When I look at my dad’s collection of guns silently gathering dust, it brings back memories of crisp fall mornings, tired yawns and good-natured jokes. It also conjures memories of all those days spent pheasant hunting with my parents, Grandpa and an assortment of cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends. The silent beauty of the prairie and the hush of rustling grass still fill me with peace even though it’s been years since we’ve gone.
Why did the annual hunting tradition die out? I’m not sure, but somewhere along the line life got busy with schoolwork and sporting events. Aunts and uncles got older while cousins moved away, and Grandpa wasn’t there to rally us together anymore. But those memories still linger, and now, as we are more busy from one minute to the next, I wish for those childhood weekends with time that seemed to stretch as far as the prairie.
Pheasant hunting is always a thrill, but now I know what the real prizes were. Being together and sharing jokes and stories year after year while learning responsibility and the importance of family is what hunting was really about.
Grandpa carefully made sure each of us cousins got a turn at his side so fights didn’t break out. We listened to Dad or an uncle give whispered advice while watching what the dogs were doing. We also listened to the hushed conversations of Mom and our aunts as they walked beside us. We all arrived home to warmth and happiness while older relatives wondered how us kids still had enough energy to play tag or basketball until it was too dark to see. Those are the memories of my childhood that stand clear in my mind.
Now I look at my son and daughter, who are the same age as I was during my first pheasant hunting weekends. They sit glued to the computer or a cell phone with the TV on in the background. What will they remember? Do they even know the time-worn stories that tie our family together? Will they one day miss time spent laughing with family or the celebration of a hard day’s work with recipes handed down through time? Will they welcome the warmth of family after a chilly day? What memories are they missing?
I page through photographs of blaze orange and even brighter smiles. No one was looking at a cell phone or distracted by the ping of text messages. We were in the moment and learning about life. At the time, though, it just felt like fun. Through hunting we learned responsibility and how to keep others and yourself safe by following the rules and paying attention. We learned confidence by being around adults and mentors who helped us build skills. We saw the payoff of hard work and the value of appreciating nature and its beauty.
Somehow I don’t think my kids will learn that from a cell phone.
I reach for my own phone, though, because it’s time to call some family and friends to plan a hunting trip to our old stomping grounds in Mitchell, S.D. It’s time to make these memories count and pass the tradition of hunting on to my children. It’s important for them to experience. — By Mitchell CVB