The questions we hear when we come down from the mountains after a hunt ring loud.
“How did you do?”
“What did you get?”
“So, let’s see it.”
Usually, the success of the hunt could be easily summed up with a simple photo or look into the bed of the truck.
It was always pretty cut and dry; the same each year: the preparation, the hunt, the harvest and the story of accomplishment.
I was born and raised in the west and I have known men that have hunted these mountains more years than I have lived, yet, he was the greatest I had ever met.
From the moment I met him I knew he was not your average hunter.
There was no distance he wouldn’t go, no height he wouldn’t climb and no temperature he wouldn’t endure.
He knew the country like the back of his hand.
He understood the animals better than himself; their habits and the way they were designed.
He was a hunter unlike any other.
He was his own competitor and there was no limit.
He lived to get as high and far away as he could. He lived to be alone out there, accomplishing what few could.
It’s what got him though the other nine months.
It fueled him.
And success was inevitable.
Years passed, each one bringing the same as the last.
He would pack up in the Fall and head out to where he was most himself.
Time moved forward, but the story never changed.
And then it started happening. A shift.
A point where the story got longer, deeper, more than most had the time for. A conversion from the way it was, to the way it was becoming.
Children came and with them, I started to see a subtle change in him each Fall. Slowly at first, but with each year passing, I saw the struggle become greater. He was wrestling with the whole concept now. Wanting to be in two places at once: home with the one’s he loved and yet at the same time, the need to get into the mountains and do what he does raged.
It was an uncomfortable feeling, one that would ultimately challenge what it really meant to be a man.
It started gradually, at first: the pull of two worlds.
And it culminated and finally broke in that one hunt.
It was a coveted tag he had drawn that would guarantee the kind of hunt he lived for and the results were sure to be something to be proud of.
He planned, he prepared and when it was time, he packed up his stuff and was heading out.
It was then he heard the little footsteps behind him and felt the tug on his shirt.
“Daddy, Daddy! Can I go with you?”
He looked down into the eyes of a small boy and knew this was the moment everything was about to change. The crossroads. The point where a choice, a decision, would forever alter the way things are.
His children had gone with him many times before: as infants on scouting trips, in a carrier on a bear hunt and thrown in a pack to run out and harvest meat for the family.
They were raised this way. So the request was not unique.
But this time it was different. This was his hunt. There was no way he would be successful with a five year old at his heals.
This would change the entire hunt; the coveted tag, the pursuit of the envied animal. This would change everything.
He could take him, not this time.
He looked down, and before he knew what was coming out of his mouth he said yes.
They sat together in the vast space. As he glassed the land the boy drew roads with his fingers in the dirt.
He explained that they would let many animals pass today, because they were after one and only that one.
As the animals passed the boy kept looking up at his daddy in anticipation.
“Daddy, this one?”
“No, son, let’s wait. This is not the one. There will be a bigger one. ”
As the day was coming to a close he resolved that it had been a fine day, but with this little one, it would not be the day success would be his.
He would have to come back after what he set out for.
In that moment came the little voice “Daddy, that’s it! That’s the one! Shoot it! It’s ours daddy!”
He looked up and saw the animal. It was not the one he wanted. Not the one he was out for. Not the one he prepared to work so hard for.
His heart sank a little.
His mind raced across time.
In a flash he remembered all the years of hunting with his own father, the man that sparked this fire in him from the beginning. He remembered, before time had its way on both mind and body, the hours they had in the hills together and the memories that were born from that.
His thoughts raced to the future.
As he looked down at that child’s eyes, filled with excitement, admiration and awe, he realized that whatever choice he made in this moment would be instilling something that boy would take away forever.
The battle raged within him.
The questions screamed in his heart:
“What really matters? What is the purpose of it all?
What is success?”
He knew the answers.
He bowed his head and prayed for strength and then he raised his rifle and put the animal in his scope.
Everything became clear.
This was all about something much greater than his own desires and plans; it was about investing in the greatest gift he had ever been given; a gift far greater than any hunt, any trophy, any story he might tell. It was about the gift of being a father.
He knew the pursuit of this boy’s heart was greater than the pursuit of any animal.
The motive shifted and with a squeeze of the trigger he redefined success.
In that moment a hero was made;
with that shot, a legacy continued
and as that little boy jumped to his feet, a hunter was born.
The mount from that day might not hang in the hall of fame, but it does hang above a little boy’s bed and each night as he falls asleep, he remembers.
What was taken out of the hills with them that day was far greater than just an animal.
That little boy leaned what it meant to be a man.
We all come to a crossroads, a point in our lives that we have to make a decision as to what we will invest in; what we will take with us into the next season and what we will let go of; who we will be and at what cost. We must decide what really matters.
At the end of the season when the questions of success come, it is nearly impossible, in that fleeting moment, to describe the sacrifices made, the lessons both learned and taught, the lives invested in and the memories made.
So, we just respond “good,’ because, well, it was good.
More than good.
It was successful.