Happy Father’s Day! Here’s a story about three generations of a family of outdoorsmen and how their adventures have been handed down from father to son. This appears in the June issue of our sister magazine, California Sportsman:
BY PAUL D. ATKINS
Standing behind that tree, I remember thinking about how perfect things were. A perfect moment in time, when the world was right and there was nothing that really mattered. And even though the deer that was feeding towards me at 20 yards had no clue I even existed, it wasn’t really about the deer.
That is my life now – quite different than it used to be. I traded Alaskan tundra for hardwoods, and below-zero winter weather for Heartland of America hot, humid days. Was it a good trade? I don’t know yet; the jury is still out.
MY INTENTION WAS TO write a father-son story for Father’s Day, which is on June
19 this year. But what would I write about? Should it be about me and my son Eli’s adventures up north? I’ve done that many times and our relationship even fills a couple chapters in my book Atkins’ Alaska.
There is a rabbit story that has always been my favorite and one I’ve written about many times. Eli was 7 then and
we were up at Paul’s Slough (not mine personally, but I wish it was) in the middle of spring when we ran into a husk of snowshoe hares – big and white and camouflaged in the frozen willows.
Eli took his first and I was able to get it on camera. It was a special day and one of my fondest memories.
Then there was the Kobuk River caribou saga with my buddy Lew Pagel, which was also exciting. Those big bulls were tired from their epic journey south and without a hint of care just laid down right there on the bank watching us as we ate our MREs. We didn’t fire a shot, but the sheer surprise and awe was palpable on both sides. There are a hundred more stories I could choose from.
I could also write a lot about my father Jack, who is actually responsible for all this hunting craziness in my life. Without him and his shared adventures
I probably wouldn’t have taken the path that I have. I’m thankful for it. Now that I’m back in Oklahoma and close to him, I get to share it with him personally. I’m truly thankful for that, especially being back on the farm.
It’s everywhere, though, if you really look or watch or read. A father’s guidance is normal when it comes to the outdoors, especially if you live in places where things are still wild. It’s natural, but something that maybe isn’t quite as popular as it once was in some places.
Taking your son or daughter to the woods for an outing or adventure is an everyday occurrence and the true essence of family life. I see it here in Oklahoma, just as I saw it in the Arctic.
YOU WOULD THINK THAT it might be different here, but it isn’t. I see fathers and, in most cases, mothers too taking their kids fishing or hunting, just like in the Arctic, where loading up in a boat or on a sled and heading out on the lake or upriver is still a very familiar sight. I like seeing that so much; for some reason it makes me feel comfortable.
Just like my dad when I was young, I’m glad I was able to take Eli – along with Lew – and find those perfect days afield in Alaska.
I learned and experienced it from him, but in different surroundings. I got my education in the woods. And now that I’m back in the hills and hollers of my youth, they’re familiar again, and I spend a lot of time in them. I even get to spend time with my nephew Tyler, who grew into a fine young man while I was away on my Alaska quest. Like me, Tyler is a hunting addict and now that I’m home I get to share in the stories of our whitetail season. Better late than never, I guess, and I’m thankful for it all.
With Eli it was different, and now that he is in college and doing well, I think back to those days and those moments. I see old photographs of us either chasing rabbits or ptarmigan behind town and realize how special and important that was.
Cutting meat after a long weekend upriver was something that Eli cherished: When Lew and I pulled the boat back in, he was anxious to grab a knife. Or how he helped pull Lew’s net hoping that at least one fish had made a mistake. Or when ice fishing came around and us going to the “secret spot” was filled with anticipation.
Eli still tells stories today of pulling those big fish through the ice and whacking them on the head. People can’t believe it, but he did it himself. He learned and he had fun.
I see him now down here in his busy life at school and with his home so far away, and I’m missing him. Unlike me, Eli is a true Alaskan. I have no doubts that someday he will return.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to those early days and do more with him, but life doesn’t allow that. We can only cherish the times we had and the new times to come. Will we ever ride a snowmachine again, or go down to the beach and look for starfish or hunt fox as we once did? I hope so; I know he will want to do it again.
ONE OF OUR BIGGEST father-son memories was a late-season caribou hunt we went on with Lew up the Noatak River. It was early October and probably a little late to be chasing ’bou on the tundra, but we went anyway. It was a cold ride in the boat and never-ending rain tormented us the whole way. As a father I was starting to think that maybe this was a bit too much, but Eli – he was 8 at that time – took it like a trooper.
We searched all day with nothing to show for it until we started home. Eli pointed and there on the bank covered by dense willows and their yellow fall leaves stood a group of caribou. We headed to the bank just as they headed to the deep tussocks. We anchored and took off after them, eventually killing the only bull in the herd.
The pack out wasn’t much fun, and the water was deep getting back to the boat. Despite the hole I had in my waders I actually carried Eli on my back the last 50 yards. We were all excited, grateful and exhausted. It’s all about moments, something that we should always cherish in that moment.
I had a few this year with my dad, just as Eli and I had in our time in the Arctic. A big deer roamed our place here in Oklahoma all last summer. Dad and I watched him, kept track of him and talked about him just about every day. When September rolled around, the buck disappeared for a while, but eventually returned for the opening of bow season. Eight days later, I found myself in the woods with my father packing out what would become my biggest Oklahoma whitetail.
This was something special that I got to share with Dad, and he with me. And like Eli on that cold October day in a place that few will ever see, I got to experience my childhood once again. If we could all be so lucky.
AS I GET OLDER and having moved far away from the intensity of being out there searching, I realize that the true essence of hunting is not about the size of the animals we take. It’s about the moments we share, those things we experience with the people we love. For most of us hunting is about life, something we can pass down from father to son and from father to son again. ASJ
Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author formerly of Kotzebue, Alaska and now based in Oklahoma. He’s had hundreds of articles published on big game hunting in Alaska and throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. His new book Atkins’ Alaska is available on Amazon and everywhere good books are sold. For an autographed copy, email him at email@example.com.Paul is a regular contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.