This article comes to us from Grouse Club Seattle's Allie Jones:
I come from—ran from—a little country town where Carhart, Romeos, and Copenhagen were commonplace. Weekend hunting trips and summers of camping traditions were everywhere. While I adored the wide open spaces of a country upbringing, I was over choosing between the meat in the chest freezer or driving half an hour to the nearest grocery store. My future plans were to settle in the city to build a family as equally averse to country music, hunting culture, and Realtree as me.
Nearly a decade into that city living, I met The Outdoorsman. I felt like I’d known him forever from the very first date. He made a rad playlist and had sparkly eyes. He won me over. Early on in the relationship, he casually mentioned an upcoming hunting trip. His nonchalance didn’t properly prepare me for his fervor toward the outdoor lifestyle until later. No immediate red flags, but a few blaze orange ones. I should have investigated sooner.
Dating The Outdoorsman—any outdoorsman—is a guidebook-free pursuit. All I had in the back of my mind were a few episodes of Duck Dynasty and the rowdy folks that characterized my hometown as a foundation for what a relationship with a hunter looked like. At first glance, it looked like kitchen aprons, too much time cleaning, and an absent partner come fall. At the confluence of hunting season and a relationship getting serious, I grew concerned. What am I getting myself into? Can I really handle my partner’s calendar, budget, and brain space being completely occupied by the outdoors? Am I going to end up all alone? Pro tip for other ladies in the anxiety spiral: don’t Google “Weekend Widow.”
My fears were eased when every couple hunts, he’d ask me again, “do you want to come with me?” I was a broken record of “no”. Wake up at the crack of dawn to silently sit in the cold? Where is the fun in that? Plus, “yes” to that question opened a Pandora’s Box of fears I didn’t know was in me.
Anxiety is a recurring pest in my life. It sneaks up on me and turns me inside out before I catch my breath enough to realize it’s lying. Instead of talking through my concerns, anxiety kept me quiet. It told me life with a hunter was going to be miserable; I would always feel left out and alone and uncared for. It told me I wasn’t worth bringing along and that The Outdoorsman didn’t want me there anyway. Anxiety told me there was no redeeming quality in being a hunter’s partner aside from some fresh meat every now and again. My mind spun.
But here’s the thing about anxiety: it’s a liar.
At the tail end of our second fall together, I confronted the doubts and excuses. I recognized that the argument that you don’t like something doesn’t hold as much water when you’ve never experienced it. I saw in him a sense of renewed joy and purpose--even in exhaustion--every time his muddy SUV came back into my driveway. I saw the extra bit of sparkle when he encouraged me to join the next time. He joked that the quickest way to get a diamond on my hand was to put a rifle in it first. So, pushing past the anxiety, I decided to give hunting a shot. No pun intended.
The Outdoorsman came to my front door with a Pop Tart and Hot Hands at 2am. We drove until the city lights were imperceivable and settled into the quiet rural roads. My recent crime podcast binge and lack of sleep had me briefly convinced these fields were my murder site until I realized I’m probably of better use to lug his decoys if kept alive. All of Maslow’s first layer needs were disregarded as I shivered by a pitch black pond with a flashlight to see if, by some miracle, a steamy breakfast sandwich was hiding somewhere at the bottom of the ammo bag. No such luck.
Sometime mid-morning, I crankily asked the The Outdoorsman if he’d mind me slipping back to the car for a brief nap. My facade of not complaining was starting to crack. It turns out I am not physically cut out to be simultaneously cold, hungry, tired, and pleasant. He sweetly kissed me on the head and said “of course.” It was a slow morning, anyway. No ducks coming near enough so far. That was all I needed to hear. An hour of shuteye on a pile of backseat hunting gear has never felt so much like a Four Seasons.
Feeling slightly more human, I made my way back to the blind where The Outdoorsman welcomed me back. The sun was higher in the sky, allowing me to shed a layer of warmth and see the clouds clear to a bright blue expanse. The mountain ahead of us released wave after wave of high-flying birds over its horizon. The Outdoorsman pointed them out and handed over his call for me to coax them down. I asked if he had any luck while I was away.
Ignoring the question, he pointed to a pile at my feet and asked for something from his bag. I peeled away the jacket that was laid across the top, and looking back at me were two gorgeous mallards. A toothy grin spread across his face; his pride was overflowing. He bubbled with excitement to display his little bounty. In that scene, I caught a glimpse of what made this all worth it for him: sharing it. Every invitation culminated to this.
On the car ride home, I made a deal I’d try duck hunting again when the weather warmed and breakfast sandwiches were involved. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but tea is an acquired taste. This kind of tea also probably tastes better on a full night’s sleep. We both made a mental note for next time.
Looking back, the forefront of my memory isn’t the frigid temperatures or ungodly weight of the decoy bags. I don’t think too hard on the anxiety I had to overcome to finally say yes, of the lingering doubts that sometimes make their way back to my mind. I just revisit the vision of The Outdoorsman, his wide smile, and the mere delight of us being together (even if it wasn’t fully delightful in the moment).
I’ve since opened my heart to Dolly and Waylon and vacation getaways to rural Montana instead of the city centers. I actually think The Outdoorsman looks really good in Carhartt, anyway. The occasional weekend to myself while The Outdoorsman is on a hunt has turned into a sweet opportunity for my own kind of me-time. It’s also a time to sit with occasional anxiety and tell it to duck off. Hunting isn’t my thing yet, but I’ll give it a few more tries. If nothing else, I’m starting to see the value of an early morning wild pursuit with someone you love.