(It’s Not to Come Home With a Bird for the Pot.)
By Craig J. Heimbuch
I suppose I could say that I hunt because I was born into it. I come from a large Midwestern family with agrarian roots. My dad is a hunter. I believe his dad was, too. Most of his brothers certainly are. And my cousins all seem to hunt—nearly all the men and some of the women. Every time we get together, there’s talk about hunting—a legendary family trip, a missed shot, a found opportunity. So maybe it’s genetic, but I doubt it.
For nearly all of my 34 years, I resisted hunting. Invited a couple of times when I was a kid, I thought it was boring. And after a while, Dad stopped asking if I wanted to go with him, if he ever asked at all. Truth was, I don’t remember. I do remember him coming home late at night to our suburban neighborhood from a long weekend in Wisconsin with his brothers, having driven 10 hours or more. I remember the specific smell of his gear, and helping him unpack. I was always excited to see him, to have him back home. And he always seemed somehow different.
My father has always been an even-keeled guy, not prone to fits of rage or outward displays of emotion or sentimentality. But he was different in the days after he got home from those trips. Calmer. More peaceful. Somehow less stressed, though I’m certain he returned to an office full of paperwork and bills to pay.
It was only after I brought my daughter home from the hospital—my third child, who, like me, was born when her father was around 33—that I began to wonder a bit more about hunting. A few seemingly unconnected events got me thinking seriously about it. One, I had the opportunity to meet author and TV host Steven Rinella. He writes about hunting with the same reverence with which Jim Harrison writes poetry. Then my favorite TV personality, Anthony Bourdain, went hunting on his usually urbane and domesticated program No Reservations. A few weeks later, my dad called me into his workshop and gave me a shotgun: a 12-guage Winchester Supreme over-under. These three events solidified somewhere in my mind and set me in the direction of hunting.
I’ve always loved the outdoors, but hunting was a change for me. I had to convince my wife, who has known me since my Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac high school days, that I was still the same person. And at first it was difficult. But I soon found myself getting up before dawn on cold Sunday mornings, before work on a Tuesday, any time I could head north toward a nearby state park to spend an hour or two stalking tall prairie grass and scrub brush trying to shake out a pheasant, quail or grouse.
It morphed from a curiosity to a need. I needed to be outside, in the woods or the fields, when the world woke up. I sipped coffee and waited for enough pre-dawn light to put together my gun, retrieved from under my tonneau cover, stepping into the greater world without distraction.
In my work-a-day commuter world—full of meetings and deadlines, obligations and bills—problems have a tendency to engulf me. They fester and grow large. I lose perspective and scale. But out there, among the frost and fallen leaves, the things that weigh me down are lost in the sensory awareness that seems to take over. It’s hard to worry about spreadsheets and reports when your ears are trained on the sound of movement; it’s hard to worry about anything at all. Being out there in the larger world makes me feel small in the best possible way. It’s empowering, reassuring. It matters little if I come home with a bird for the pot. When I come home, I come home different, the way my dad did. I come home changed and appreciating the things in life that are truly important.
So maybe that’s genetic—the need to step out of my life and experience the smallness of being in the larger world. Then again, maybe I was born to hunt and just didn’t know it. Either way, I find myself looking forward to November, when I’ll put my gear in the truck and set the alarm early on Sundays.
Chevy’s Silverado packs the work ethic that doesn’t ease up even when you’re out seeking adventure, from building bridges to going off-road on hunting trips.
This is Part 2 of a two-part series on hunting by Craig J. Heimbuch. Click here to read Part 1.
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Craig J. Heimbuch is an award-winning journalist and author. His newest book, And Now We Shall Do Manly Things (William Morrow/HarperCollins), traces the year he spent learning to hunt in order to better understand his large, Midwestern family.