This month, I am stepping a bit outside of this column’s normal subject matter, but I feel strongly about this message. 

They say youth is wasted on the young, and also that with age often comes wisdom. This is an opportunity to share with you the wisdom gained from a lifetime of experience in the woods, as well as in general. Take a moment to reflect on the true reasons why we hunt and shoot, and consider the difference you can make by mentoring someone.  

I am going to share a short reflection written last August by my mentor and friend, Gene Sutherland. He introduced me to archery as well as deer hunting, and were it not for him taking the time to mentor me, I might well not be involved in these passions today. 

Archery season was fast approaching, and we were extremely busy at the shop.  Gene called to tell me he was emailing me something he had just written. He said, “I know how busy you are, and I wrote this so you could use it in your column.” I didn’t use it at the time, because the time didn’t seem right, but I saved it. 

Here is what Gene wrote:

End of the road

“My, my, how time goes by. How I cherished the opportunity to hear leaves crush under my boots. All I could think about was spending the weekend in the deer woods.  All week long, I would put myself to sleep strategizing which stand would be best for me to sit, playing it out in my mind, to get a glimpse of “Big Boy.” I would go over and over the many setups, trying to figure out the best one. This circular repetitive pattern was strangely exciting.  It all added to the excitement of the hunt.

“Then, it’s go time. That first light of a cool, crisp autumn morning is something reserved for the hunters. The heart racing while walking to the stand, needing you to pay attention to calm it down.  Once settled in, the simple sound of a limb cracking will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. You have plenty of time to appreciate how beautiful the woods are, studying everything the woods have to offer, searching for the slightest movement. Then, after a few hours, nature’s thermostat begins to act.  Suddenly the chill of the woods turns to a cozy, comfortable place to be.

“The camaraderie — these are the bonds with friends and family that will never go away. Each and every person you share this bond with will be with you the rest of your life. All of the good times, laughs, sharing of viewpoints and stories and the relaxing times at the camp will be forever in your mind. I find it strange how I haven’t had the urge to mention any of the bucks I have harvested over the years. As serious as I was about killing deer, I feel no urge to mention this.  Strange, just so strange. All that is important to me are the memories. The rides up to the camp, being with my buds, the beauty of the deer woods, and of course, the sight of a whitetail deer!

“Due to a number of physical problems, I have been unable to hunt for about 10 years. I can no longer walk. This and the sudden death of a hunting buddy kind of took the wind out of my sails. I lost interest and the desire to hunt. I was recently talking to one of my old hunting buddies, though, and I shared with him how I have been missing the beauty of the woods. He told me to get in touch with another old deer bud who is a landowner and ask for permission to make a hunt. He said he would gladly assist me, and would sit me in a chair at the end of the road….”

Pay it forward

As mentioned, Gene had been in poor health, which had prevented him from hunting in recent years. I was the landowner mentioned at the end. I tried to get him to come up and hunt, but he wasn’t up to it. Little did either of us know that he was coming to the end of his own road here on Earth. Sadly, on Feb. 18, Gene lost his fight with heart failure. He was larger than life and had an impact on anyone who was lucky enough to spend time with him. I think he would want anyone reading this to pay it forward and introduce a kid or someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to this sport we all love so much.

This column is dedicated to Eugene Jefferson Sutherland Jr., July 28, 1948-Feb. 18, 2018.