This one is for the moms

I failed to harvest a bird during the early turkey season this year. As per usual, my social media feed showed me all my friends, and their kids, that did have success. I’m happy for them, even if a little jealous. But the season isn’t over, so optimism still abounds.

But this isn’t about turkey hunting, per se. Or about my failings as a hunter, which are many. This is about the pictures I don’t see on my feeds, or have in my pre-social-media photo collections. 

I’m at that stage in life where many of my friends have kids that are early in their outdoor recreationist journey. I see many a “proud dad” post with grinning 12-year-olds posing behind a turkey tail fan. And make no mistake, I share that pride. You can bet I’ll be making the same posts in a few years when my kids reach that point. 

I also remember my firsts. My first turkey was, to this day, the biggest bird I’ve ever harvested. My dad and I belly-crawled what seemed like miles to get within range. I still have the picture (this was, of course, way before Facebook; Mark Zuckerberg would have been nine at the time). Those times outdoors were certainly important to forming who I became as an adult, and certainly influenced my career choice. 

But the story doesn’t end at the grip-and-grin photo op, does it? Once the posts are made, we turn to the bounty of the harvest. The processing, preparing, cooking, and enjoying of the feast, hopefully together with family. And for me, and most of the people I grew up with, this is where Mom enters the picture, despite never actually making it into pictures. 

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that, among my friends, this scenario is not uncommon among outdoorsy households: Dad and kid(s) come home with one or more dead things, clean them on the less-than-sanitary dead-thing cleaning table (or tailgate of the pickup), rinse said dead things off in the sink, right among the used-to-be-clean dishes, then either leave it there, or if the feast will take place later, bag it up and throw it in the freezer. Right in with the popsicles and frozen peas. 

Sometime thereafter, Mom steps in and figures out some recipe to make the dead thing tasty enough for the kids to want to go back out and get more of them. Because what would be the point of harvesting if the subsequent feast was unpleasant? 

My mom always seemed to figure it out, despite seldom possessing the desire to consume the game herself. Hence the peas in the freezer. She at least could eat the sides.

I’m sure there were a few flubs along the way, wild game can be notoriously easy to make gross. But try as I may, I don’t have memories of such things ever happening. I do, however, fondly remember pheasant and rice casserole, still one of my favorite dishes, deer steaks in various marinades, and a fried rabbit dish that I haven’t had in many years. 

I may have to try to get some rabbits next winter, now that I think about it. And also, I’m hungry.

On the flip side, I can clearly remember some horrendous meals fixed in the duck blind by the guys. 

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not suggesting this gender role scenario is right or wrong or otherwise. This was simply my lived experience, and it was, or is, similar for many people I know and grew up with. I very much want to see more women and moms in the field. But for a lot of moms I know, mine included, it’s just not their thing, and that’s fine. 

To some people’s credit, I do sometimes see photos posted about meals made from a harvest. But I chalk that up more to the “phone eats first” phenomenon that pervades modern society. Why we feel compelled to share photos of our meals is beyond me. 

But dig through all my old ammo cans of photographs from my early days afield and there will not be a single one of Mom fixing something her boys shot. Nor any pics of plated pheasant, or turkey, or anything else for that matter. Yet that part of the hunting process is as important, longer lasting, and sometimes even more enjoyable, than the pulling of the trigger. 

And as equally as they don’t get pictures, moms don’t get the recognition they deserve. I’ve lost count of the stories I’ve written in these columns about my times afield with Dad and Grandpa. But I can’t think of one I’ve written giving Mom any credit for tending to the second half of the experience. 

So with Mother’s Day right around the corner, I write this to honor the moms of the outdoors community. The ones who, despite all their trepidations and parental urges to protect their young, allow their kids to venture afield to partake in untold life-defining adventures. Who wake up early to help the kids get dressed. Who make thermoses of hot chocolate hours before dawn. Who make emergency runs to the store for more ammo, who quietly smile when Dad gets all the credit for that Red Ryder behind the tree, and who, of course, labor valiantly making all the time afield worthwhile at the dinner table. 

Thank you, Mom. 

This piece is from my regular newspaper column that runs monthly in three local papers.