I am writing this letter as a thank you for all you gave us. This was something I was hoping to do while we still had you so you would know how grateful we were, but I never got the chance to put it into words. I’m sure you knew this by the stories we told you of our outdoor adventures or by the phone calls from the field telling you of our success. So now, I write this not only to say thank you but to also remind and encourage others to thank the mentors who sparked their passion for the outdoors.
Growing up, you always made the time to take your eight children hunting and fishing, and you made it a tradition. Every April vacation was spent chasing trout in the streams and rivers of the Quabbin outside of Amherst, Massachusetts. Come fall, we were in the fields of Hardwick chasing rabbits, partridge and pheasants behind one of your many beagles. And the first week of shotgun season was always spent in the hills of Worthington chasing whitetails that always seemed to taunt you in the fields on Sundays as you drove to church but then vanished the rest of the week while you were in the woods.
All these great times were spent with your children and close friends at your side. You used this as an opportunity to take a break from life and enjoy all that was around you. But you also used it as an opportunity to bring your children along and introduce them to the outdoors in a safe, responsible way. Yes, sometimes it did bring food back to the table for our family to enjoy, but we all know from the stories, it brought back a whole lot more than that. It brought back memories, good times and traditions that would live on forever. The outdoors meant much more to our family than just being successful. It was an opportunity to spend time together doing something we enjoyed, while reflecting on the time we all spent together.
Years later, many of these same traditions were passed on to me, my brothers and some of your other grandchildren. We have followed these same traditions, while making some of our own, even expanding on them by trying new seasons that our family never hunted. And this is because our father made sure he allowed time for these outdoor traditions to enter our busy lives while growing up. We spent our April vacations fishing the same pools and ripples you did for years.
Sometimes we were lucky enough to have you join us and teach us some of the tricks of the trade. To this day I still find myself telling the younger cousins that spitting on their worm attracts the fish and gets them to bite. On a few occasions we were able to take a day off from school to tag along with you, walking in the Berkshires. At times, we “helped” chase whitetails with you and were shown all your favorite stands, even being allowed to sit with you, watching and listening, for anything that might venture our way. Then, back in camp, we would sit around the table and listen to the jokes and stories of the past and present be told.
We have now taken our love of the outdoors and blown it up in a major way. When the seasons come around, we don’t let anything get in our way of getting out and enjoying all that nature has to offer us. And we realize even more that enjoying time spent with family, friends and the dogs are some of our fondest memories. I am grateful to you for passing on these memories to us.
Even after you grew too old to join us, you continued your encouragement, which helped keep us all involved in the outdoors. Whether it was the MassWildlife Magazine you bought for all 30 grandkids, or the fishing derbies you entered us into or just letting us use the rubber worms from your tackle box, you were always there encouraging us. One of my biggest regrets was never being able to carry a gun in the woods with you and call myself a “real hunter.” But over the last year without you, I have reflected on that, along with much more, and have come to realize that every time I go into the outdoors, you are with me. Without you introducing our dad and uncles to hunting, we would never have discovered the joy it can bring. You gave us the greatest gift that we could ever have, and that is the gift of the outdoors.
So, through this tradition that you gave us, you are still here with us. And that is where my thank you comes in. It is also where I make my promise to you. There are a lot of people out there that did not get the opportunities that you gave our dad, and that he gave us. So, I promise that I will pass these opportunities on in any way I can. Someday, I hope to have my own children to share this tradition with, but until then, I promise to pass it on to as many new sportsmen and women as I can.
In the spirit of this promise, I call on all sportsmen and women to do the same. As I have told you my story of how I got introduced to the outdoors, I’m sure many of you could share similar stories with others. I encourage all of you to do this! Look back and reflect on how you were introduced to the outdoors and then take a moment to thank the person that introduced you to this wonderful joy. Pledge to that person, as I have, to pass that tradition on to others.
Hunters are a dying breed; we are even dying in our own ranks. Children of families that once enjoyed the outdoors are not guaranteed to fish or hunt anymore. That is where we come in: We need to educate and advocate for our sport. Many times, we find ourselves being secretive about the time and effort it takes to succeed in this sport. This only closes people out and shuts off their interest, rather than making them feel welcomed to join our ranks.
So, I challenge you to promise to advocate for our sport. If someone clearly shows an interest, steer them in the right direction. Help them find a hunter’s safety course, guide them toward their local sportsman’s club or let them know about hunting or fishing seminars being put on in the area. We have people out there who want to get into the outdoors, but they are lost, not knowing where to go or how to get started.
The National Wild Turkey Federation, among other conservation and resource management organizations, has programs and partnerships designed to help save, increase and restore habitat, along with programs that help retain, recruit and reactivate hunters. I ask that you find some way to get involved yourself and help save this great sporting tradition to which we have all been introduced.
Finally, thanks again Pops for everything. I pray you know how much you still mean to us. I will always keep my promise to you and to all those who love the outdoors. I promise to stay involved and continue to be an ambassador for hunting and fishing for as long as I can.
Safe and happy hunting to everyone! Get out there and enjoy the great outdoors as much as you can!