|  09/25/2020

Our Sanctuary


Passing along the experiences and memories that can only be replicated during an escape to outdoors

Story and photos by Colby Kerber, Hunting Heritage Program Manager for Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever

My phone had been buzzing more than usual over the past month and social media started filling up with photos of friends relishing in the great outdoors. I began to grow more anxious as images of stunning landscapes, magnificent wildlife, and ecstatic facial expressions excited my senses. 

September in Nebraska typically feels very much like summer, but each year fall gradually mocks us before it sweeps across the state. It wasn’t until a sudden cold front moved in, dropping evening temperatures into the 40’s, that I realized the waiting was over. Yellowing leaves, foggy mornings, late sunrises… finally hunting season was here.

It doesn't matter which species you pursue – whether you’re an upland bird fanatic, a waterfowler or a big game enthusiast – as a hunter, this time of year gives you chills. Nobody cares about wildlife or wild places more than sportsmen and women.

Growing up as a midwestern farm kid with no hunting culture in my life, unfortunately I had no experience fishing, camping, or hunting, and no clue about wildlife conservation. But I did have a lot of open spaces and natural places. So, I explored. It was here that I a gained a deeper appreciation for the land and wildlife which exist there. 

When, in my early 20s, I felt the unexplainable desire to hunt, I couldn’t ask family members to teach me. Instead, I learned from outdoor magazines, online videos, and trial by error. With zero family hunting tradition, I had to make up my own journey and endure mistakes made along the way.

These days I don’t get outdoors as much as I’d like, but I still wake up each morning craving the adventure that fuels my pursuit. Spending much of the summer confined at home with the responsibility of work and raising an isolated family has been challenging. But as that first fall breeze knocked on my door, my sense of appreciation for an outdoor lifestyle brought me back to what really matters most.

People are constantly searching for a solution to escape the hectic things that impede our daily lives. Hunting can be that solution. The cure can be found in the field. For me hunting season is a release, a chance for renewal and most of all, affirmation. Time spent in the outdoors has a variety of mental and physical health benefits.

Recently, I packed the family in the truck and headed for a small piece of heaven we’re fortunate to call the “hunting farm.” The angst of the world seemed to melt away as we pulled through the gates, ready to explore what lies on the other side of the dense cedar windbreak. Once unbuckled, my kids raced down an untamed trail with a sense of joy, as I was overwhelmed with the familiar sight of a sanctuary tucked away from the world. My heart was fulfilled.

The diverse habitat in this part of the country is home to a variety of wildlife species, but on this trip the objective was simply solitude and the possibility of harvesting a few doves. My anticipation began to soar as we set out toward a tilled food plot and weedy cover in the distance. Carrying enough equipment and snacks for three “hunters”, I quickly lost sight of my three-year-old son, who rushed ahead in the thick habitat. I continued forward, trailing their determination and ambition until we reached our destination. 

The dove action was slow. We talked. We laughed. We forgot. I encouraged them, challenged them, and tried to educate them. I taught them to imagine, be grateful and have fun. But most importantly, they asked me "why." I paused in reflection. This question presented the most profound lesson of the day, and I wasn’t the teacher. 

If I want my kids to love the outdoors like I do, they need the opportunity to explore and find out what passions they have for it. Rocks? Insects? Animal tracks? While I’m drawn to the scenic views with a goal in mind, they would rather wander and take it all in. Whatever the driving factor, I try to make a point to incorporate their desire into the journey as much as possible. The story should be told through their eyes…what they loved most, what they saw and what they felt.

The beauty of hunting is that it is a personal experience. Because of hunting I’m more compassionate and more involved in the natural world. But most times when I go hunting with my kids, I come back empty-handed. Nevertheless, it cleanses my soul and gives me purpose. 

Parenthood is a roller coaster of emotions. For me it started with apprehension but then advanced into confidence, responsibility, and recognition. In a few short years, I’ve learned to simply enjoy the time I have with my family. My oldest is now six and I’ve spent a lot of time with her outdoors, but her interest has come, gone, and changed over the years. Don’t let the busy world blur your focus, because they grow up and change so fast. It’s easy to miss out on precious time together. Let them lead. Listen intently. Grow together. I have learned so much from sitting back and watching them; it is truly satisfying.

This parcel of land is so much more than just a place to hunt. I am beyond thankful for the landowners across this country who allow me and many others a place to instill life lessons. None of us know how long we have on this earth, so spend it with those you love as much as you can and reflect on the values you want to pass down to future generations.

Efforts made today by hunter-conservationists will have little impact without future leaders taking a stand for wildlife. One of the most incredible experiences as outdoor enthusiast is taking someone with you to enjoy the beauty of nature. It not only represents an investment in our hunting heritage and wildlife conservation, but you’ll find that it is more rewarding than you could have ever imagined. It’s about helping someone else find their pathway, so that eventually you can walk side-by-side in the field.

As we set our sights back toward the vehicle, I observed the lingering daylight providing a cinematic effect that seemed perfect for the scene. Quickly the auburn tone of the setting sun intensified, ultimately igniting the hazy skyline in a color that cannot be replicated. As the kids danced back along the trail, I grabbed a few photos before simply admiring the view and taking it all in. We didn’t harvest many birds, but that was the farthest thing from my mind, as I was reminded of WHY I hunt. 

As we pulled back out of the cedar tree line, that dramatic golden sunset light faded on my rearview mirror. I had a smile on my face knowing we forever created memories during this temporary escape. This adventure so perfectly encapsulated what it is we seek in this obsession. It gave me a renewed appreciation for where I am, and how I arrived here.

As I write this blog in celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Day, I reminisce about memories made in past seasons and the fun we had. If I could only give one thing to my children, it would be the little moments. I still make a lot of mistakes as a parent, but one thing my experience has done is allow me to appreciate wildlife, our privilege to pursue them, and the incredible things that go along with it. And after just a couple hours in the field, I’ve already had an incredible season!