I stumbled across a podcast this week on Instagram called Mindful Hunter. I highly recommend listening to his podcast, and following him on Instagram, especially this particular episode. He interviewed a woman from Texas named Lyndsey Kotrla (give her a follow too!). They talked about something briefly that really stuck with me, and that was the difference between being exposed to this sport and actually falling in love with it. She, like me, grew up under her father’s wing watching him and learning from him. She loved spending time hunting with him, she loved learning from him – but it was not the same as falling in love with the sport; something that she feels and can’t necessarily verbalize. As I listened this smile just emerged on my face. This is something that I can relate to in so many ways.
I started to really think about myself and my experiences. When did I really first have this feeling? When did I really feel that love that I write about so much, that I experience every single time I go into the woods? When did I fall in love with this passion? Not knowing where to start, I decided it best to start in the beginning. What are my earliest memories in the woods?
It wasn’t difficult to recall stories, as I have so many. Not just of hunts where I carried the weapon, but of the days where I was what you would call a tag along, before I was old enough to pull the trigger. Sitting hidden wherever my dad had put me, trying to sit still but watch at the same time. One of my earliest memories in the woods, the oak trees were dropping acorns so hard it felt like it was raining. So many acorns. It was bow season and we sat and watched a spike horn for a long time before he disappeared into the thick brush. Another time I remember sitting behind a log watching as my father called in a turkey, which he then missed. I was more surprised by the gunshot than anything else, because I was so focused on this beautiful bird strutting in the field. Then there was the first time I went out with my dad and the dogs to hunt pheasants. It was exhilarating, watching the dogs work. But as exciting as all of these hunts were, they were not when I fell in love.
I kept sorting through my brain, thinking harder and harder. I received a .410 for my 10th or 11th birthday and shot a few pheasants that fall, and then a turkey in the spring, but I still wasn’t in love. Then it hit me. It was my second season hunting turkeys.
My dad and I got set up in almost complete darkness, but we had been hunting in the same spot for a couple of days and we had it down pat. I sat there with my gun in my lap, my fingertips chilly, eagerly waiting as he blew on the owl call from behind me. A turkey gobbled from the wooded edge of the field and all I could hear in between those gobbles was my heartbeat in my ears. My pulse racing in anticipation. All of a sudden, two owls started to hoot back and forth and then a third, which made the turkey go absolutely ballistic. There was absolutely nothing else that mattered in that moment. I was completely and utterly frozen in awe of what was happening in front of my eyes, and I couldn’t even see anything but shadows. As the sun started to rise, birds were chirping, all fluttering around the field. The woods were waking up, something that I knew happened every single day but this was different. I’d even witnessed it before, but this was not the same. I’m not sure that I can even explain it.
I was so focused on everything that had been going on around me, taking it all in, that when the turkey flew down from the roost it caught me off guard. I snapped out of what seemed like a slow motion daze, and repositioned my gun. I saw one turkey fly down where I’d expected to my left but shortly after he was out of my sightline. To my right I saw another bird fly down, which also caught my off guard because I had only had one bird gobbling. The bird to my right came closer and I could see from the color on the head that it was a hen. I kept glancing to my left to see if the tom had come back into view, but he was nowhere to be seen. Although she took her time, the hen just kept getting closer and closer.
It was as if I was having an out of body experience, as this turkey who had absolutely no idea that I was sitting there, scratched the ground and ate grass from the field. I was in awe. I was frozen in this amazing bliss. I was watching something that happened every day, whether people were there or not – a turkey coming off the roost, eating her breakfast. It happened every day, but here I was, frozen. Watching it happen in real time, up close and personal. There is absolutely no other feeling like this in the world that I have yet to experience. After what felt like a lifetime, she was so close to me that I could have grabbed her by the neck if I was quick enough. She was there for a short time, and then kept making her way across the field to my left, where she finally disappeared.
Afterwards, I was shaky. I can’t even describe it. I remember thinking why doesn’t everyone in the world do this?
This was a once in a lifetime experience that, to this day, I haven’t been able to come close to replicating on a turkey hunt. It wasn’t my first, and it wouldn’t be my last, but this was the one that really pulled everything together full circle. This was when I fell in love. It was this moment that fully encompassed my respect not only for the animals that put meat on my table, but for their environment. Their home. The woods. Nature, and everything that it has to offer. It wasn’t until that moment that I truly understood. I think that’s also why to this day, turkey season is my favorite.
I’ve said it before, but I will say it again: it’s never about killing. It’s about letting yourself fully experience everything that mother nature has to offer, first hand. In real time. Since this moment, I have chased these experiences rather than chasing the game I am trying to harvest, because that’s where I fell in love. I fell in love with the woods, I fell in love with mother nature, and I fell in love with my passion for hunting.