Written by: Fred Eichler
I am a tad bit competitive. I came by it honestly because my dad is the same way and always has been. When I was young my dad would play games that involved dice or flipping cards but would always lament that those games involved luck not skill. He would always choose chess or checkers if it were up to him as those games involved skill and strategizing. He would also play scrabble but as any scrabble player knows, oftentimes it is the luck of what tiles you pull that determine who wins.
Dad and I had and still have a great relationship. I think that is partly due to the fact that we played a lot. Games like racquetball, basketball, chess etc helped to forge our relationship as much as our times together in the field did. When we shot bows, pistols, rifles, BB guns or shotguns it would turn into a competition. He actually out shot me with my recurve last year on a traditional shoot off. I have yet to live that one down.
One of my favorite stories of a competition shoot with my dad involved shooting skeet. I was eighteen and thought I was getting to be a pretty good shot so I challenged the “old man”. He said he would meet me the following Saturday at the skeet range but that since I had talked so much smack about how I could beat him in front of our friends he said that whoever lost had to crawl back to their vehicle from the shooting line. To quote a line from an old Marty Robbins song, “The challenge was answered in less than a heartbeat.”. I was at the skeet range with a few buddies that were there to witness the event when my dad’s old jeep pulled up. When he got out they all started laughing. He was wearing white dress pants. I had never even seen him in white pants. When I asked what that was about he looked at me and calmly said “this is how confident I am that I won’t be crawling back to my vehicle.” Talk about a mental game. Dad owned me and I missed the first bird out of the box. He still has the picture of me crawling back to my vehicle with my shotgun cradled in my arms. My dad never let me win. Well, maybe when I was real little, but after that if I beat him at something I knew I had won on my own merits.
Bowhunting was something however that was never a competition. He instilled in me early on that harvesting an animal, any animal, was an almost spiritual thing. Not that we didn’t celebrate when we harvested something. We did. But there was never a competition aspect to it at all. When one of us harvested an animal whether it was a squirrel or a deer it was a time to celebrate and then enjoy sharing the meat in a meal together.
We always ate what we shot and never wasted anything. In my Dads eyes a doe or a Jake turkey was just as great of a trophy as a big buck or huge old long beard. I guess that has stuck with me all these years and I try and pass these same principles on to our kids.
In life I had a good teacher but I wasn’t always the best student. For example, when dad is out smarted by a big gobbler or a cagey whitetail, he laughs when telling the story and gives the animal all the credit. I on the other hand often turned it into a competition with myself. I would often get frustrated when an animal got the better of me and would make an excuse about why the animal got away. I still always push myself when hunting to try and be successful. Like a game of chess I enjoy the challenge of trying to outsmart an animal. Now however like Dad, I try and take the time to tip my hat when the animals beat me at what they are best at.
I enjoy the challenge and like most bowhunters I push myself physically and mentally when hunting. Sometimes the mental challenge is just ignoring the heat or the cold. Sometimes it is just trying to stay sane in a small antelope blind or coues deer blind in the hot southwest when the temperature soars to over a hundred degrees. Physically, sometimes the challenge is just taking another step up a mountain when you’re in steep country above timberline or ignoring the pain in your butt or back when on stand all day during the whitetail rut.
We all hunt for different reasons, many of them personal. Some hunt just for the meat. Some just for the camaraderie and fellowship. Some hunt for the biggest bull or buck of the woods and some hunt just to enjoy the amazing things you see out in the woods and carrying a bow is just an excuse to be out there. My dad taught me that competition is a good thing. He also taught me that competition shouldn’t apply to everything.