There's more to hunting than antlers, and even meat.
By Joel Herrling | PUBLISHED January, 9th 2023
Opening weekend of our firearms in New York felt different this year. The entire season was off as I reflect upon it. Let’s just say that our usual cast of characters was limited but it was especially noticed during our first day festivities. For the last decade or so there has been a steady group of us at the old family farm. I wouldn’t say its prime hunting land by any means, and we don’t always necessarily harvest whitetails; but we sure have made a lot of great memories with friends and family. Events that we can recall from years past, which is more important that trophies on the wall.
We had trudged through adversity before, but it really struck home this season. We had bonded together after losing an uncle that taught a few of us how to hunt; some of his stands still hanging on. He was there when I shot my first deer, walking me through the process of how to field dress. A memory I will always carry with me. Years ago, we lost our grandfather who owned the farm we called home; thankfully the new owner has allowed us to continue to hunt for which we will be forever gracious. Although the losses kept coming, unavoidable, having some older members of our group; we kept the camaraderie going. Spending time together and traditions is what opening day has become for us.
Unfortunately, this summer we lost another member of the crew unexpectedly, Ed, who was one of our uncle’s best friends. Sure the last couple of years as he grew older he didn’t hunt a lot but he was always there after the hunt to check in with us, driving around in his Ford Ranger. I think it brought him back to the good times he had hunting with my uncle when he would see us walking out of the woods. We used to joke about how he would tell the same stories over and over; but now what we wouldn’t do to hear them again. During the offseason we didn’t see him a lot but when the calendar flipped to November, he always made a glorious return.
Recently, one of my cousins moved out west and another was headed out to see him, missing opening day for the first time in ages. My brother’s wife had just given birth so I was unsure if he would make it out, however he was able to for a couple of hours. After taking my oldest son out on the youth hunt earlier, I was hoping he could join us for opening day but basketball season was upon us and he wasn’t able to. I almost felt like not going out but remembered how much I enjoyed being out in nature.
So, as the sun rose and legal shooting time drew near I sat in a blind at the old family farm overlooking a cut corn field, able to see the old barn and silos in the distance. I don’t think I even loaded the gun; I just sat there thinking about the past for a while. This brought me more joy than harvesting any whitetail and it’s what Ed and my uncle would have wanted to see, my brother and I out in the whitetail woods, carrying on the tradition.