As a hunter the finest day we can have is one where we go home safely and with our ethics intact. Few true sportsmen judge their successes, or their failures for that matter, on their game tag being filled out.
For years, I admit, I wasn’t a good enough hunter to know the difference. Thankfully, I had people in my life who urged me in ethical ways and stood steadfast on a moral high ground which demanded I hold myself and my friends to a standard well beyond acceptable. It made the hunting harder, a lot harder, but it also made the hunts better.
A few years ago I felt compelled to build an organization which would facilitate all of the divine intervention, luck and opportunities I had as a child to learn how to hunt. It’s called The Green Bow Foundation and I built it to serve as the mentor we all wished we had growing up. A mentor who is patient, kind, ethical and dependable. A mentor who is wise, approachable, trusted and trusting. And, a mentor who is available to anyone.
As healthy as my ego is, one thing I know is I never deserved the good fortune to learn how to hunt any more or less than the kids down the street. I was just lucky. Getting up at 4 a.m. and riding in an old diesel truck for hours in pitch black with a mouth full of jerky and a mind full of dreams is how every kid should spend his saturday mornings. For years I rode shotgun with my mentor Danny Towe and along with learning all I ever needed to know about the mystical white-tailed deer, I learned about being a gentleman, being honest, being brave and being humble. A few of his lessons just took a while to make it through my thick head, but that’s not the point. Hunting was never a hobby to my mentor, it was an opportunity to save my life and he knew it. Let me explain:
Hunting is and never was about killing. Hunting, and most specifically that moment when you have the choice to take an animal’s life, is a journey in leadership. It is hard to get into a position where you can kill a deer. They’re wary creatures designed by God to outsmart predators far more honed on their survival skills than even the most accomplished sportsman. Then, it is infinitely harder to build and practice the maturity it takes to be able to take an animal’s life with a full conscious. The decision to take another life, regardless of motive, should always be made thoughtfully with every ounce of our soul and ever fiber of our integrity. Lastly, it is the pinnacle of leadership and ethics to place the needs, honor or welfare of those at your mercy before your own. A deer in your line of sight is the epitome of this kind of situation. Sometimes it is the right choice to release that arrow or squeeze that trigger, but more often than not, and far less often than it should be, it is the best choice not to shoot. The deer may be too far, or angled wrong or too young. The shot might not be safe. The aim may not be true, or the need for that animal in your freezer may not exist. A mature hunter knows when to say no and it is this ability to show restraint which is the crown jewel of sportsman, or at least it should be.
Yesterday I had the honor to take our first qualified Green Bow Foundation student on our first hunt. It was his first hunt as well. We saw deer. We saw a lot of deer. However, the most remarkable thing I saw didn’t have four legs, but two. Not once, not twice but three times I witnessed this young man work through some pretty enticing opportunities only to come to grips with the fact that his ethics demanded he go home without a deer. Making the right choices can be hard on anyone, but it is especially taxing to a young man who was on his first hunt and saw his first, second and third deer. We should all have this young man’s patience and integrity.
As our day ended he looked at me and say he was sorry we failed. I asked him just exactly what did he think we failed at? Well, he said, we didn’t get a deer. I smiled and said – I’d call today just about the most successful hunt Green Bow could have ever asked for. I know we didn’t get a deer and the reasons why show me more about how good a hunter you already are than any deer you could have shot. In fact, thanks to all of the different situations I got to see you work through today I know our process works. I’m not interested in creating hunters who can kill a lot of deer. I’m interested in creating leaders who know when not to.
In honor of my experience with this young man I have decided to create the MacGowan Award which will be given to the student who demonstrates the most ethical choices as a sportsman each year. Each awardee will have his or her name engraved on a plague on display at every Green Bow Foundation meeting and a $250 donation will be made to the Virginia 4-H Shooting Sports program in his or her name. I made this award because this student did the right thing, not once, not twice but three times. Every one of those decisions shows a level of integrity every sportsman, regardless of age, should aim to emulate with his actions celebrated and remembered for generations.