By: Jackie Bartz
I’ve made a career of telling stories but they are always other people’s stories. As a journalist I’ve shared thousands of people’s stories but my name is always in the byline, never in the text. A good storyteller connects the audience with the character and in this story I am both. I’m a writer and a hunter, and I always aim to connect.
I vividly remember the first time I connected in the field. I was 15-years-old and had completed my hunter safety course that year (I was the only teenage girl in a room of adolescent boys). One afternoon my dad picked me up from school and we headed out to hunt. Just before dusk, we spotted a pair of mule deer. Slowly and as quietly as I muster in my jeans, we put my first stalk on an animal. We snuck into range and my dad laid on the cold ground for me to rest my gun across his back. Seconds led to minutes, quite a few minutes in fact, my poor dad about suffocated trying to hold his breath before I took a shot, but I connected. That connection changed my life; it’s what fuels my passion today. The excitement of harvesting my first animal is a feeling I will never forget but what I remember most is the smile on my dad’s face, the hug and the lifelong connection it forged between a father and his camo-clad daughter.
Throughout high school and college, I chased elk, deer and antelope with my dad. I never took any trophies but every single one was a trophy in my dad’s eyes. One of my favorite hunts came the fall after I graduated college. Sensing his little girl was about to leave to pursue a journalism career, my dad took me on an elk hunt. On the final day I took a 250-yard shot at a 6×6 bull. The herd scattered and we lost sight of my bull but my dad swore he heard me connect. Tears welled up in my eyes because I thought I had missed and the few minutes we waited before going to look were almost unbearable. Every step in the direction I had shot I felt my dream of a bull elk slip away until that moment I saw the antlers on the ground; I had connected. That bull hangs in my dad’s office today and every time we look at it we remember that moment and our special connection. The next month I packed my bags, my dog and my dad moved me to Alaska for my dream TV news job. Leaving Montana was a tough decision and the roughest part was leaving behind my hunting partner.
The bond between hunting partners is forged over sitting in silence, glassing for hours and climbing mountains. A good partner sharpens your skills and passes on their knowledge and each new partner can help you grow. In Alaska, I made a new connection, a man with a fearless spirit and unwavering drive, a connection that has given me the confidence to push myself farther than I thought possible. My dad is my cheerleader, praising everything I do because he loves me but my boyfriend is my coach, spending hours teaching me the tedious tasks and pushing me to develop my skills because he wants me beside him on every hunt. Their faith in me makes me believe I can climb any mountain and hunt any animal. Being able to follow in their footsteps has given me the courage and skills to begin to form my own hunting path.
Both my dad and boyfriend have seen me miss, and get frustrated and scared, but they’ve also been beside me when I shot my bull elk and my first animal with a bow. That overwhelming sense of joy and excitement I get when I harvest an animal is made ten times better when I see the pride in their eyes and the joy on their face. I wouldn’t be the hunter I am today without them.
Every time I hunt, I connect, not always with an animal but always with my hunting partners. My hope for you on every hunt is that you always aim to connect and if you do I promise you will be rewarded.