The Real Trophy

“There were chunks coming down the windshield.  I don’t think I’ll ever do that again.”

There’s no shortage of great equipment and information out there to help us bowhunters put deer on the ground.  One of the most important components in my deer hunting arsenal actually stays at home when I hunt. If it weren’t for my wife, I wouldn’t be able to spend the quality time I do in the woods.  Her support and understanding of my bowhunting passion is critical to my hunting success.

Just before Beth and I were married, I caught a snapping turtle, which I intended to clean and eat.  Feeling it was her duty to assist her man, she unwittingly offered to help with the job.  Beth was raised as a proper young lady, so I didn’t expect her to participate.  I wasn’t about to turn down her assistance though.  This would be a bonding experience. 

It’s going to get pretty messy, pretty quick.

Anyone who’s dressed a turtle knows it’s an involved process with a fair amount of, ahem, fluids. I think she only began to realize what she was getting into when she learned the project would require a filet knife, a short length of rope, a young priest, an old priest and a pair of pliers.   To my surprise, she stayed with me from start to tragic end. She even went the extra mile by making a decent soup out of the meat afterward.    That summer day in 2002, Beth proved she was committed for the good, the bad, and even the bloody.

My wife’s understanding of this Whitetail obsession makes my time in the deer woods possible.  For my part, I never want hunting to become something she feels like she has to compete with, so I do my best to fulfill my responsibilities as a husband, father and provider before heading out.  That’s not just completing a checklist of tasks, but making sure we’re staying connected.  I won’t wander into all the touchy-feely business here, but if my wife can’t see proof that I love her, then any trophy I shoot is an empty prize.  I need to have a clear conscience about my duties as a man in order to truly focus on the hunt.

Beth encourages my passion by asking about each trip and listening to details that only another hunter would care about.  I think she understands maybe 70 percent of what I’m saying.  She’s happy when I have success and is sympathetic when I’m heartbroken about a close call.  I try to do the same for the things she’s passionate about.  As a result, I know more about being a high school English teacher than I ever intended.

Back to the chunks…

On January 15th, 2011, I sat perched on a forested ridge all afternoon until the cold sun vanished.  I still had a couple tags left, and around 2:00 pm a nice doe sauntered down the trail I was on.  I arrowed her at 18 yards, and she took only a few steps before going down.  As daylight faded to pastels on the horizon, a group of eight does meandered up the southern facing slope of the ridge and stopped to pick out acorns in the snow crusted leaf litter.  I shot the matriarch, a mega-doe that ran down the backside of the ridge in one last act of defiance, forcing me to drag her all the way back up the ridge, then down the other side to my Jeep.

I field dressed the animals and, with the help of a buddy, got both deer loaded onto my roof rack and headed home with the venison pile.  Beth met me in the driveway.  I asked her if she would take the Jeep back to town to run it through the car wash.  She agreed but later returned somber faced and said, “There were chunks coming down the windshield.  I don’t think I’ll ever do that again.  I was stuck in that dark drive-through car wash by myself with waves of soapy blood water pouring over the windows and chunks of deer tumbling down all over the place.”

I couldn’t help but laugh and agree that maybe I had pushed the limits of her good natured support.

Beth is no longer on cleanup crew when I bring home game, but she remains the key to my hunting success.  If you’re fortunate enough to have a spouse or significant other who is encouraging of your bowhunting, make sure they know how much you appreciate them.  If you bowhunt and have a spouse who is currently not supportive of your endeavors, do some evaluating to see if you’re expressing commensurate interest in their passions.  Hunting is not something they should feel like they’re competing against.  It should augment and enrich your lives.  Finally, make certain that the connection you share is nurtured and your responsibilities are fulfilled before you head out.  If you ever feel guilty about your time afield, that’s a good indication you’ve left something undone at home.  Fix that ASAP.

It is possible to have the best of both worlds – a great relationship and a satisfying bowhunting season.  It’ll take time and effort, especially on the home-front, but as a bowhunter, I assume you’re no stranger to going the extra mile for the real trophy.