there to help me get beyond my loss.

     I can now see how important those trips to the woods were for me. When I was young, dad taught me how to deal with my feelings. I learned that it was okay to be mad, angry, happy or sad. I am thankful for this because I’ve had every type of emotion on this roller coaster ride the last year.

     My dad might not have known what he was giving to me at the time because I sure didn’t know. However, over the last few years I have learned that he gave me the inner strength that I would need on my journey through life. He also gave me the ability to understand that if you sit tight under the trees, even in the pouring rain, you can still find miracles in the harshest of times. I’ve seen deer pick through the leaves in search of food. Although it’s pouring rain, the deer don’t acknowledge the weather. They move forward just to survive. It makes me realize that I too must continue moving ahead.

     One year I regularly observed the same group of deer early in the season. As the season progressed a fawn disappeared, but the family carried on in normal fashion. I always wondered what happened to that fawn. I will never know, but I could see that the family moved along because time doesn’t stand still for anyone or anything. Although I lost the closest friend of my life I know that I must move forward.  There’s no going back in time and there’s no figuring out the ups and downs in life. Sometimes the answers are right in front of us if we only open our eyes to see them. I’m sure nobody will ever take my friend’s place, but I may start new memories with a friend I haven’t met yet or a friend who has stood in the shadows waiting for more of my time.

     When I was a boy, my dad taught me to expect the unexpected. One night my father brought me bowhunting. We sat on a log a few feet behind a stump. As the sun faded and the woods became gray a deer ran stratight at us. The deer jumped over the stump and landed about a foot to our left. The deer never knew we were there. That night I learned that you never know what might happen.

     This lesson came back to me last fall. Although I always enjoyed hunting, I hunted with half a heart in the early part of the fall. By the middle of the fall I just couldn’t go back to the woods. My friend was gone. Gone like a leaf falling from a big oak on a windy fall day. It was just like the deer from when I was young. A few snapping sticks alerted me and my dad that the deer was headed toward us, but we didn’t know what to expect.

     The experience with my friend was similar to that childhood memory. My friend was quiet, reserved and just didn’t welcome much discussion. I tried to talk, but the communication was non-existent. Before I knew it my lifelong friend had disappeared. I sat for months on end in the darkest of nights trying to figure out why, but nobody could help. I felt lost in a huge tract of wild forest. I was as empty as a well without water.

     Every hunter has a favorite spot. My favorite spot is a big oak tree on the side of a mountain. Every year I go to this place because it gives me something I need, something I can’t describe to anyone.

     It’s the same thing my friend gave me. As nobody can replace a fallen tree, nobody can replace this person. A new journey has started for me. Hopefully If I cross enough hills and valleys I can find a new tree to sit under. A tree to support my back, rest my shoulders on and listen to my dreams.

     I go to the woods every year to find myself. I love to sit as the sun peeks out from behind the mountains first thing in the morning. I love to hear the woods come alive with animals. I also like sitting silently and thanking my parents for making me who I am today.

     The next time somebody asks you why you hunt, please take the time to think about it. Take your child with you or your niece or nephew or the neighbor’s kid. You could affect their lives in more positive ways than you could ever imagine. I thank my mom and dad for always being there and showing me the way.

     As for my friend who is gone, I want you to know that you were one of the greatest memories I will ever have. I want to thank you for saving my life on numerous occasions in the middle of the night when I suffered from diabetic insulin reactions. I know it wasn’t easy and I know it wasn’t fun. But, find comfort in the fact that I will be forever thankful that you gave me the ability to continue living and walking across the forest floor every fall in search of inner peace. Thank you and goodbye, my friend. I will never forget you.