Author: Greg Staggs
The question probably came from as far out of left field as she would have ever expected. It was more of a statement, actually.
“I grew up hunting. I bowhunt. I’m going to have mounted animals in my house. I’m not saying this relationship will ever get to that point…” I trailed off. Then I picked back up again, diving full-steam ahead. No sense in stopping now. “But if it ever does,” I began again, “Is that going to be a problem?”
She thought for the briefest of moments before giving her answer. “As long as you don’t put them in the bedroom, bathroom or the kitchen.” I paused just as briefly. “Fair enough,” I answered before we both started scanning our menus in prelude to the meal on our first date.
It had been the second question of the night for my future wife, right after the one asking when she wanted to have kids. We were both a bit older: She had been in the work force for a while and I was in my last year of graduate school. We had both been in enough relationships to know what we didn’t want, and neither one of us danced around issues important to us. We dove headlong into a beautiful relationship that after 24 years of marriage and counting has continued to provide me with the most supportive bowhunting spouse who doesn’t hunt that I could have ever hoped for.
Bowhunters as a whole are a braggadocios bunch, to say the least. We’ll show off anything we’re proud of, and go to great pains to do so in the process. We spend hundreds of dollars preserving those mounts that we worked so hard for and admire so much. A lot of the hardcore bowhunting community spends just as much time taking pictures of their latest gear – especially their newest bows – and posting it on their favorite online forums for all their bowhunting brethren to see. We even show off the fact that we’re proud to be bowhunters in the first place by placing the obligatory bowhunter-in-a-treestand decal on the back windshields of our hunting vehicles.
Yet far too often, one of the main ingredients in our hunting success goes not only unnoticed, but unappreciated. Often, we leave our wives at home to “hold it all together” in our absence; then, when we return victorious, we neglect to give any credit to the loved ones who allowed our pursuits to be possible in the first place. I can’t begin to tell you how critical mine has been to my success.
I’ve watched her tromp through the woods many times to assist me in looking for a fallen deer or to accompany me on the recovery so she could take pictures for me with my newest trophy. Several times she’s done this while pregnant and fighting severe morning sickness; more than a few times she lost that battle, as well as the previous evening’s meal. Amazingly, I never once heard a complaint.
Yet I think the ultimate picture of support for my bowhunting passion was the day I stuck a bruiser solidly in his front shoulder over the edge of a bean field as shooting light was quickly disappearing. I watched the big nine-pointer make his final run out into the waist-high beans, snow-plowing to a crashing stop a mere 70 yards from my stand. After waiting 30 minutes to get down though, darkness enveloped me and everything seemed to change. The arrow had remained in the buck’s shoulder, and must have plugged the entrance hole as well since I could not find one drop of blood at the shot site. No hair, no tracks… nothing. Even though I saw him fall, I had nothing to go on now that I was on the ground except long stares back up at the moonlit silhouette of the tree that had held me, combined with feeble attempts to triangulate the downed buck’s position from the shot site.
The harshly lit circle from the Coleman lantern danced around me as I waded into the beans, revealing a quagmire of vines that strained my every step as I blindly began my search. After what I would have guessed was two hours’ worth of searching I looked at my watch, stopping to let the pain in my thighs from the constant pulling of the bean vines subside; it had been 30 minutes. A sense of futility set in, and I dug out my cell phone and called my wife, knowing that she would have just put our four-month-old to bed. She sensed the desperation in my voice, and quickly said it would take her a half-hour to get her and the baby ready for the hour-long drive to the farm I hunted. I told her I would keep looking and promised to call if I found him in the meantime.
Thirty minutes later, I tore my way back to the edge of the field, exhausted and completely frustrated. I was sure I had walked every inch of the field within 100 yards of my tree stand, and couldn’t imagine how I kept missing the buck. I waited until my wife pulled up, and watched her get out and unbuckle our little boy from his car seat. Always a planner, she had grabbed a still-too-big snow suit to put him in to ward off the cold November air, and a papoose-style sling to ease the task of carrying him while she helped me walk grid searches.
Great bowhunting wives aren’t born; they’re made.
Psychologists tell us that we only bring two emotions into this world with us at birth: fear of falling and fear of loud noises. Everything else is a learned trait, hence my position on great bowhunting wives being “made”. Influences along the way have already helped shape her opinions on hunting, and hopefully those have been at least somewhat positive.
If you were like me, she probably had a really good idea from the start of what she was getting into before either one of you thought about The Question. Hopefully, that helped avoid on both your parts a relationship where you were passionate about bowhunting and she was already negative.
But what if you’re just now starting to become passionate about this sport that was already an obsession for people like me? After witnessing first-hand both through my own actions, and those of several of my bowhunting friends, I believe I can help you nurture a more supportive position from your spouse and help you avoid some of the classic blunders we husbands make along the way. Here are three tips to help do just that.
Tip No. 1: I can do anything I want; I just can’t do EVERYTHING I want!
My wife has described me to her friends as disgustingly talented. I may never make the professional ranks of any single sport, but I’m pretty good at almost everything. The reason the “disgusting” attribute is accorded me by my wife is she’s watched me take to almost every new sport or idea I’ve ever attempted to learn like a duck to water. While she struggles to become proficient in something that gains her interest, I’m the guy who got up on water skis the very first time, who is as comfortable feathering a short angled drop shot across the tennis net as I am dishing out a no-look pass when leading a three-on-one break.
Unfortunately, that kind of aptitude breeds a couple problematic situations. For one, it means I can compete in a variety of activities – and enjoy doing so. It also usually means I get bored easily and go looking for new challenges. I’d be willing to bet that you’re not that much different.
I learned that investing my time across so many different areas made my wife feel neglected. I was investing too much time in too many things – ALL the time. In short, she wasn’t feeling the love. You’ve heard about picking your battles in marriage? Well, pick your sport. If it’s bowhunting that’s really of the utmost importance to you, then pick that – and then devote your time to her outside of the season. Don’t be on the travelling softball team as well and then wonder why she’s jealous of your time.
Tip No. 2: Don’t forget to date your wife.
Date? I only did that to get married! If that was your first thought when you read the topic heading, this section’s for you. Remember guys, the goal wasn’t just to get married, but to spend time with someone you loved being with. If you can’t spend the time together in the woods bowhunting, then make darn sure you’re spending it with her when the season’s not in. Merely sitting in front of the boob tube on Sundays watching your favorite NFL team while she’s under the same roof doesn’t count; put some effort into planning a real date. Get a babysitter. Buy her a new dress, and let her show it off on the town. Balking at that thought? How much did you spend on your last bow again?
Before you shut me off mentally, remember that doing this just one night a month will put you light years ahead of almost all married men in the country – and especially your bowhunting brethren. Be creative on your dates. Don’t just do what YOU want to do; you’re doing that three months out of the year already. Take some time to learn what she’s interested in. It may be going to a quilting seminar, a walk in a park, taking a blanket out somewhere and reading a couple books together. Whatever it is, do it. Remember… it’s a handful of nights out of the year compared to several months’ worth of hunting you’re getting in return. And you may just remember what attracted you to her in the first place.
Tip No. 3: Get the honey-do list done in the summer.
My wife’s friends are always amazed that whatever she puts on the list for me to get done gets knocked out almost immediately. I take great pains to ensure that the list doesn’t “build up” and become so burdensome that by the end of August I’ve still got unchecked items lingering. I’m equally amazed by my bowhunting friends who are wondering why their wives are fuming mad at them spending another day afield when there’s so much to be done around the house. When I ask them how long their wives have been asking them to fix or repair or help get something done, I’m not surprised when they tell me that she started asking for their assistance back in May.
The key here is to hone your listening skills. If we were more honest with ourselves, we’d probably own up to the fact that we pick up on things that our wives are asking for us to do around the house. But we often don’t acknowledge it simply because we don’t want to do it; we can put it off until later. Not if you’re a bowhunter. Get it done now – the first time she asks. Be proactive, too. If you see something that needs to be done – do it. Don’t wait for her to ask you for a fourth time in November when you really need to sit the stand close to that doe bedding area from dusk until dawn every day this week.
A short time later my wife yelled at me as I wandered off in yet another direction; she had found some dirt that had been kicked up by something. I made my way to her, all the while telling her that I had been walking through this patch for well over an hour by now and that I was sure there were plenty of “kicked-up places” to see. When I got to her, she pointed out the upturned dirt which truthfully didn’t look like anything special to me. Still, I began beating down the vines around it as I widened my search from there. A scant five yards away I found a pinprick-sized droplet of blood. I yelled out triumphantly, and a couple minutes later I was wrapping my hands around the long main beams of my buck.