A recent phone conversation with my 17 year old daughter proceeded like this:

Me: “You did what?”
Daughter: “I shot a 7×6 bull elk today”
Me: “Are you sure?”
Daughter: “Mom…”
Me: “Did you count right?”
Daughter: “Mom…”

OK, I actually did believe her.   But not because I am her mother and am required to believe her.  No, I believed her because she has taken to hunting with a zealous obsession that may require therapy at some point in time.  As I congratulated her and got off the telephone I began to wonder when this transformation occurred?  When did our daughters actually turn into hunting junkies and how did it happen?  When, exactly, did the universe tilt?

As hunters, it is with great anticipation that we teach our children the craft of hunting.  Hunting has long been a part of our daughters’ lives.  Both girls have accompanied my husband and I on hunts as long as we can remember.  More than once did my husband and I glance at each other over the heads of two blonde-headed girls as their inability to sit quietly busted our stalks.  More than once did we consider staking them to anthills when they no longer had the interest in commencing forward movement.  More than once did we consider restricting all fluid intake as it was inevitable that one (or both) of them would need to go to the bathroom at the most inopportune time. More than once did we swear we would never take them hunting again…ever.    Why did we think we wanted to do this?  Would they ever learn to love hunting as much as we do?

Interestingly, the passion ignites without warning.   It was not all of the time we spent working on gun safety and shooting techniques that lit the fire.  It was not the hunter safety courses.  It wasn’t necessarily the hunts we took them on when they were young.  It wasn’t even the Cabela’s Dangerous Game video game they quickly mastered. Those aspects are the tools and concepts that teach children the mechanics of hunting.  While all of these skills and concepts are necessary, they are not what fuel the passion for the sport.  Experience ignites the passion.  

The first time a child actually carries their own weapon on their own hunt is a sight to behold.  Truly, they walk taller, faster and quieter.  They are alert and engaged.  There are no parental threats about staking children to anthills.  They begin to feel the thrill of pursuit.  You can literally hear them breathe faster when they spot an animal.  All of this is nothing in comparison to watching them look down the barrel of a rifle, firing and taking their first animal.  Their excitement vibrates as they feel the empowerment of hunting and harvesting an animal. That is when a parent knows their child has discovered the passion for hunting.  That is the moment the universe tilts.  I can honestly say that these moments almost eclipse the memories of dragging our tow-headed girls in snowsuits through the Colorado high country.  Almost. 

As our daughters are now teenagers, we have found that their love for hunting only grows with each new experience.  2008 brought a beautiful muley buck for my youngest daughter.  2009 brought an intense mountain goat hunt and a trophy bull elk for my oldest daughter.  Our home becomes a jumbled heap of camouflage, optics, ammunition and boots during these weeks.  Family meals are replaced with protein bars and Gatorade.  Sleep is minimal, homework is often done in the truck and no one could be happier.   The girls are disappointed when the seasons close and they look forward to the next year. They take immense pride in outdoing their male counterparts and always have photos of their most recent hunts on hand for anyone who asks.  Our mission is complete…we raised hunting junkies. 

For now, my husband and I are essentially relegated to Sherpa-type roles for the girls as they draw more tags each year.  It is worth it.  As our seasons begin to draw to a close the house will be clean, camo will be replaced with Abercrombie, homework will be done at the table, boots will disappear as basketball shoes materialize and dinner will become the norm.  Everyday life will resume.

Although, not without an occasional outburst of, “I just nailed a cape buffalo!” from a teenage girl perched in front of the television playing Cabela’s Dangerous Game.