There are two things I take more seriously than deer hunting: my marriage and being a father. Well three – my job (my boss reads this!). Fortunately, working for an organization dedicated to the future of wild deer, wildlife habitat and hunting aligns perfectly with my passion, so it doesn’t feel like a job and it blends right into my deer hunting craziness.
With respect to the other two, my wife and I have been together for a long time, so she learned very early on (even if she didn’t understand why) that I’m incredibly passionate and dedicated to hunting white-tailed deer. The other – being a father – is something that I’m still getting used to. Our son, Theo, will be turning two in early October, and we’re expecting a baby girl later that month (good timing, I know). While becoming a father has been the biggest gift in my life, I’m still a serious deer hunter, and finding the sweet-spot between the two has certainly been interesting. Hopefully, Theo and our daughter will be tagging along with me in the deer stand, but we’re still years away from that. He already loves “big bucks!”, and I’m hopeful she’ll share our passion for nature and the outdoors.
In the meantime, I’m still trying to find the perfect balance, and maybe always will be, but I have found some ways to be all-in as a husband and father, while also maximizing my time in the woods. For those parents out there who have been at this longer than I, this may be stuff you’ve already found out. For newer parents like me, hopefully my experiences will give you a new perspective on pursuing and excelling at the things you’re most serious about. Here’s what I’ve learned.
You’ve heard it before: communication is key. That couldn’t be more true in this case, and it’s really a good rule of thumb for marriage and parenting, generally. In terms of escaping to the woods for a day or even a few hours, I’ve found that it’s incredibly important to be upfront with expectations – and I think my wife would say the same . Before fall seasons even begin, we discuss season dates and my plans for the fall. For instance, if I’m planning any overnights or extended hunts, we get those on the calendar pronto. The same goes for family obligations – I want to know when and what those are so I make sure to plan around them.
As we get into hunting seasons, I’ve found it’s even more important to communicate frequently. At the beginning of each week, I’ll tell my wife that I’d like to hunt a couple mornings and/or evenings, and that X or Y days fit the best with my schedule and offer good hunting conditions. She then let’s me know which day(s) would be best for her. This ensures that I’m not running out the door and leaving her home with the kiddos without prior notice (also ensuring that I come home to a happy wife). This also helps her plan out her time with our son (and future daughter) while I’m away. She can plan a play-date with friends or visit grandparents if she thinks she’ll want some additional help.
Part of the communication plan also includes making sure that I let my wife know where I’m going, how long I’ll be there and when I expect to be back. Now, more than ever, returning hope safely is my top priority on every hunt. I do a lot of my hunting on big tracks of public land with very limited cell coverage. After our son was born, I felt really anxious being in a tree without any way to check-in on things at home. I ended up purchasing a satellite communication device, and it’s made it much easier for both me and my wife when I’m in the woods. Knowing everything is good at home has helped me to fully enjoy my time away, and it’s comforting for her to be able to check on my wellbeing and also know she can reach me should something at home need my immediate attention.
Pick and Choose
I’ve been known to hunt every chance I can, and there may have been multiple afternoon college classes with an empty seat due to my early departure for a treestand. However, as family life and other obligations began to take over, I’ve found myself being pickier about which days I spend in the field. Ultimately, I think that’s helped me to become a better and more successful hunter.
Sure, when you’re busy, you can’t be too picky about time spent in the woods, and I’ve faced that challenge. But I tend to take my hunting days when I think I have the best odds of connecting with a mature buck. Generally, the best hunting days in my area of Pennsylvania are the last week of October and the first few weeks of November. So, I may only hunt half a Saturday in early October, or a may skip a Saturday altogether and bank that time for when the getting gets good. The same goes for weather. If I have two open evenings during the week, and I know that I want to hunt one of them, I’ll scrutinize the weather for those days and pick the day that I think provides the better conditions.
Pay It Forward
This idea is nothing new, but I’ve found it to be key in keeping obligations and expectations in check. The idea here is to load-on the family time outside of hunting season. For me, this isn’t hard, because as I mentioned, my family is the number one thing in my life. I enjoy spending time with them, and we do nearly everything together. But all of these fun trips, experiences and quality time make it easier to get away come fall. It may mean a few less trips to the turkey woods, or forgoing a summer fishing trip, but those are sacrifices I’m happy to make for both my family and some extra time in the deer woods. Doing so also makes me feel less guilty when I take some time for myself to sit in a tree.
While having kids certainly has changed how and when I hunt, it’s obviously been a blessing – in more ways than one. I love spending time with my wife and son, and we can’t wait to meet our daughter in a few short weeks. Every day is a new adventure, and we try to embrace it as much as we can. Undoubtedly, I don’t spend as much time in a treestand as I used to, but I do spend more quality sits in the woods. And that’s been eye-opening. Limited opportunity has pushed me to make sure that I take full advantage of every opportunity I do get. I’ve noticed the difference in deer sightings and harvests. But, as I’ve learned, making the most of these opportunities begins way before I even step foot in the woods. Hopefully the things I’ve learned navigating parenthood while pursuing my passion will help you do the same, and I encourage you to look at your busy and changing circumstances as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.