By Victoria E. Scott
-- As far back as I can remember I have fond memories of my grandfather, dad and brothers returning from their hunting trips. I always anxiously awaited their return to see what the day had yielded. Most of the time we would all gather around in the garage and pitch in to finish cleaning the game. Whether it was squirrel, dove, deer or duck I always wanted to collect something; a feather or a set of antlers would be savored for weeks to come.
I hounded my dad for years to take me out into the woods, and when I was finally strong enough to hold a shotgun, he taught me the lesson that parents have been teaching their children for thousands of years: how to hunt. My first gun was a Harrington & Richardson Topper Junior Classic, which my mother won at a National Wild Turkey Federation banquet, and I still think it is one of the most beautiful guns our family owns because of its petite size.
Learning how to squeeze the trigger just right so that I didn't know exactly when the gun would fire and jerk my shot to the right was hard to do for somebody my size. After practicing safety and getting my shot in the middle of a cardboard box for a few weeks, Dad finally rewarded me with that long anticipated morning. Teeth chattering with cold and excitement, I waited for the ducks to come in. The sunrise that morning stands clearly in my mind as one of the most meaningful pictures ever, because I was spending time with my father.
I was so proud when we came home with dinner - I was helping my family eat a nutritious meal, just like my own father and grandfather did for their family. This great American tradition will be passed on to my children, and they will hopefully pass it on to their children as well.
High power and big game were next in my sights. Moving from Florida to Colorado, my quarry became suited for high altitude living with large antlers and fast gaits. My patience with the trigger developed even more, because I had to learn when to take a shot and when to let an animal pass. Mom always made me promise to never shoot at something unless I knew I could take it with one shot, because the respect for an animal's life was more important than trophies or steaks for dinner.
The same year I harvested my first elk, I went to Texas to spend some time with my brothers. The youngest of my older brothers let me use my grandfather's "Sweet 16" shotgun to take my first wood duck drake, and my oldest brother mounted it for me. That drake now sits alert in the hallway, reminding me every time I pass it of my close family ties.
The patience and persistence I learned from using a high-powered rifle came in handy when I went to high school, because our school actually has a rifle team. I tried out, and I was one of few freshmen to ever make varsity because of my "coachability," which made it not only easy for my dad to teach me how to hunt, but also for my coach to teach me how to shoot precision targets. My patience with the trigger was honed to a whole new level; my finger had to adjust from the field-safe 7-pound pull weight of my hunting rifles to the 3-ounce hair trigger of my Anschutz 2002 precision air rifle.
Getting up before five to feed and care for my 4-H animals and still making it to practice by 6:30 a.m. was a challenge at first, but now getting up and being on time have been disciplined into me just like how many breaths I take before I squeeze the trigger. As captain of the team, I helped lead my fellow marksmen to state championships and national qualifications.
Last year, I went to the national championship match in Georgia, and ranked 12th in the precision air rifle competition. I truly believe that my accomplishments on the firing line are directly due to the time I spent when I was younger developing patience, persistence and a cool head while I was hunting. The discipline I learned from competitive shooting and the associated practicing has helped me in the classroom, too: knowing how to work hard when the time calls is very important in doing well on tests and getting my homework done.
Even though I have moved from a nearly toy-sized shotgun up to my father's and mother's rifles and shotguns, on to my perfectly balanced and brightly colored air rifle that looks like it could have come straight out of a Star Wars episode, I always remember that I am where I am today because I learned how to hunt.
Hunting has always been very important to my family because it not only ensures valuable lean protein in our diets, but hunting also lets us go out and sit underneath a spruce on a day when summer is still reluctantly lingering in the mountains. The aspens are just starting to hint their seasonal color change, and somewhere in the distance a big bull elk bugles his half-hearted challenge across the valley because it is still too hot for the rut to be in full swing.
Muzzleloaders and heavy coats laid aside, Dad reminisces of his days hunting with his own father, and when mom's belly was so big with me inside of it that she couldn't squeeze into a deer stand. While we may not bag game on every hunt, the memories we create and the morals we reinforce in the wilderness will last a lifetime.
Victoria E. Scott
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