My eyes watered as daylight trickled in through the motionless deer woods. The crisp morning air wasn’t to blame; instead, it was the realization that I was holding my late grandfather’s vintage Cooey 12-gauge in my gloved hands, resting on my lap.
Thinking how proud grandpa would be to see me on my first deer hunt as a licensed hunter triggered nostalgia as I settled into my first watch. It was like I could feel his presence as I sat on giant rocks known in the camp as “the Flintstone car.”
My grandpa gave this shotgun to my dad to eventually pass on to me. That day had finally come, and my dad was all smiles for our first official hunt together – even if only for a couple of days, due to COVID-19-induced uncertainty.
I did grow up around my dad’s own camp, so hunting culture is not entirely new to me. Choosing not to be a hunter when I first had the chance, I used my time to pursue other interests, including one of my favourite hobbies: fishing.
My dad softly encouraged me to take the firearms course and hunter education when I was a teen – but to his credit, he was never sour about my decision to pass. It wasn’t a big deal – it just meant more of our time together was spent fishing.
Leaving a nearly 20-year newspaper career to join the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) in 2019 was the ideal opportunity to finally embrace this family tradition. I’ll never forget the glow I could sense in my dad’s voice when I called him to let him know I was joining Ontario OUT of DOORS, a hunt camp staple of his for years. It was like he knew what was coming.
My grandfather – my mom’s dad – was a lifelong hunter, angler, and trapper. So is my dad, although it’s been years since he last trapped. I barely remember pelts being tanned on plywood around the house, while at least one of them had the tracks for my train set mounted on it.
Knowledge passed on
So much of what I know about the outdoors was learned from these modest men, whose friendship brought together my parents, eventually making them family through marriage. It should be noted, however, that it was my grandmother who taught this little boy how to go potty using a log of appropriate height.
Sitting on the watch is a perfect opportunity for this self-reflection. I thought about how fortunate I am to have two dads since my parents’ quick divorce. My dad is the outdoorsman, my stepdad the jack-of-all-trades who taught me about carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and auto repair.
But family is by no means a requirement. Many are embracing the outdoors for many reasons. It may be because folks have more time than in the past, that they want to relieve anxiety or stress, or want to secure their own source of lean protein. There’s never been a better time to embrace the outdoors. Hunting and fishing, after all, are great physically-distanced activities.
As for me, I’m looking forward to spending more time at deer camp in 2021.
So, like many during this global pandemic, you could say I’m just getting back to my roots. It’s truly never too late to try something new.
Jason Bain is the managing editor of Ontario OUT of DOORS. You can reach him at email@example.com