Passing it On
By: Todd Larson
Holding a bow in my hand has always felt right. Natural. Maybe it’s something that was passed down in my DNA or maybe it was something as simple as my father putting a bow in my hand and walking with me in the woods behind the family cabin looking for deer. Or maybe after all of that, it was the time we spent together sharing a common interest called hunting. I also think that maybe as time went on and the men got older, it wasn’t so much about the harvest but the stories told and the memories made. In my case, that’s how it all started.
My father gave me my first bow at a very young age. I was almost too young to remember. I do recall that it was my bow and he gave it to me on Christmas Day. It seemed that gifts of any kind from my dad were few and far between. So when he handed me this gift all those years ago, it really meant something. My bow was yellow fiberglass and it was ugly. Believe it or not I still have this awesome, ugly yellow bow and I smile each time I pick it up.
At that time, my dad worked at a sporting goods store in Milwaukee and when he had time the two of us would walk the fields that surrounded us. We each carried our bows, hunting rabbits and muskrats and the occasional pheasant. On weekends, we traveled in the family station wagon four hours north to our family cabin on the lake that my dad’s parents had built when he was just a child. It was there, at this magical place we chased deer in the big woods and lost ourselves in the deep dark swamps that can only be found Up North in God’s Country. Little did my father know then, that this gift; the ugly yellow fiberglass bow, was the key and the common thread that bound us together until his passing 23 years ago at the age of 60. The bow inspired us to hunt together and spend time with one another.
The memories made with him, all those influential years ago, are ones that I share with my children to this day. My father passed before I had my children. The stories and the handful of pictures that I have are all that they have of him. Unfortunately, my children’s sad story is my story as well. My father’s dad, my grandfather, passed away just five months before I was born. The stories and pictures of him were shared with me by both my father and grandmother and I have always felt a connection with my grandfather by those moments captured on camera all those years ago. In these photos, he can be seen hunting or fishing and holding some prize he had shot or caught. Some of my favorite pictures are of him and my father when he was just a young boy. The smiles they both share at that moment when they were hunting or fishing mean the world to me.
After my father’s passing and during the course of the family cabin being sold, I was on a mission to find the couple of bows that inspired both of us when I was a child. There were two bows my father hunted with and they were both long bows that his father had made to hunt and shoot in the archery league with. The bows were found, as well as the arrows, in a bedroom closet tucked in a corner; just where dad left them. Both bows, each in cloth cases were resting on a box that my grandfather had built and inside the box were the wooden arrows he had made all perfectly aligned, painted, fletched and tipped with either a fixed broadhead or fieldtip. I later learned that both my grandfather and grandmother shot together on an archery league back in the 1930’s and 40’s. I didn’t even know this until she was in her 90’s. We were on a visit to see her in the nursing home and she gave me two pictures. One of each of them shooting at an archery event dressed up in their best Sunday clothes and both smiling at full draw. Priceless.
At the time of my father’s passing, I was a resident of Kansas. I was living the dream of a newly married and professional man hunting big Kansas whitetails each and every opportunity I could get. A family friend owned property in Chase County, located in the north central part of the state that we affectionately called “the Ranch,” and it was there that I found my sanctuary during those difficult days of sorting through the “why’s” of my father’s death. Why did he have to pass so young? Why did he have to get cancer? What were the odds of both my father and grandfather passing at almost the same age?
During those hours of peaceful contemplation, I thought of the hunts we had dreamed of taking out West. We still had hunts to plan, stories to be written and memories to be made. It seemed to me that there were a lot of unanswered questions that couldn’t and wouldn’t ever be answered. My distraction during those long and questionable days was hunting. Bowhunting.
Bowhunting is something I have done my whole life no matter what state I was living in. It was relaxing and calming and it was the perfect opportunity to think and sort things out. “Tree stand therapy” they call it today and I can honestly say that it works wonders! Those dark days following my father’s death eventually became brighter. And a year and a half after dad’s passing, my wife, Karen, and I brought home our twins, Chase Hunter and Katelyn Rose. Our third child, Nicholas Lake, followed 6 years later when we moved back home to Northern Wisconsin.
During my time hunting and camping on this 640 acre parcel of Kansas heaven, I came across the buck of my dreams. It was there, at “the Ranch,” that I spent the next 4 years pursuing the biggest whitetail buck I had ever laid my eyes on. He had a rack like an elk and I decided then and there that that this was the deer I would pursue and no other deer would do. It was him or nothing at all.
I went four years eating my tag hunting him but enjoying every moment of it before the property was sold. It’s fair to say that the big buck won that battle of wits and what ever happened to him, I will never know. I’m hoping that he died of old age because he certainly deserved that. I did come close a few times to releasing an arrow at the old bruiser, but the perfect shot never developed. I have no regrets of not shooting that deer, only a sense of gratitude for the time spent pursuing him. He taught me patience, gave me peace of mind when I needed it, and he offered me something to look forward to each and every time I took to the stand. I never forgot that buck. And to this day, I compare every deer I see to that one Kansas monster that I spent so many days and nights dreaming of.
Fast forward to 2016 and my twins, Chase and Katelyn are now 21 years old and seniors in college. Nicholas is now 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. Over the years I have shared with them the stories of those that have passed or I should say, lived before them. Fond memories of those family members who shared their love for all things wild as well as their passion for the bow. I have hunted with each one of my children and they have watched me pass up more deer than I have shot (especially bucks). I was never sure if they would fully understand my reasons for doing so, but maybe someday they will. I hope that they will realize that the decision to hunt and make the choice to harvest or not harvest an animal is a very personal one. I have learned over the years that hunting means many different things to different people and as my children grow older they will figure these things out as well.
In the coming weeks, Chase and I have an opportunity to hunt some private property that is owned by a family friend. It too is a magical place where we know that at least a couple mature Wisconsin whitetails can be found. These deer are the ones that dreams are made of and make hunters go crazy in their pursuit of them. In all honesty, I have to say that these bucks are what I have been waiting the last 23 years to hunt with a bow and yes, they are close to the size of that Kansas buck I worked so hard to get all those years ago. The pictures of these deer are truly amazing and the possibility of one of us harvesting a record buck is quite real.
Over the years, big bucks have been taken on and around this property where quality deer management is practiced and to say we are excited about having this opportunity to hunt them there is an understatement. I am truly humbled to be able to share this hunt with my son who shares the same passion for this sport as I do. We’ll be spending this time together, not only making memories, but fulfilling another dream hunt and planning another adventure. To our next adventure, Chase Hunter! Let’s go have some fun!
I would like to add that if I am fortunate enough to harvest one of these animals I will do it in memory of Jack Liethen who passed away on September 26, 2016 at the age of 81. He was a family friend, neighbor and hunter who shared his passion and love for the outdoors with all those around him. I’ll miss you Jack…and this hunt will be for “Jack’s Buck.”