I grew up in Nebraska hunting with my dad. When I was too young to hunt, I’d join anyway, even if it was spending a few hours in the cold waiting or watching my father look for the right whitetail to walk down the trail. When I was old enough, dad taught me all of the important lessons that come along with hunting an animal, and all of the ways hunting teaches you to connect with the land.
Now that I’m older and a few years out of the house, planning hunting trips with my father reminds me of these lessons and is one of the things I look forward to each year. This Spring, my dad and I planned a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip to bow hunt for turkey. I knew I’d be back home for work, so I could not let a chance to get out with my dad slip by. We decided to head a few hours East to a place where you’d be hard pressed not to see a bird or two on public land.
We met up with his friend, Andy, who pointed us in the right direction, but let us know that there weren’t many birds out and about this Spring. This would be where the first and most important lesson of hunting came into play. The words “That’s why they call it hunting, not killing!” rang in my head. Going out to find an animal doesn’t mean you’ll find it, and even if you do, you might not get a shot. On a hunting trip this past Fall, we’d gone 4 days without seeing an elk.
When I was young, this lesson not only taught me to be patient, but it also taught me to be happy walking back to camp, even if I’d seen nothing that day. At the very least, I’d spent hours in nature observing its ins and outs
We ended up not seeing a single bird that day. That evening Andy, my father and I walked out of the woods turkey-less, but not hopeless. We set out at sunrise the next day and set up our morning blind outside of a cottonwood grove where we thought the birds would be roosting for the night. As the sun began to brighten the sky, low and behold a single bird started grazing around 80 yards from our blind.
If you’ve ever been hunting, you know the primal feeling that moves up your spine when you see an animal. There it is! Exactly what hunters come for! Andy grabbed his rangefinder and told us that it was 71 yards away. It was a long yet possible shot, and another one of my father’s lessons rang in my head again: “Don’t take a shot unless you know you can make it.” To my surprise, my dad quietly said, “I can’t take the shot.” With some brush in between him and the turkey and the distance in between, he wasn’t comfortable taking the shot.
Hunting is a weird feeling inside. It’s almost an instinct to pull the trigger when you have an animal between the crosshairs. Some people call it buck fever, but growing up my dad taught me to only put my finger on the trigger if I was ready to kill the animal. If you don’t kill on the first shot, that means you either miss the shot or you injure your prey with the possibility of it running away hurt, which would be the worst possible outcome.
At the end of the weekend, my dad and I drove home from Andy’s house empty handed. It sounds cheesy, but I didn’t really mind that. Even if we didn’t take anything home, it was the memories I collected and the hours logged outside that I came for.
JOE HAEBERLE is an extremely authentic, goofy, passionate person. Someone who seeks out intimate valuable conversation, but moments later can have you laughing from your belly. He finds a way to blur the lines between traditional western culture and progressive ways of thinking through his photography. He has two hands and he uses them to climb rocks, pet dogs, and scratch his beard.