The first time we took our daughter hunting, she fit under my camo jacket.
She couldn’t have weighed more than 6 or 7 pounds and slept the whole time, snuggled in a fleece suit and wedged in a pack on my chest.
By spring turkey season, things had changed. She was older, and didn’t need to sleep 20 hours a day.
We draped her backpack with camouflage and covered her head with a green and brown hat with “little hunter” scrawled on the front. Headphones finished the ensemble.
She would stare and point at trees and flowers and deer as we walked and called. Eventually she would drift off to sleep, baby snores barely audible in my ear.
Toward the end of the season, we stopped on a two-track through a dense forested section to call for a male turkey. The screeching hen sound pierced the silence as we stood listening.
Moments ticked by, then from the thick woods we heard the distinct gobble. We looked at each other, and I looked at our daughter, perched on my husband’s back. Her eyes were wide and mouth open, but she stayed quiet.
We ducked into the trees. Josh, my husband, called again. The turkey gobbled, this time just a bit closer.
We waited and Josh called once more. I sat ready.
The turkey gobbled even closer.
And then from somewhere behind me, right behind Josh, we heard a distinct, “yah, yah, yah, yah, yah.”
The turkey was gone.
I turned around and looked at her. The four-toothed grin and arms waving said it all. She’d heard the turkey, and wanted to talk.
I couldn’t be annoyed. It might have been my best shot at a tom that season, but she was so happy.
It’s hunting season again, and we’ll take her out in that pack draped with camo to chase elk in the next few weeks.
The stakes are a little higher. A bull elk means substantially more than the biggest tom. But even a freezer full of meat is not more important than introducing the newest member of our family to the outdoors.
She won’t go on all our hunts – a baby does still need her sleep. But if one afternoon, as the sun moves down the horizon and a bull elk calls, she calls back, we’ll still smile, knowing what she is experiencing is bigger than the hunt.