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Hunting Life: Lessons in Retrospect

"Right behind the shoulder, Jer. Take a deep breath. Now, squeeze the trigger.”  These were the words my dad whispered to me the very first time I went hunting with him in the woods of North Eastern, Pennsylvania. I was only 12 years old, but these words have been etched in my mind for the last 20 years. They have caused me to pause and reflect on my journey, not only as a hunter but also through my life’s decisions.  

Like many young hunters, I grew up in a hunting family and used to love listening to my pap and dad tell tall tales of their adventures “up the mountain.” Every single hunting season, they would each bring home a trophy. My gran would make venison steaks and we’d feast on deer jerky all fall. I couldn’t wait until I was finally old enough to join them on a hunt for whitetails. When the seasons changed and the leaves fell, my excitement grew and grew. 

Hunting was a bond I shared with my dad in my formative years, when I was just learning the craft and also how to navigate through life. Now, almost two decades later,  hunting is the common thread that made my relationship with my dad even stronger than ever. Hunting for me, isn’t just a hobby, it’s a life. It’s a bond. It’s a teacher. Looking back, being my dad’s “hunting buddy” was a badge of honor, a right of passage  and a way for us to connect. But, there was a long stretch of time where I completely lost sight of that, and if I could go back, I would. It’s true when they say that hindsight is always 20-20.  

My first season in the stand is carved into my brain and memories linger there years later. I’m afraid of heights by most accounts but felt oddly at ease in my old-school, homemade, wooden, rickety stand. My dad and I shared this space on the first day of doe season.

Finally, a single doe ambled up the path. “Can I shoot it? Can I shoot it?” I whispered. 

“Well if you don’t want to wait for a buck go ahead,” dad chuckled. “I’m gonna shoot it!” I pulled up my .270 rifle on the beam of my stand to steady my aim. After fumbling to find the deer in my scope, I whispered “I’m on her.” 

“Right behind the shoulder, Jer. Take a deep breath. Now, squeeze the trigger.” 

BOOM! No more than 30 yards away lie the first whitetail I ever shot. The surge of adrenaline I felt that day was unlike anything I had experienced. I could hear my heart thumping all the way to my ears and I was shaking so hard I could barely climb out of the tree. My dad was smiling from ear to ear, so proud of his son. I could finally join the ranks as “hunter.”

My dad and I shared more successful harvests over the next few years. I dabbled in archery and learned that this was my hunting niche. However, as I got older and started to hunt alone, things for me personally began to change.  Being a teenager created a whole world of unknown challenges and my emotions ran high. I eventually stopped hunting completely for many years. I now realize though, that had I continued to get outside, immerse myself in the woods, climb a tree and sit for hours with only my own thoughts and fresh air to keep me company, maybe I would have gained some clarity on my direction in life. Perhaps I would have focused on my breathing and aimed for my goals. But hindsight is always 20-20. 

At 14 years old I harvested this doe using my bow.

Years passed. I began a family of my own with my amazingly supportive wife and my daughter, the light of my life.  I began a teaching career. I strengthened my relationship with my father. And, I discovered my love of hunting again.  This is when my deeply enriching passion for the sport flourished. I love everything about it. I live for the early mornings, walking through the dark to reach my stand, watching my breath meet the cold air, and seeing the sunrise. I love to hear the birds chirp and, though annoying in the heat of a hunt, hearing a squirrel go running by the stand. I love pulling back my bow, steadying my aim, taking a breath, and letting go, watching my arrows fly. I love the process of getting better as an overall archer, working on my technique, and training to be mentally and physically prepared to put on a great and ethical shot on an animal. I love the feeling I get when I have a successful day as a bowhunter.

Even now, I can still hear my dad’s words in my ears, clear and true. I find myself now whispering them to myself when I’m in the field. But more so, I tell myself to “take a deep breath” often throughout my life and find myself drifting back to memories of sitting side by side, father and son, on the first day of doe season, age 12. I’ve learned that hunting forces you to slow down and take it all in. It makes you hone your skills and block out the noise. It makes you breathe, choose your path, and aim for your goals.  These aren’t just lessons in hunting, these are the lessons I’ve taken with me in the world when life seems to be going too fast and I’m faced with difficult situations. 

My dad checking one of our stands before the season.

Thinking back to when I was a novice hunter, just learning the craft, I obviously wish I would have known all the tips and tricks of hunting buck beds, figuring out bed to feed patterns, and even the right clothing and scent covers. But ultimately, what I wish I knew back then was there are only so many opening days to experience the fall rush of hunting and I shouldn’t waste them. I wish I would have pursued hunting throughout my challenging years. I wish I would have slowed down and taken it all in.  I wish I would have found the level of enjoyment then, as I have now. I wish I would have appreciated being my dad’s hunting buddy. Being with him now, going “up the mountain,” sharing our tall tales of trophy hunts, relishing in our successes and comforting each other in our failures, and growing closer as father and son through our shared passion of hunting, has been my greatest accomplishment. Hunting for me is more than just harvesting an animal, it’s a lifestyle. For that, I’ll be forever grateful. 

By: Jeremy Dinsmore

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