This is a story about tradition, about a father longing for a moment alone with his son, without the intrusions of cell phones and video games.
It’s about a man who wants his son to learn a skill shunned by most of society yet one which provides this man catharsis when nothing else can. It’s also about a boy, fast becoming a man, trying desperately to please his often unreasonable and impatient father. It is a quest without a final destination yet one with glorious checkpoints along the way, even though fraught with obstacles and impediments.
The boy began his quest last year. Joey was unable to pull his bow at 20 pounds; the law requires that he must pull 35 pounds in order to gain his license. Months of strength training. Thousands of wayward arrows. Baby steps. Small victories. Huge disappointments. Slowly gaining ground. Needing to be pushed at times but still willing. Over months of practice, he began to experience a sense of passion. The father woke to the sound of the arrows hitting the target outside as the Hunter Education test approached and this pleased him greatly. The boy was ready. Even at the test itself, the boy looked into his father’s eyes with fear and uncertainty and I thought I had made a mistake…until the first three arrows struck the bulls-eye and that hurdle was cleared.
Practice continued daily for months on end. Hundreds of hours watching videos and learning how and when to act when the moment in the woods presented itself. Six summer weekends “lost” to online war games, instead standing in the woods, scouting and building stands with this crazy old man. The boy began to sound like a hunter. Began to speak the language of “rubs” and “scrapes” and the man felt pride and joy with every reference.
When the season finally arrived, the young boy had a hiccup with illness on youth day. I remember being angry with him. Angry! I realized later it wasn’t anger; instead, it was the fact that I was disappointed for him and that brought me solace. Another hiccup came with a missed shot a week later and a drop in confidence for a boy struggling with that trait already. Hours spent convincing him that it was natural. His desire dissipated. He was reluctant to return. Then one day he asked if we could hunt this weekend. Practice shots and renewed confidence. All systems go. Having been in the heat of the moment many times, I worried. No one knows how they will react. No one knows how much they can control those emotions.
Bowhunting is a very different craft than gun hunting. We hunt with both sporting arms so it’s not an indictment of the craft. Rather I raise the issue because bowhunting is much more difficult and the margin for error associated with hunting with a bow and arrow is much greater. Deer see 310 degrees. To be able to get one close enough is difficult. To be able to draw undetected (especially when you are not yet strong enough to do it sitting down, like Joey) and then execute the shot…that’s an absolute art.
When the buck approached, I worried about the heart rate and heavy breathing…until I realized it was mine, not his. In four minutes that seemed like an eternity, Joey showed the value of persistence and hard work, and performed like the champ that I have always known he is.
His nerves were calm and his aim was remarkably true. I thought the anxiety would shake him until I realized it was mine, not his. When we recovered his buck that sported a rack most hunters would call “spindly” or “genetically deficient,” it mattered not to either of us. It is a memory, one shared by a father and his son. It is a trophy for our minds and hearts, not our wall. The hug we shared when he leaped into my arms made the tears flow freely and I was worried he would think his dad’s crying was weak…until I realized the tears were ours, not just mine. Congratulations, Joe Kassar. I love you more than you will ever know. I am so proud of you and look forward to getting lost in the woods with you for the next 100 years.
Proud father of Joey
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.