A father and son western hunt experience
With Father’s Day on the horizon, it is easy to remember some of the best outdoor memories with our dads. As an East Coast hunter, thousands of memories flood back to me: when I shot my biggest buck, my first deer, caught my first bass, when I missed a long shot and he encouraged me that I would have another chance. And countless other memories. It’s amazing that when I think of my dad, my most notable memories are from when we shared time outdoors together. I think that memories of our dads taking us hunting are so prominent because of the sacrifice of our fathers. To take a new hunter hunting — whether as an adult or as a child — it becomes about their experience and not the father’s or mentor’s experience.
Over the past few years, I have transitioned from a eastern whitetail hunter to a Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer hunter in the West since I moved to Colorado. My father, who is 59 years old, still lives in Pennsylvania and avidly hunts whitetails, but has not been out to the Rockies in over 30 years. I consider myself a hard western hunter who pushes my body to the maximum everyday afield; however, in 2019, on Father’s Day, I asked my dad to go out and join me on a Montana elk rut hunt in September. I gave him the option to archery hunt or to go along for the ride. He chose to go along for the ride and, honestly, it was the best memory we share to date. I truly feel that you should take your father on a western hunt at least once if you have the option, but make sure to set both your father’s and your expectations correctly.
Being a western hunter who pushes my body to the maximum with limited time off of work, the thought of taking my dad out west for a Montana elk hunt inevitably seemed like he would slow me down. Originally, I invited him because I wanted him to have a great experience, but as the dates got closer, I worried that he would hold me back. My dad is in good shape for his age, but not in tremendous shape. He is on his feet all day going up and down stairs, but doesn’t work out religiously or at all anymore. Let me tell you: when we got to Montana, it didn’t matter if he was in great shape or was going to hold me back because it was the experience we had together that made the trip great.
The number one reason you should take your dad on a western hunt this fall is for the bonding. We all have memories of our dads during the early years, but most likely we have moved out and don’t talk to our parents as much as we used to or should. On my trip to Montana, I bonded with my father more in 10 days than I have in years past. We shared laughs, ran out of gas, almost got stuck, pushed our bodies hard and got into elk together every day.
Towards the end of the week, he was starting to get a little worn out so he would stay back an evening hunt or two and cook dinner for our camp. Though I didn’t harvest an elk in 2019, I felt as though the hunt I had with my dad made it worth it. He got a great experience with his boy and I had a great experience with my dad.
Setting expectations for you and your dad
Expectations are something that can make a hunt, hike or trip more memorable. When we set realistic expectations and achieve those expectations, our trip feels like a success even if we don't harvest an animal. Before someone's first western hunt in the Rockies, it is important to set expectations so they know what they are getting themselves into. This is especially true when taking our fathers who may not be young men anymore, which applies even more when taking someone from a lower elevation state in the East. Your dad needs to expect that the elevation gains are intense and it will be hard on his body. Be sure to tell him the worst case scenario so that he is prepared for a better scenario. Tell him how brutal the weather can be and how tough the hiking is and if he still wants to go and spend time with you, then make it happen. Your expectations are easier to set up for success. There is a possibility that your dad may slow you down a little bit, but you can always leave earlier for your hike than you normally do in order to counter this. When your dad needs to rest and you should rest, break out the binoculars and maybe find an elk or deer that you would normally walk past. It’s important to understand when taking and mentoring a new hunter in the West — even your old man — that it is about their experience because it makes them want to come back and remember the trip as enjoyable. Ultimately, your father has sacrificed so much to make you a good person, hunter and outdoorsman that a little slower paced hunt is still a hunt.
Overall, taking your dad out West may affect your hunt; however, in my opinion it will only make it more memorable. As long as you are doing it for a good reason, his expectations are that it will be a hard hunt, and you expect to be a little slower paced, then you will have a great time. Remember: your father has given up so many of their hunting days to take you out. The week of your western season will never repay the debt we owe them. I hope this Father’s Day you get to talk to your dad or son about a western hunt.