Parents mark children’s lives by firsts: first tooth, first word, first step, and first day of school. As youngsters mature, firsts come further apart. However, for a youngster who hunts, the list of firsts continue. If my husband and his friends’ experiences are any indication, not only continue but are infinite. Hunters live for their stories, which always include a first. Perhaps this is a hunter’s way to cling to childhood’s elusive magic.
Last weekend my daughter joined a select group. She got her first turkey.
Hunting requires certain before, during, and after rituals. For dedicated outdoors enthusiasts, it is not bagged game that is the goal. It is the preparation. Kelli and her dad spent months discussing their upcoming hunt: where to hunt, what to shoot, how long a shot to take, and how one makes sure to shoot a tom.
As opening day drew closer, she kept asking, “When?” Finally, it was time.
To build Kelli’s confidence, the two practiced shooting targets. Considering she hadn’t used a shotgun much, Kelli showed promise. But, there’s a big difference between a standing target and a moving tom. Not a problem for Kelli.
The night before the safari, she laid out camouflage and hunting boots. She would be ready when the alarm sounded, even though she never shows such enthusiasm on school mornings. Copying her dad, she set out her coffee cup.
Those two were so efficient in their leave-taking I barely noticed them rising at 4:30 a.m. This signaled new dedication from my daughter. She never gets up early for any other reason. This alone made a campfire story.
I figured she would hunt and return with tales of turkeys she saw and missed or couldn’t shoot. After all, she’d heard plenty of these from her dad.
By nine a.m., my crew returned jubilantly from the woods, lugging a big turkey! Underestimating the situation, I asked the adults, “Who bagged the gobbler?” Imagine Kelli’s joy as she proclaimed, “I did! I got him in one shot.”
I wanted to hear the whole story, but I, too, had to follow the ritual. Pictures first. Kelli alone with her turkey, tail fanned out. Kelli with turkey draped over shoulder. Kelli with calling partners, Dad and Wes, on each side. At last, a photo of our aged dog creeping out to sniff Kelli’s trophy. I can date the years of our marriage by photos of past hunts. Now my daughter’s beaming smile added to those memories.
The photo op completed, Kelli could tell her story. The telling is so important. It isn’t the shot--it is the preparation. Arriving on site before the birds fly off their roost, listening to morning come to life, watching and waiting for gobblers to come to the decoy.
Kelli provided Easter dinner, and she accomplished more than putting meat on the table. If she had come home empty-handed, her hunt would have been successful. She joined an elite group initiated into rituals of hunting preparation and storytelling. In this group, she can count on many more firsts.