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LIFE'S CYCLES
Text and Photos by Charles J. Alsheimer

Sunday, October 22, 2000 was a great day in western New York. It dawned clear and cold, the kind of day every bowhunter dreams of seeing. After going to church with my wife Carla and our son Aaron we celebrated his birthday. It seemed hard to believe that he was twenty-three. From the time I woke up my mind drifted to the memories we had shared since he came into the world. I couldn't help but wonder where the years had gone. In twenty-three short years he had gone from being a little tyke, following me around in the woods, to becoming a six foot three inch giant of a man working in the corporate financial world.

Following an early afternoon dinner Aaron said, "What do you say we end the day in a deer stand." Because of the job he now had this would be the first time we would hunt together in 2000, so I jumped at the opportunity. A couple hours before sundown we headed to our favorite haunts on our farm's "back forty." The temperature had risen to sixty degrees so I didn't expect much action, but even so, just the thought of our hunting together and seeing a sunset from a deer stand would be more than enough.

The first hour was slow, with only a few squirrels scurrying around in the woods. Then, with about an hour of daylight left a doe and two fawns passed under my stand and into the food plot nearby. Within minutes a two and a half year old eight point slipped through the hardwoods and into the plot. In the next forty-five minutes three yearling bucks appeared to fill their bellies, along with nineteen turkeys. It was quite a sight to see the bucks, does and turkeys feeding in the same field.

With no interest in killing any of the bucks I studied the turkeys through my binoculars as they fed off in Aaron's direction. Above the crisscrossing jet trails and cirrus clouds began turning amber as the sun inched toward the horizon. With no air movement whatever I could actually hear a doe munching on clover as legal shooting time ended. I slipped my arrow into the bow's quiver and sat motionless for several minutes before climbing from the stand. I wanted to treasure the scene as long as I could.

After gathering up my equipment I began crossing the food plot to pick up Aaron. He was at the base of his tree waiting for me. When I got to him I whispered, "What did you see?"

He responded, "Boy, what a day. That was a great sit."

"Well, what did you see?" I repeated.

He countered, "Oh, just a couple does, nineteen turkeys and a great sunset."

"No bucks?" I said.

In one motion he swung his arm around my neck and shoulder and hugged me before saying, "No, just God's handiwork. That and a chance to hunt again with you is more than enough."

I was speechless as I stared into his eyes from two feet away. His affection and words tugged at my heart. It was a special moment for me—one part elation, one part sadness all rolled into one. From early fall to that day I had been thinking about what it would be like to be hunting alone again after many years of having Aaron in the woods with me.

In many ways the readers of Deer & Deer Hunting have seen Aaron grow up with me. He's not only been a great model for my photos but also a hunting companion and someone I've been able to learn many things from. So, he's been far more than a great son. To say we have an incredible father/son relationship would be a vast understatement. Our relationship has been scripted in Heaven. It's been a special run.

A Lesson from the Past
Early in my career I hunted a deer camp in the heart of Pennsylvania called Camp Harmony. The purpose for going there was to get a glimpse of what camp hunting was like and share the experience with the readers of Deer & Deer Hunting.

Camp Harmony was a special place, very rustic, but more than adequate and in many ways comfortable beyond measure. I'll never forget seeing it for the first time as Dick Snavely and I wound our way down a narrow forested road, in the heart of Pennsylvania Game Lands. The setting reminded me of a painting I had once seen.

In retrospect I didn't appreciate the experience as much as I should have. I should have paid more attention to the give and take and love shown between the camp's fathers and their grown sons rather than being so focused on the deer hunting. While I was out in the woods checking for deer sign they were back at camp sharing a lifetime of memories.

At the time my son was very young so I wasn't able to see far enough into my future to realize that the day would come when I'd be where Camp Harmony's fathers were in their relationships with their sons. Now, as I reflect I can see that the beauty of Camp Harmony wasn't the deer, but rather, the father/son bond and the love I witnessed during my brief stay there. Unfortunately it took me nearly twenty years to figure out that there is a bigger reason for deer hunting than the kill.

On November 20, 2000 New York State's firearms season began. It was my thirty-third opening day in New York. For the first time in memory I was back to square one—hunting alone. Unlike previous openers, where I'd anxiously await the report of Aaron's shotgun, I sat alone in my treestand thinking about past opening days, while waiting for a buck to pass by.

As I sat there and reminisced I thought deeply about the things that mattered most. Though I envision many more fruitful and productive years some things struck me hard. One was this. You can chase the trophy bucks all you want but eventually you come back to where you started—pursuing the things that matter most—family, friends, and the memories that gave you your base.

I started my career over twenty-five years ago in the very stand I was sitting in when I thought those thoughts last fall. In between I had reaped the blessings of hunting big racked bucks throughout North America. Most of those hunts were special and very productive but in reality my greatest satisfaction was chasing bucks on our farm, where my dream was born.

The Birth of a Dream
It isn't hard to dream. However, it is hard to catch your dream. When I was a kid growing up on a potato farm in western New York State I sometimes had big dreams. One was to be a major league baseball player. The other was to be involved in the outdoor field as a writer or big time hunter. During my teen years my heroes in the hunting world were Jack O'Conner, Warren Page, Erwin Bauer and Lenny Rue. All were giants in the hunting and outdoor world and I couldn't get enough of their writings and adventures. Because of their influence on me I chased the dream of becoming an outdoor writer and photojournalist.

This dream was fueled and fed because I had the opportunity to grow up in an area where I had the land to hunt on and friends who loved hunting as much as I did. As a result I had the foundation and springboard to "chase the dream."

Missing Link
As I became more and more serious about the outdoor world I began attempting to write about the out-or-doors I loved so much. Along the way I was fortunate to get a lot of encouragement from family and friends. Unfortunately it takes more than encouragement to make it in this business. Talent and hard work are cornerstones, but one of the key links is catching a break. In my case several came along at critical times with the biggest being the opportunity to start writing for this magazine over twenty years ago. Back then no one outside of Steuben County, New York had a clue who I was. Thanks to Al Hofacker, then editor and co-owner of Deer & Deer Hunting, my dream was able to take flight.

But even with successes there is a lack of total fulfillment if you don't have someone to share your fields, streams and dreams with. My wife Carla is the greatest wife a man could ever hope to have, but she doesn't hunt. So, when I headed to the deer woods I went alone. In truth this didn't bother me because I'm quite content to hunt and photograph by myself. However, as I inched into my late twenties I began realizing that my outdoor experience could be better.

More than once I had people say to me, "It's too bad you don't have a son to share all of these experiences with." I heard this enough times to realize that there might be something to it. Though I didn't realize it at the time the missing link arrived when our only child was born in October 1977. Rather than place our son with a babysitter while Carla worked, Aaron went with me wherever I went-and I mean everywhere. This meant that from age two on we climbed mountains and spent endless hours in photo blinds together. We both loved it, no matter the setting or weather conditions. In the beginning the future looked like an eternity but as the years passed I knew that the day would come when our incredible journey would wind down and possibly come to an end. In spite of this realization I always tucked the thought far back in my mind.

Game Days
For an athlete game day is exciting. Over three decades ago I was a college basketball player. Those were exciting times, especially when I became a starter and knew that I'd see lots of playing time. Over the years I've come to realize that the feelings I've received from my outdoor career in many ways mirror the feelings I experienced from playing competitive athletics. There are ups and downs in both but the highs are so high that both can be rather addicting.

For the athlete there is nothing like game day. The same can be said for many days in the life of an outdoor communicator. In my case the game day experience has spanned four decades. But the best of times have been the last twenty. A big part of this is because I was able to experience and share nearly every moment of this time with Aaron. Nearly every time I was hunting on the farm, photographing whitetails and everything from chickadees to grizzlies, or lecturing in some distant place, Aaron was there beside me.

When this kind of relationship exists it's easy for a parent to try to push their child in a certain direction. Carla and I loved him enough to know that neither of us wanted to steer him into a specific career track. We wanted him to be able to fly and soar as high as he could. For this reason I never encouraged him to follow in my footsteps. He needed his own identity.

Consequently he looked in other directions. This will probably seem strange but Aaron has little interest in wildlife photography, though he knows much about it. Though he is a gifted writer and a good hunter, his greatest talents lie elsewhere. He was an excellent high school athlete and an even better college student. He has great business talents, can make a computer hum and aspires to be a successful attorney. He knows what it's like to have that game day feeling and I'd like to think that a big part of the reason for his successes are because he's been a part of my game for twenty plus years. We ran the race together and grew and learned and became blessed along the way by the wonders of God's creation. It's been an incredible journey; one I wish all hunting dads in America could experience.

Full Circle Last fall Aaron and I hunted very little together. He had taken flight, with his own career in the offing. My days were full of photography, the moon research project and hunting on each end of the day. His were made up of the rush of corporate world projects and the stock market. Though we did hunt a few times our hunting was much more limited than in the past. As the fall progressed I realized that I was beginning another chapter in my life. In many ways I've arrived back to where I was twenty years ago. Lest you think I'm a bit depressed think again. I still very much love what I do; only now I'm back to doing everything solo.

In many ways the lecture circuit has been a wonderful experience. For over twenty-five years I've crisscrossed America sharing the whitetail story with hunters from Maine to Wyoming. Along the way I've made some incredible friends and had wonderful conversations with Deer & Deer Hunting readers. Many people have taken the time to ask me how Aaron is doing and comment on the article I did on Aaron and me back in 1995 called The Journey. Through these conversations I've come to realize that the experiences Aaron and I have shared have had an influence on how many DDH readers relate to their own sons and daughters.

Passing the Torch
One of the great blessings in life is being able to contribute. This can be done many ways and for me the pen and camera have been my way to do it. As I look at life on the backside of 50 it's gratifying to see others picking up the torch and using the deer hunting experience to form a greater bond with their sons and daughters.

I'll never forget a conversation I had with Deer & Deer Hunting's editor, Pat Durkin several years ago. He saw the relationship that Aaron and I had, knew of his talents and called to see if Aaron might be interested in doing some limited writing for the magazine. Aaron accepted the challenge and wrote for DDH throughout his high school and college years.

As the years passed I returned the favor and encouraged Pat to get his daughter Leah more acquainted with his business and see if she might be interested in writing due to her interest in hunting. It wasn't long after that Leah began to write for Deer and Deer Hunting. At the time I had no idea Pat would pursue my suggestion but it's been great to see her in photos and see her gift as a writer blossom. I'm sure Pat is relishing the present but the day will come that Leah will take flight, just as Aaron has. And when it happens a big part of his life's cycle will be complete.

Make A Memory
I leave a simple message for every mom and dad reading this. I encourage you to make every outing you have to spend with your sons and daughters in the outdoors count. Mix and mold every minute into a special experience. Two of my favorite quotes are by Chuck Swindoll. One is: "Life is like a coin, you can spend it any way you want but you can only spend it once." The other is: "The greatest things in life are not things—they are experiences and relationships." Both speak volumes about the way we live our lives and show the importance of putting our energy into family rather than things.

People often ask me what goes through my mind when my nose is to the grindstone and I'm hunting whitetails. Well, when I'm perched in a treestand I think about what matters most in my life, and in spite of what some may think the white-tailed deer isn't first or second on the list. I've been blessed beyond reason and thank God for every breath he gives and the wonders He has given me to enjoy. Next to this my family dominates my thoughts. Carla and Aaron are what energizes me and makes me tick. The whitetail is found someplace else down the list. Regretfully, this hasn't always been the case. When I was young my priorities were a bit flawed, and foolishly I often let whitetail-related events take center stage. Fortunately, those days are long gone.

The reality of our existence is that life is so very short. Life is also about the potential that lies ahead. Within every one of us is the ability to make a memory with those we love. Sadly, too often this ability is blinded by the selfishness that causes us to put the hunt and our quest of getting "a trophy" ahead of teaching and sharing our love of the deer woods with our kids and family.

Our time on God's green earth is but a vapor. Make no mistake; the day will come when all of our cycles are complete. The material things we pass on to our kids, are just that, things, and will be gone in a heartbeat. But the lessons we've taught and the experiences we've left them will last their entire life.

As we approach another fall work hard to seize the moment, work hard to make a memory with your children and loved ones. In the process of sharing your world with them you will come to realize that your deer hunting experiences can be far more than a rack to hang on the wall or meat for the freezer. Racks and meat can vanish in the twinkling of an eye but the lessons learned in the deer woods last a lifetime.

 

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