I have recently learned that hunting is so much more than meets the eye.

The Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation hosted the Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt from April 1-3, 2024. As one of its largest and most anticipated events of the year, I was honored (and surprised) for the opportunity to participate this year. I say I was surprised because I have never hunted before and typically spend my time in the outdoors lounging by a pool or walking from one shop to the next.

I said yes out of curiosity and the chance to share a new experience with my dad. I knew he had hunted before, but never for turkey, so I invited him along (and secured my title as the favorite child).

(Courtney Hancock/Contributed)

As a career U.S. Army Aviator, now retired, my dad and I have different interests. We’ve always been close, but he’s a guy’s guy and I’m a girl’s girl. Over the years we’ve been able to bond over our faith and family values, business, our love for traveling, a little bit of Alabama football, and novelty. So, if nothing else, I knew he’d enjoy the hunt and get a kick out of seeing me decked out in camo—something I now own! What was expected to be a couple of days of slowing down and relaxing in nature turned out to be even more.

ADCNR ensured we weren’t left to our own devices. My dad and I were paired with Walker County local, Reed Jackson, as our guide. From the coast to the mountains, Jackson’s expertise stems from a life-long love of the outdoors. His history as a freshwater guide for salmon and trout in Alaska, as well as his experience across many states and countries including South Africa, Canada, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Kansas, and the South, made him the perfect guide for two first-time turkey hunters!

Jackson is the owner of Pat’s Archery & Outdoors in Jasper, Alabama, a family business that’s been serving the surrounding community and neighboring states for over 40 years. Pat’s is a full-line hunting and outdoors store, offering products in archery, firearms, fishing, and hunting.

The heartbeat of Pat’s Archery & Outdoors lies in providing personal assistance to every customer from newcomers to the most experienced hunters. Jackson embodied this value and extended a helping hand with classic Southern hospitality as we sought to harvest our first turkey.

He told us, “I specifically asked to guide someone who’s never hunted before because I love getting to teach people something I love. It’s just as fun as getting my own turkey!”

We were equipped with the proper safety education, gear, and license requirements. The event started with a fly-down social, live auction, and wild game prepared by three Alabama Wildlife Federation cook teams. Governor Kay Ivey gave remarks to the hundreds of hunters, sponsors, guides, and hosts in attendance from around the world. In our group was a guest who traveled from British Columbia, Canada to take part, as well as other attendees from Tennessee and beyond.

(Courtney Hancock/Contributed)

Settling in at our designated hunting camp, which was graciously hosted by Jasper Lumber, I could feel myself taking a deep breath in the serenity and stillness deep in the Alabama outdoors—something I don’t often experience as a mother of two young boys.

The hunting trip provided a connection with folks from different walks of life away from the day-to-day grind of a 9 to 5. Whether fishing, skeet shooting, or sitting around the campfire, the comradery between folks who might not otherwise cross paths was a beautiful sight to see.

We got started before the sun came up which ended up being my favorite part of the whole trip. Watching the day come to life is often missed in the chaos of alarms blaring and the rush to check off our to-dos. It felt like something out of a book. With dew on the ground, the river flowing, crunching leaves from the variety of wildlife waking up, and the sun peaking over the tree line, it was ordinary magic. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

I noticed details that made me think about my favorite Wendell Berry poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.”

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

We didn’t get a turkey that first day, but I’d be hearing from my dad if I left out the part that he was in fact successful during our second day. And while I may not have taken away my own turkey, I did take away the reminder that life’s most magical moments can be found in the ordinary day-to-day moments that we are often too distracted to catch.

(Courtney Hancock/Contributed)

Hunting became so much more to me than I expected. It was an experience that provided the first of hopefully many father-daughter trips, where we could have good conversations, laugh, cry, and nurture our own bond outside of activities with the kids and grandkids and large family events. In a way, I got to feel like a child again which was a special gift in and of itself.

Observing human interactions and wildlife interactions, my time in the outdoors showed me that we all crave and need a connection to each other and to the land we live on. Hunting is an avenue for comradery without distraction, returning to our natural origins and fulfilling our most basic needs for food, water, shelter, and community.