By Aaron Farley

My connection with hunting and the outdoors lifestyle is quite different than most of my friends who hunt seriously. Just about everyone I know today who hunts started when they were just kids. Almost all of them had fathers and grandfathers who hunted, but this was not my situation. I was interested in hunting when I was younger, but had no real opportunities to get started. Well, I did actually have one small window of opportunity to get started hunting.

The only experience I had with hunting was when I was a teenager. I talked my dad into asking my Uncle (he was the only guy I knew of who hunted) to taking me hunting, and he said he would. Weeks of anticipation finally ended the morning of my first “hunting trip.” My dad dropped me off at my Uncle’s well before daylight. Wearing a mixture of army fatigues, sweat shirts, and a prized camouflage hat I’d purchased at Wal-Mart with my own money, we headed of into the woods on a 4-wheeler just before dawn.

The back of the 4-wheeler had what appeared to be some type of torture device strapped to it with bungee cords. We stopped beside an especially desirable tree, and my Uncle transformed the metal framework into what he called a “climbing stand.” After about 90 seconds of thorough instruction on how to use a climbing stand, the sun began to break through the tree tops and the day started to emerge through the intimidating woods. I climbed the tree as my uncle stood and watched to make sure I was safe. After a long and grueling ascent, I finally sat perched in the tree stand, towering over the forest floor at a staggering 6.5 feet.

Now that I was situated, my uncle gave very detailed instruction. It went something like, “If a deer comes through that crossing over there, shoot it. I’ll be just over that ridge there. Don’t move from here and I’ll be back in 4 hours. Just holler if anything goes wrong.” So I sat, looked hard, fidgeted a lot, heard what I was sure were no less than 73 deer run around at some point, and am about 70% sure I saw bigfoot. As the very long 4 hours passed, my expectations for hunting slowly faded with them. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I took to the woods again in search of game. This time, thanks to major advancements in information access through the internet and a couple of very helpful older hunters, the experience was much better.

I would like to insert here, that I do not think my uncle was a horrible guy for introducing me to hunting that way. I was very familiar with guns at an early age, and was disciplined with gun safety. I wanted to go hunting, and he offered to take me when he could have declined. In a way, he was sharing his honey-hole with me in an attempt to set me up for success.

As I look back and analyze the differences between my trip when I was a boy, and when I circled back around as a young man, I see a few key things that made all the difference…

Shooter or Hunter? In my first experience there was not any “hunting”. I have seen a lot of guys take young men out into the woods to “teach them how to hunt” and in essence, they are simply teaching them how to shoot an animal. What I wanted as a young boy was to hunt a deer, not simply sit in a tree and shoot at one. It was the hunt that drew me, not the kill. I imagine it is similar with most boys. If finding an animal to shoot was the goal, I would go to a farm or slaughterhouse – I wanted to hunt the animal.

Alone or Together? Another obstacle was that I was all alone. Perhaps as a young guy I was looking for some kind of male bonding through it all, and was a bit let down. I have always learned well by watching. If I can see someone doing something, I can usually pick it up pretty quickly. Hunting was ultimately no different. If I had been shown how to hunt, rather than told and left to figure it out, I may have been hunting those years in between. When I did come back to my second attempt to learn hunting, it was through the generosity of a couple older men who made the difference. They took me out and showed me sign, trails, and how to read the woods, and that stuck like glue.

Consumer vs Student. Here lies the real issue for me. I wanted a mentor to teach me how to hunt, not a camo-clad clerk to treat me like a customer expecting a product. It was all about learning the skills of the hunter – becoming a hunter. Taking that first deer home was a huge triumph, but it was so meaningful because I had first crossed its trail, tracked it onto its own turn, and staged an ambush that lead it to the bed of my truck. The goal always has been, and always will be to become a better hunter – a woodsman – not simply to sit and shoot. I want to be a student of wild things, to learn to adapt and conquer game on their own terms. When I was able to experience hunting in that way, it planted roots in my soul that now run deep.

These days, I want to make sure and give away what was once such a hard set of skills for me to find. I volunteer with a boys’ group that takes teens into the outdoors and offer help to new hunters whenever I can. The guys who made the difference in my becoming a hunter, were the ones who were willing to just give it away. They were willing to sacrifice their usual stealth and lower their chances of success by having me in tow. They showed me how to hunt, and all they asked for in return was that I learn. Today, those guys are some of my best friends. Maybe it’s because we share a common interest or because we help each other out during the seasons. More than likely, I think it’s because we are indebted to each other. I owe them greatly for the knowledge they gave to me freely. They owe me a challenge and a mark to continue to strive towards. We help each other in this way, and it’s all because they were willing to just give it away to a young guy who was willing to learn.

– Aaron Farley,