Fathers teach us countless life lessons during our time together. They tie our shoes, help with homework, and take us hunting to pass along their traditions.
With Father’s Day approaching, some Archery Trade Association staff members agreed to share inside looks at their hunting experiences with their fathers and children. We hope these stories warm your heart and inspire you to hunt with your dad or children this fall.
Nicole Nash, ATA member-outreach manager, said hunting with her dad has long been important to her. “Hunting with my dad will always be special to me,” she said. “He worked second shift so I didn’t get much time with him during the week. When hunting seasons came around, he and my older brother would go hunting. I was curious about what they did and how they did it. Mom was hesitant at first. She didn’t know how I would react to dead animals being cleaned or hung on my swing-set. I once asked Dad why he shot Bambi. His response is something I still use today. He said, ‘Daddy didn’t shoot Bambi. See that tongue sticking out? That was a bad deer, and daddy had to shoot him because he was so bad.’ That improved my chances of tagging along. I wanted to shoot the bad deer, too. That also helped me start understanding how conservation works. Mom didn’t hunt, but she always cooked what my dad and brother harvested. I wanted to help put food on the table.”
Nash recalled some of her first father-daughter hunts. “I knocked around the cornstalks as we walked the field to jump doves,” she said. “I sat in an old climber seat as my dad sat on the platform waiting for deer. From there, I started to hunt small game like frogs, rabbits and squirrels to gain experience and show responsibility. When we hunted rabbits and squirrels, we walked the fields together and talked. We bonded. To this day, frog gigging is one of my favorite times with my dad. I couldn’t wait for him to get home at night so we could go out for a couple of hours! We didn’t have land to hunt, so we hunted property where we had permission. This taught me respect for the land and to always obtain permission first. My dad watched me take my first deer, a doe, during gun season. The pride he had for his little girl still drives me today to educate and mentor others.”
Nash said those experiences helped shape her for life. “Hunting with my dad paved the way to understanding conservation, and grew my interest into who I am as a hunter and educator. It created an experience and bond I’ll never forget. I’m grateful my dad instilled hunting in me.”
Kayla Becker, ATA marketing manager, said her dad always made sure she stayed warm when they went hunting in Minnesota. “My dad was always super sweet and made sure I never got cold,” she said. “He knew that when you start to get cold, it’s a lot less fun. He would get me the warmest clothes on the market and made sure I had enough layers on every time we went out. He said he used to shove newspaper into his boots as a kid to help insulate his feet. I was sure happy he didn’t make me do that! I’m now 13 years into hunting, and he still worries if I get cold in the treestand.”
Cassie Scott, ATA’s digital content specialist, said she was about 12 years old when her “Papa Bear” took her turkey hunting. “He set up a blind a few weeks before our hunt,” she said. “The same day, he wanted me shoot his 12-gauge 870 Remington shotgun for the first time. He wanted me to practice shooting and feel confident holding a firearm. He set up an aluminum can 20 yards away. Before handing me the gun with the safety on, he reviewed the five gun-safety rules, and how to hold and aim the gun. I accepted the firearm, ready to prove myself and my skills. Using every muscle in my upper body, I took aim and practiced taking deep breaths as my heart beat uncontrollably. Meanwhile, my gun slid down my arm and rested on my small bicep.
“Unaware of the mistake I was about to make, I focused on my target, took a deep breath, held it for a moment and s-l-o-w-l-y squeezed the trigger. The pellets raced toward the target and the recoil pushed me in the opposite direction. Then the pain set in. I started crying and my dad came to comfort me. He held my hand as we walked to the target. He picked up the can and held it out while exclaiming, ‘You got it! You creamed the can! This would be a dead bird!’ I peered through my tears to look at the can. After seeing the mutilated can and hearing the excitement in my father’s voice, I forgot all about my bruised arm. Two weeks later I shot my first turkey. Had my dad not focused on the can and bragged to everyone he knew about my shot, I’d probably still be afraid of guns and hunting. But, I’m not. I love hunting and, most of all, I love my dad.”
Scott also remembers tagging along on hunts simply to watch and learn. “When I was 8, my father took me out for an afternoon hunt,” she said. “I remember stepping in each of his footprints in the snow on the way to our treestands. It was like a game. When we reached the stand, he told me to climb up the tree and assured me he’d be right behind. He followed me up and helped strap me in. It was cold and I was wearing several of his wool sweatshirts. He brought along a blaze-orange sleeping bag and zipped me inside it to stay warm.
“I nestled into the oversize sleeping bag while he climbed back down. I watched him walk to his treestand 20 yards away. When he got settled, he gave me a thumbs-up. I signaled back. I was excited and full of energy to be out in the woods with my dad. I’d scan the area for deer. I pointed at birds and bunnies. I waved to him regularly so he didn’t forget I was there. I was a terrible hunting partner. I squirmed, wiggled, waved and scared away practically anything that moved. No wonder my dad didn’t shoot a deer that day. Later in life I realized those trips to the woods were never about shooting deer. They were about making memories and spending time together. They were my dad’s way of sharing his love and knowledge of the outdoors, and it also ensured he would have access to venison when he got older.”
Dan Forster, ATA vice president and chief conservation officer, said he’s proud his two children share his love for nature. “My wife, Jennifer, and I are blessed to have two children who grew up with a deep respect and love for the outdoors. I’m pleased and proud. Our time together hunting has bonded all of us in special ways.”
Forster’s daughter, Lanier, is an aspiring wildlife biologist who has joined him on many hunts. “Her interest in pursuing an expanding variety of game species grew,” Forster said. “Her favorite type of hunting as a teenager was alligators, so we weren’t surprised when she announced she wanted to harvest a black bear! We originally discussed a father-daughter hunting trip to celebrate her high-school graduation, but then we were intrigued by a do-it-yourself black bear hunt on Kupreanof Island in Alaska. That required lengthy planning and some luck to draw permits. We had to defer her ‘senior trip’ longer than anticipated. We shifted our expectations and, along with four family friends, obtained permits for a May 2017 hunt.
“After months of anticipation, and apprehension from Lanier’s mom, we piloted our rental boats to an isolated cove in southeastern Alaska, and made a U.S. Forest Service cabin our home for the week. The weather finally cooperated, and hungry bears started roaming the greening banks of the island’s coastline. Lanier enjoyed an exciting stalk on the beach, and was the first in our group to harvest a bear.
“She and I had an almost magical experience. Before the week was out, our group filled five of six tags, and made memories that will last a lifetime.”
Patrick Durkin, ATA’s contributing editor and writer, has written for decades about hunting with his oldest daughter, Leah, who’s now 33 and a lieutenant-commander in the U.S. Navy. He recalls the first deer she ever arrowed. “We didn’t see a deer on her first bowhunt, but returned on Tuesday evening in September 1997 after school and work. I climbed up, hung a portable seat astride the top of her ladder stand, and helped Leah settle in. An hour later, she stood to stretch her legs. Shortly after, she whispered, ‘Deer!’ I followed her eyes and saw two whitetails walking and feeding on acorns along the woods edge. As they headed our way, I told Leah to get positioned for a shot. After that, she was on her own.
“I long wondered how Leah would handle the pressure and decisions of pulling off a shot. Would she know when to draw the bow to avoid the deer’s notice? Would she even be able to draw it in all the excitement? Would she pick a spot on the deer’s lower chest for her entire focus? Would she wait for the broadside or quartering-away shot? Would she squeeze, not jerk, the release’s trigger? Would she follow through with her string hand, and not drop her bow arm? Within minutes, I would know,” he recalled.
“Finally, when the first deer walked into an opening at 14 yards to eat some acorns, I grunted. The deer paused, lifted its head, and seconds later Leah’s arrow pierced its lungs. Leah’s knees and shoulders shook uncontrollably as the deer made its short, final run. ‘I have to sit down,’ she said, and plunked onto her seat. Minutes later, she tagged her first deer, which turned out to be a large buck fawn. I shook my head in amazement. It had all looked so easy, so effortless. Nine years of field experience and three years of shooting practice told Leah otherwise.”
Durkin also recounts a bowhunting trip they took 10 years ago while Leah was on leave from the Navy. “Heavy laces dug into my fingers as I pulled them tightly across the instep of my daughter’s hunting boots, doing my best to ensure her foot wouldn’t slide forward and jam her toes when we descended the mountain. Forgive me the sentimentality, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I tied Leah’s shoes and boots 20 years before when she was a toddler, incapable of the task. Now, here we were bowhunting elk in Idaho, and she realized a renewed use for my shoe-tying skills.
“The day before, we encountered four local bowhunters deboning a 4-point bull elk one of them arrowed with his homemade longbow,” Durkin continued. “We had assumed we were alone on the ridge, having scaled its face in a grinding predawn ascent. But four hours later, we heard loud voices below an aspen meadow, and found the men cutting and packaging elk meat. Even though they did their best to ignore Leah, they took turns glancing at her in mild surprise. Maybe they figured we were tolerable, maybe even OK, for nonresidents. Finally, I broke the barrier. ‘When’s the last time you saw a girl up here bowhunting?’ I asked. The group’s leader, a man in his early 60s, smiled and said: ‘Well, she’s the first one I’ve seen up here today, and before today I can’t say I ever saw one, so I guess she’s the first.’”
Later, they took a break to regroup and refuel. “Leah then removed her socks to apply fresh moleskin to hotspots on her toes and heels,” Durkin continued. “I studied her toenails and said, ‘Now those are the first red toenails I’ve seen up here today, and before today I can’t say I ever saw red toenails on an elk hunter, so I guess yours are the first.’ Leah just smirked and pulled her socks back on. ‘They’re not red, they’re pink. Just tie my boots, OK?’”
Memories created while hunting are held dear by fathers as well as their children. It’s wonderful to see these two perspectives: children reflecting on hunts with dads who helped shape their future, and fathers watching children with pride while they grow up.
This Father’s Day, spend time outdoors with your family and create memories that inspire everyone for a lifetime.