Surviving the first season without your mentor

Hunting Wife

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My father in law passed away very unexpectedly a few weeks ago, and I'm feeling a little lost as hunting season draws near. He and "Hunting Husband" were extremely close, and their relationship was defined by hunting. Consequently, hunting also became my biggest connection with this quiet, unassuming man.

The first time we met was when I (Hunting Girlfriend at the time) tagged along on one of their antelope hunts. The military precision with which they could execute a stalk without any obvious communication always astounded me - it was like watching two parts of the same being at work. They each knew precisely what the other would do. I remember wanting so badly to be part of that.

So I continued to tag along on every hunt I could, watching at first and then eventually participating in them as my interest grew. I was a little worried at first that I was encroaching on sacred ground, that he might resent me interfering with their time together. But instead he quietly accepted and encouraged me, through the times I missed, and the times I blew the stalk, and the times I made a mess of things, and then through the times I didn't miss and the times I did it on my own, and the times I finally knew exactly where they would be and what they would do as our stalks played out. Those times spent with them in wild places chasing wild animals are my most treasured memories.

You think you have time and you have no reason to think otherwise until one afternoon the phone rings and suddenly, you don't. There were plans for the season, a once in a lifetime tag finally in hand and then you find yourself suddenly thrust into uncertainty, not knowing what to do now. When antelope tags came in the mail last week I opened the envelope and found the searing realization that for the first time in my life we will go antelope hunting without him. We've hunted everything from birds to elk together over the years, but antelope is the hunt that reminds me of him the most. It's always been my favorite hunt and the only one we always did together, but I'm having a hard time visualizing what its going to be like this time. I know Hunting Husband will most certainly feel the loss more deeply and broadly than I throughout the season.

I'm wondering if others out there who have lived through it and come out the other side have any insight they are willing to share? What was the first season like without that person who defined hunting for you? How or when did you get back to that place of excitement and enjoyment of the hunt?
 

BR-549

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I have lost two. My father who introduced me to hunting, trapping and other outdoor activities passed when I was a sophomore in college. Obviously that was tough and still is 23 years later. He was there when I arrowed my first buck and helped me not only process it but taught me how to skin and prepare it for the taxidermist. I don't think I will ever get over not having him to hunt with.

The second loss in my life was an "uncle". He "adopted" me as a nephew after my dad had passed. I am close friends with his real nephew whom I met while at college.
So many stories in the cabin (that he built) with the stove going and over a few cold beers. He passed about five years ago. His favorite hunting was with a muzzle loader so every year we have a memorial muzzle loader weekend hunt in his honor and reminisce about the times he was there in the cabin and the woods with us.

Its all we can do.... honor them by continuing what they taught us and passing it along to another generation.
 

idnative1948

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We have a hard time every season since dad's passing. We keep asking ourselves, "How would dad handle/do this." Then try to take a deep breath and continue on hoping he is *watching* us from the next ridge. Back in camp at night we always have a nip of his favorite beverage and tip our Solo cup to him for guidance.
As far as getting back to the excitement, we always know that dad enjoyed the planning, scouting and life in camp so that is what keeps us going forward.
 

SnowyMountaineer

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The best advice I can give is don't expect it to be the same. Appreciate the experience this year for what it is, know that it will be different, and know that different is okay.
 

NKQualtieri

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Sending love and light to you in your period of grief & reflection, HW.

I can't relate to you on the aspect of losing someone who was specific to hunting in my life, but I can relate to losing people who fulfilled roles across many different avenues of life. Initially it's hard to do the things you would have done with him, but then you're able to start seeing things in the process that your father-in-law would have seen, or recognize moments that he would have enjoyed, and so on and so forth. The grief is first, the memories come second, and the ability to celebrate comes third.

With the people I've lost, I still go through that process time and time again. Sometimes it feels celebratory, and other times it's straight grief. But it feels circular and I'm okay with that, I think it's more normal than abnormal.

It doesn't get easier--that's the wrong way to put it I think--but being able to honor the people we loved and lost in the things that we do becomes a part of our own journey. For me that's healing balm on a wound that never totally heals.

Again, love and light through your process.
 

Straight Arrow

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My close friend and hunting buddy, also a Viet Nam veteran and an active RMEF Gallatin Chapter volunteer every year since its inception, passed away unexpectedly, way too young. His widow asked me to deliver his eulogy at the memorial and I did so with some emotional difficulty. A few days later I hiked up to where he had taken his last bull elk, standing there remembering, suddenly the sound and sight of a golden eagle appeared directly above me. As I thought, "There you are, Craig," across the draw on the next ridge appeared two bull elk in velvet, which completely amazed me. Then once they disappeared from view, as has never happened since, a furry black bear ambled up the ridge where Craig and I had watched one previously. At that point emotion overwhelmed me to the point of tears. It may be one of those happenings difficult to believe, but it is true and still very vivid.

After that, when hunting in the same area, it was emotionally difficult surviving the first season, but as time has elapsed now a warm sense of presence and great memories of this wonderful person continue to return and even cause a smile.
 

BlakeA

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My close friend and hunting buddy, also a Viet Nam veteran and an active RMEF Gallatin Chapter volunteer every year since its inception, passed away unexpectedly, way too young. His widow asked me to deliver his eulogy at the memorial and I did so with some emotional difficulty. A few days later I hiked up to where he had taken his last bull elk, standing there remembering, suddenly the sound and sight of a golden eagle appeared directly above me. As I thought, "There you are, Craig," across the draw on the next ridge appeared two bull elk in velvet, which completely amazed me. Then once they disappeared from view, as has never happened since, a furry black bear ambled up the ridge where Craig and I had watched one previously. At that point emotion overwhelmed me to the point of tears. It may be one of those happenings difficult to believe, but it is true and still very vivid.

After that, when hunting in the same area, it was emotionally difficult surviving the first season, but as time has elapsed now a warm sense of presence and great memories of this wonderful person continue to return and even cause a smile.


Wow. Good Stuff!
 

wildbiotx1010

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I want to thank Hunting Wife for making this somewhat difficult post during your trying time. I think it makes us all flash back to reflect on our past and the men and women who were a part of our hunting heritage.

In my experience hunting did change with the passing of what I considered my hunting icon (my grandfather), but you can make this change positive. It is now my turn to carry on this heritage to my kids and others so they might remember me in the same light.

To me, this is the beauty of hunting. Sure I have trophies hanging on my wall of animals I have taken in the past, but this is to remember both the experience and the animal. Time with family and friends is why I hunt, because those moments of silence in the wilderness looking at God's wonderful creation forces the formation of deep relationships.

I cherish these times and it makes me work harder to create these experiences for the ones around me. I thank God that he put someone in place to show me this wonderful treasured experience of hunting. I would hate to see what my relationships would be like with my friends and family if I did not have it.

Happy Hunting and make him proud by killing that big pronghorn.
 

bobbydean

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Lot of good emotional Karma in this thread.

To original OP. My mentor is my brother, I am 62 and he is 66. I will never hunt again when his is gone. Hunting very sparingly now. I have an antelope hunt this year,

My brother handled me different from your mentor. He hunted with me closely the first year and then hunted the same area. Have hunted intermittently with him for 40 years.

Hunters Wife, your are blessed.
 

LopeHunter

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Cherish the memories, the laughs and try to pass along some memories and laughs with those younger than you.

My FIL passed away several years ago in the late summer. He had health issues but nothing suggested he would hit his elbow on a Wednesday and be dead on Saturday.

My wife and her father spoke every Sunday and if was football season then they talked about how the big games went, Cowboys and UCLA. Football season arrives and Cowboys have a huge win as time runs out. She goes to dial her father. Seeing the joy of the win leave her face as she slowly puts down the phone and starts to cry rips into the hardest of us.
 

LopeHunter

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Lot of good emotional Karma in this thread.

To original OP. My mentor is my brother, I am 62 and he is 66. I will never hunt again when his is gone. Hunting very sparingly now. I have an antelope hunt this year,

My brother handled me different from your mentor. He hunted with me closely the first year and then hunted the same area. Have hunted intermittently with him for 40 years.

Hunters Wife, your are blessed.

My brothers and I are all in our 50s. I have hunted more with them in the past 5 years than in the prior 30 since got out of high school and careers started. Will be tough whoever walks out alone into the spring turkey woods back on the family farm.
 

walnuttree

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I lost a brother- this September will be 10 years (Where that went I do not know). I lost my best friend two Aprils ago. The loss of a loved one can be overwhelming but time doesn't stop for anything or anyone. The first season is the hardest - at least it has been for me!

The advice that it won't be the same is very true. It will never be the same. You just adopt a new norm. You should feel fortunate to have had the time you had together.

This season will be a new start, a chance to make new memories, and a opportunity to make the ones we loved very proud.
 

Elkdog36

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Southwest Nebraska
Very sorry to hear of your loss! Reminds me of a hunting buddy who was tragically killed in a tractor accident a few years ago. I remember not wanting to do much of anything when deer season rolled around a couple months later. I did go out late muzzleloader season with the very gun he had given me the year before...20 minutes later I had the biggest buck of my life at the time on the ground. It was as if my friend had steered that deer right to me from above! That hunt did more to heal my heart than probably anything. I suspect your father-in-law would want you both to get out there and do what you all loved to do together. There's nothing more therapeutic than time in the great outdoors!
 

hank4elk

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HW, thank you for sharing and letting us join in.

I had my own heavy emotional break -thru yesterday....uncles Paul & Dave are long gone,my mentors.
I lost my best friend and only hunting partner last year unexpectedly,heart attack after he retired from 35 yrs as Game Warden in CA. Big hole gone for me.
This year I have a heart attack and survive,just fine no real damage.Just set me back a bit to reality.
I went for a walk @ sunset last night and had a good long talk with them about my 2 hunts his year.
We came up with plan G . I'm hunting the best way I can this year,but I won't be quite so alone .

Thanks to all here.
 

genesis273

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I have not experienced this, and I dread the day that I do! But I do appreciate you sharing this, which will serve as a reminder for all of us. Very well written tribute to you father in law. He sounds to be a man that I would have liked to spend a few hunts wwith and learn a few things from.
 

Hunting Wife

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Thanks to all who have been willing to write. It's been a raw week as the shock seems to finally be giving way to reality. I'm still trying to process and gain some perspective to help get me through the trying days that I know are coming.

The best advice I can give is don't expect it to be the same. Appreciate the experience this year for what it is, know that it will be different, and know that different is okay.

^This really struck me, and I found it incredibly comforting. Thank you.

If anyone else is so inclined, please continue sharing.
 

JLS

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Where the Wild Things Are
This is a great thread. The best way to honor the mentors that showed you the ropes is to be the same to someone else.

I have been mentoring a friend, who at 50 decided he wanted to hunt. He is now ready to buy a bird dog and a shotgun. I gave him my old Mathews bow the other day because he recently expressed the desire to learn how to bow hunt. His kids and his nephews want to take Hunter Ed.

It was quite humbling when he told me that he read a Field & Stream article that talked about mentors, and he expressed his gratitude. My response to that was that I'm only trying to do for him what some folks did for me.

Inherit the Hunt.
 
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