Going off of the last blog post that talked about my two influences, I figured I would delve into my evolution as a hunter. It has been ever changing, starting from my youth and still continues to this day.
When I was a kid, my dad and I hunted just about anything that Illinois had to offer. We hunted early geese in September, then hunted waterfowl during the regular waterfowl season. In addition to that he got me into bow hunting so we spent time pursuing deer with our archery equipment, but the biggest deal for us was the shotgun deer season.
We would apply for tags, and eagerly anticipate them arriving in the mail. On top of that, I would get taken out of school for the opening day of the first firearm season. We would hunt stands for the first season, sitting for long hours waiting for a deer to pass by. The second season became a party affair, as we would combine forces with my dad’s hunting buddies and do deer drives at the various farms we all had permission to hunt on. This was my favorite style of hunting, as it was full of camaraderie and fellowship.
Once those seasons were over, every now and then we would go south to Pike County Illinois to hunt turkeys. During the late spring and summer would come all the preparation for each of the upcoming seasons, interspersed with some fishing trips (I’m not much of a fisherman). This was the cycle of our hunting seasons, up until my parent’s divorce.
Once I grew old enough to hunt on my own, I mostly went after archery deer and some shotgun deer hunting. However, my interest in waterfowling began to take precedence. After returning home from my deployment to Iraq in 2008, I sat in a treestand trying to hunt deer, but spent the whole time watching geese flying around. Realizing that I wasn’t paying enough attention to actually watching for deer, I climbed down from the treestand and it was eight years until I climbed back into one.
From that moment on, my sole purpose in hunting was waterfowl. Me and my two hunting buddies discussed and I purchased a 5′ by 8′ box trailer and we filled it with Bigfoot brand goose decoys. Once we saw the newest Greenhead Gear decoys that had motion stakes, we sold those Bigfoots, I bought a bigger trailer and we proceeded to fill it with decoys. To say I was obsessed with waterfowl hunting would be an understatement. I even got a retriever (that is a story for another time) so my season expanded because then came the off-season training. I made fun of deer and pheasant hunters (out of humor) because I couldn’t imagine taking time off of waterfowling to sit in a cold stand or walk a field for pheasants. I was all about big bag limits which infact was fueled by our 2010 season in which I could count on one hand how many times we shot nothing, and on both hands that we were short of a limit. A vast majority of the days that season we limited out.
The humbling moment came the next season where we got our asses kicked. We haven’t yet had a banner year like 2010, and I feel that that fact changed my outlook on hunting. For one, after the 2010 season I wrestled with the choice and ended up getting a hunting dog. The hunts became more about watching the dog learn and work, and less about how many birds I personally took. I get more joy out of watching Lola retrieve and find the crippled bird hiding in the brush than if I was the one that shot said bird.
Hunting with good friends makes memories, and proves correct the old adage “a bad day hunting beats a good day at work”.
Secondly, I enjoy the camaraderie more, and get enjoyment of hunting with good friends, and even more enjoyment taking someone who has never been hunting for ducks and geese before. In fact I took a friend who only deer hunted with us one weekend and after that he bought a boat, a dog and his own decoys the following year, and is as obsessed as I am with waterfowling. I enjoy these moments with friends because after the loss of Kent, I’ve learned how valuable these moments are, because they can be gone in an instant.
Lastly, I’ve learned to appreciate the hunt more than the outcome. What I mean by that is even though I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care about shooting birds (because let’s be honest that’s why I’m out there) I try not to get bummed out on small bag limits or going home empty handed. I enjoy watching nature be nature, and being an active participant in the natural world is always rewarding.
I’ve also begun getting back into deer hunting, and just this past spring I went on my first public land turkey hunt. I shot my first archery deer in 8 years back in 2016 (another story for another time) and while I was skunked for turkey season, I had a whole state natural area to myself. While I’ve expanded my seasons, waterfowl and waterfowl hunting will always have a special place in my heart.
My first experience hunting public ground began with applying for a turkey tag for one of the Illinois State Natural Area special use permits. While I wasn’t successful, I had a great time in some rough country.
I’ve expanded my hunting ground by actually looking into public hunting areas (something I swore off for so long), and have plans this fall to deer, waterfowl and turkey hunt on them. My perspective on public lands has vastly changed (yet another upcoming blog post), as has my pursuit of animals other than waterfowl.
I feel that my hunting mindset has come almost full circle, at least in the name of the animals I pursue. My morals and ethics have shifted as well as I’ve matured, knowing that it’s not about the picture worthy hunts, big bag limits or the classic “grip and grins”. It’s about the experience as a whole. Each hunt is unique, each hunt is an opportunity to enjoy nature, all it has to offer and all it has to teach us. That is why during the summer I fall into a slump waiting and wishing for the upcoming seasons (well that and the fact I hate hot weather).
I’ve expanded my knowledge base by reading more about different types of hunting from people who are way more experienced outdoorsmen than I. I also listen weekly to podcasts from around the country by hunters who have a passion just like me but offer a different perspective. When we stop trying to learn from others and think our way is the only way, we stop growing as an individual. I have more respect for nature and wild animals now than I did in my youth and quite frankly I am proud of where I currently am in my evolution as a hunter.