On Saying Goodbye to the Hunting Lands of My Childhood

The author looks in her rearview mirror with some melancholy as she opens her eyes to new outdoor opportunities further west.

by posted on August 8, 2022
Helgeson Hunting Land 2

“Hunting forces a person to endure, to master themselves, even to truly get to know the wild environment. Actually, along the way, hunting and fishing makes you fall in love with the natural world…”—Donald Trump, Jr.

What is the first thing you envision when you think about hunting? Most would probably say “the kill” or “the chase.” Some may have an image of a hunter perched in a tree, or stalking the ground, or glassing the hills, or crouched in a bird blind.

Others, like me, simply picture the woods and the fields in which I grew up hunting.

The hardwoods of Wisconsin where I am from are so ingrained into my brain that I can distinctly recall the first memory I have of them. At the age of 4, my dad took me turkey hunting. I remember the thrill of hustling down the trail sticking close to my dad, my imagination running wild as big old Maple trees and tall ferns morphed into otherworldly beings amidst the dark, the Oak leaves and acorns crunching under my feet, the pines soaring far above me, poking into the navy atmosphere not touched by sunrise yet.

I have dozens if not a hundred more images in my head of the lands I hunted on in Wisconsin: Fog lifting from the rolling corn fields; the brightest reds, oranges, and purples slowly coloring the sky at sundown; snow lying heavily on the mighty pine trees and enveloping me in a chilly din that sounded like the world had stopped.

For a hunter like me, the land is not just something pretty to look at. It is a provider, shelter, a map, a home. Your primary experience as a hunter happens because of the land in which you immerse yourself; technique, firearms, calls, and camo are all secondary.

It may sound overly melancholy, but that is why I nearly didn’t follow a dream that would take me out of state. The hunting lands of Wisconsin were so entwined in my being, I didn’t want to leave. It would be abandoning a part of me.

I was offered a job in Montana, a state in which I’ve always wanted to live. It had been a goal since I was a teenager. But when you’re a teenager you don’t think about all the things you would leave behind, you just want to get out and explore the world in a new way.

I remember discussing the job offer in Montana with my dad. He was the reason why I was introduced to Wisconsin’s land two decades ago, and the only one in my family that felt the same spiritual connection.

Dad was thrilled that I had this opportunity open up. I saw the gleam in his eyes as he was talking about coming out to visit me and getting into hunting out there. The gleam held a hint of jealousy—after all, Montana is sought after by thousands who seek the most idyllic out-west hunting experience.

But the most rugged, iconic, sought-after hunting destination couldn’t stop me from longing for Wisconsin’s humble hunting lands…

Don’t worry; I did actually move to Montana. I’ve lived here for about a year and a half. 

But when my dad calls me and tells me he’ll be going to one of our favorite spots to hunt, the grief strikes me all over again. The land continues to grow without me; it doesn’t need me.

There was more grief that followed when I found out my parents were moving to South Dakota. Even my dad would be leaving the hunting lands of his childhood, the state in which he, too, grew up learning to hunt. Generations of hunting the same land were being broken with our departures.

The thing that keeps me grateful are all the memories I have stored away to revisit in the years to come. As I’m learning my new hunting grounds out west in the prairies and mountains, I’ll be reminiscing about my favorite Wisconsin corn fields, the Hemlock sanctuaries, and homely Maple and Oak hardwoods.

And, I can always revisit Wisconsin during hunting seasons. Applying for non-resident tags might break my heart all over again, though.

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