Tough Hunts: What Keeps You Going?

As a hunter becomes older, he or she should ask: “What keeps me going?”

Tough Hunts: What Keeps You Going?

Photo courtesy Sam Averett/Sitka Gear

I grew up in a small southern California farm town (population 18,000), graduating from high school in 1970. My dad and grandad were big fishermen, and while Dad quit hunting when I was really young, he still had access to old dog-eared copies of Outdoor Life and Field & Stream in the firehouse where he worked. That’s where he also gave me biweekly buzz cuts and I got my first training in proper manners. As long as I was a good boy and stayed out of the way, after the haircut I was allowed to open the rickety old fridge, toss a dime in a battered cigar box, take out a real Coke in a glass bottle, and go sit in the corner and read those magazines. I could stay as long as I had some Coke left and didn’t make any noise. Thus, I learned to nurse a drink long before I set foot in my first tavern.

I loved the adventure stories, especially Jack O’Connor’s tales of riding horses into the mountains of British Columbia and Alaska, hunting sheep and moose and exploring the Southwest for big mule deer and Coues deer. And I loved the stories written by readers, average Joes like me and you, sharing their experiences in wild America. More than 50 years later, I vividly remember a photo of an old man being helped into a makeshift deer blind somewhere in the north woods of Maine or Minnesota, or some other place I thought I’d never see. It was bitter cold, there was snow everywhere, and the old man was bundled up in his classic red-and-black checkered wool jacket, a wool cap with ear flaps, big gloves and a scarred-up Savage Model 99. The gentleman was a combat veteran of WWI, with issues brought back from France we’d call PTSD today. The story went on to say that, despite his failing eyesight, near deafness and tough time dealing with the cold, he would be on stand every opening day as long as he could draw a breath, weather be damned. After all, he was a deer hunter; the thought of not going hunting was as unimaginable to him as not saluting the U.S. flag.

I have a good buddy like that. He’s in his early 70s now, a Vietnam combat veteran who survived the horrors of jungle warfare, and has spent much of his adult life in the woods, where he’s most at peace. He’s a pretty quiet guy, not one to hog the spotlight or brag about anything he has accomplished in life — and the accomplishments are many. He’s still a hard worker, a great husband and wonderful father, but when he walks into the woods, he gets a little bounce in his step and twinkle in his eye. He’s disabled and can’t draw a compound anymore, so I set him up with a crossbow a few years back, and that has helped extend his hunting seasons as far as he can imagine. He is a hunter, by God, and to this day he never misses a season. As long as he can draw a breath, I doubt he will.

Are we having fun yet? Yes!! (Photo courtesy Sitka Gear)
Are we having fun yet? Yes!! (Photo courtesy Sitka Gear)

A non-hunting buddy of mine was chatting me up this summer about my obsession with spending so much time in the woods. I explained it to him thusly, “Gary,” I said, “I measure my life in inches on a long yardstick. One inch represents 1 year of life. Say I’ve got until 88 before I go meet my Maker. Today I’m 67. That means out of the 75 inches of opening days and hunting seasons in my lifetime, (I started at age 12), I have only about 21 inches left. Where did they all go? How many more years will I be able to draw my bow, and aim well enough to make the shot? I don’t have any time to waste!”

Hunting has always been my way of life, and understanding the hard work and dedication necessary to be consistently successful has brought me great joy and helped me accomplish other goals in life.

And so, like that old man from the vintage magazine article from the 1950s, folks like Jim and me just keep on rolling into our 70s and 80s, and perhaps beyond, never missing an opening day, hunting hard all season long. Some might ask, “Why?” And some of my friends, when the hike back to camp over bad ground in the dark stretches to hours, or when our fingers and toes are numbed by the cold, or when an old nagging injury or new illness leaves us half-healed and bleary-eyed, will invariably ask, “Why the hell are we doing this?” The usual response is, “Because we’re idiots, right?” But the real response is, “Because we still can.”

And because we are hunters, and this is what we do, and who we are, and admitting we’re too geezer’d up to go out any more would be far more miserable than any physical pain or sickness could ever be.

I, for one, will be doing it as long as I can. How about you? Email me at and let me know what keeps you going.


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