A Sense of Sentiment

By Ryan Barnes

On a goose hunt in Idaho, I found myself wiping a tear from my eye after firing a volley of shots into a flock of geese. It wasn’t a happy tear. It wasn't necessarily a sad tear either. It was more of a tear that said, “Father Time, you’re a sunovabitch.” I watched my father, now fifty-five, jog out to grab a honker. He was like a kid, hooting and hollering over the rather impressive shot he had just made. I always hate it when those moments have to end. 

My father Harold, though most people know him as Ginn (hard “G,” not like the booze), has been a lifelong hunter. Now time, age, and hunts gone by wear away at him, though his pride won't allow him to admit it. With no meniscus left in either knee, a big toe completely ripped away from the ligaments in his foot, making each step painful, and a bicep detached from some muscle near the shoulder, it’s becoming more and more noticeable that the young life my old man leads is starting to break him down. 

Each time my father and I hunt, we know our roles. I call, he flags. I set up decoys, he yells at me for setting them up wrong. I run out of shells, he supplies me extras and calls me names for not having enough. I wouldn’t trade those nuances for the world. These are all things that I started out hating, then learned to love, because they’ll be things I miss when they’re gone. I dread the day when I load up the decoys and the dog, only to call my dad and hear, “I think I’m going to sit this one out.” I’ll miss those small moments, so I savor them now. 

It’s never easy watching your mentors lose their battle to Father Time, but unfortunately, he’s undefeated. Watching Dad grab his goose was a mixture of joy for him and harsh reality for me. He walked back to the blind; subtly limping through the corn stubble, smiling ear to ear like he hadn’t shot hundreds of geese before. “Look at him! He’s a giant!” Dad said, as he massaged his shoulder, made more painful with each recoil. Whether it be a father, a friend, a dog, a grandfather, the only thing we can do is appreciate the things we learn from them; the little things. Take note of the way your grandpa’s pipe smells in flooded timber or the way your best friend has to position a favorite decoy in a certain spot. Do it before they fade forever.

Watching someone you’ve hunted with for years start to slow by just a step or two can be a somber experience. Maybe that’s why so many sportspeople are so sentimental. There’s a higher sense of appreciation for those memories we make, because we know how precious they are. We know that stories of mentors gone by, how they killed four geese in one shot or how they would always wear that stupid reversible face mask as a beanie, will mean more than gold to those that knew them. I know a gentleman who wears his late grandfather’s waxed canvas hat on each hunt. It makes him feel like his “Pap” is right there with him. Hunters are a different breed, and the things about which we are sentimental are what makes hunting so special. Whether it’s Grandpa’s old A5, a best friend’s old duck call hanging on your lanyard, or an uncle’s lucky hat, there always seems to be something. What better eulogy to a life afield than making sure a piece of them stays out there with you.

When someone you love slows a step or two, take some time and slow down too. Appreciate everything you can about every moment you have with them. Find and savor that sense of sentiment. Each time you go on a hunt, especially with those that helped you become who you are, savor everything. 

Don’t worry about the birds, we're hunting memories. 

About the Author

Ryan Barnes is a passionate outdoorsman, who loves the arts of wingshooting and angling and the joy of turning that art into words. Since he was a boy he’s looked for any excuse to find himself outdoors with friends and family. Now, he looks for any excuse to find the finer details in those outdoor escapes and capture them in the written word.