21967678186_1db1d8a546_zPhoto courtesy of the Midwest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr

Twenty years ago, my mother and I walked out behind the barn, through the darkness, bundled in our warmest clothes. We crawled under the fence and into the woods for what would be my first deer hunt. As I followed, she turned and whispered, “pick up your feet.” Due to my excitement and inexperience, I was unaware that my heavy boots were dragging every leaf and twig along the way causing quite a commotion. I marched on, literally, as to not drag my feet, and we made it to the log we planned to sit on.

Not long after, four deer came over the hill right in front of us. My hands began to tremble and I was sure the deer would hear my heart beating out of my chest. Mom attempted to calm me down but to no avail. I started shooting and the deer starting running. Once the smoke cleared those deer were still running. I doubt I even came close to hitting them. Although we didn’t get a deer, that is a moment that Mom and I will always share and never forget.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that hunting is one the very best ways for me to spend time with loved ones and make memories together. A great hunting memory is rarely forgotten because the story will inevitably be told hundreds of times over the years. I hope all hunters take the chance to invite a friend or family member on their next hunt. It could be the most fun you’ve had in a long time.

I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt with dozens of friends and family, including taking many of them on their very first hunts. When my nephew Kellen was five years old, I had him tag along on his first turkey hunt. We barely made it 20 feet into the woods before I turned and said “pick up your feet.” No sooner did I say the words than I had a quick chuckle at myself. I couldn’t pick up my feet when I was 12; how could I expect this five year old to sneak through the woods? Not 20 steps later I turned again and looked towards his feet with a scowl. He knew what that meant and began to step more quietly. We never did get a turkey that day, but it is a day I’ll cherish forever: the first time I was able to share my passion for hunting with my nephew.

Over the years, I’ve helped friends on their first successful hunts for deer, turkey, geese, and ducks. My wife even shot her first turkey with our nephew sitting right at her side as I watched from the brush. That was a special day for me. There’s nothing better than seeing the excitement in a new hunter’s eyes as the animal approaches. The only thing that compares is the smile on their face after a successful hunt. Some of my best times spent with friends were in the woods or sitting in a duck blind. When the hunting is slow, you’ll talk about anything and everything. It’s an awesome way to connect and really get to know each other.

For many hunters the actual hunt is secondary. It is more about the comradery and just spending time together in the outdoors. I’d much rather take my nephew hunting and get one duck than go alone and shoot my limit. When you have a hunting partner, the memories are more vivid and the excitement is elevated. When taking young kids hunting, it can also be a great chance to teach life lessons about patience, persistence and being a responsible hunter and caretaker of the land. Kellen and I have spent many hours hunting together. I don’t know if he loves spending time with me or just loves hunting, but either way, I’ll take it.

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to take Kellen on his first turkey hunt where he was the hunter. He got his turkey, but my favorite part was before the hunt even started. We had a plan to sneak up the hill to our clover plot and hide inside our blind until the turkeys arrived. As we walked up the hill, I told him to lead the way. Not far up the hill, I stepped on a twig and the snap echoed through the woods. Kellen turned around, looked at my feet, and gave me a quick scowl. I couldn’t have been more proud.