The first holiday tradition I remember for us was my husband Joe’s hurried post-Thanksgiving- dinner-departure for West Texas each year. He and a bunch of buddies would head for the Davis Mountains to hunt mule deer and make memories they could retell a thousand times and laugh about in their elder years. But that tradition changed when our sons were old enough to handle their own shotguns and we began spending Thanksgiving with my parents who lived near Stuttgart, Arkansas, known well for its outstanding duck hunting opportunities. Early morning and late afternoon occupation of pit blinds dug into rice fields “flood” many years of Thanksgiving memories….our sons attempting to imitate the sounds from the custom-made calls of our World Champion Duck Calling Guide as he called in flight after flight of decoying ducks.
But as my parents aged and the duck population in that fly-way diminished, our holiday traditions returned to the Texas Hill Country and Joshua Creek Ranch, where our tradition transitioned from duck hunting to sporting clays or an after-dinner walk through the fields with our favorite English cockers flushing and then retrieving pheasants brought down by one of my sons or their dad. Tradition for us continues to evolve in recent years with Joe’s daughter and her family (including three energetic youngsters) joining the chaos that constitutes Thanksgiving week. The delight of introducing a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts to our family traditions gives us joy beyond measure. Catching that first BIG catfish out of Patron’s special pond was the highlight event for 2011. I suspect that busting a first clay target could be the thrill in store for 2012. There’s hardly time to eat a turkey dinner with all the hunting, fishing and clay shooting going on around here! Not enough photos are ever taken to commemorate each of these events that mark a part of our family’s evolving traditions, but the memories remain deeply etched in our minds.
I have the incredible blessing every year from Thanksgiving through the New Year holiday of seeing family traditions in action, and it warms my heart to see that so many folks include shooting and hunting among their traditional activities to be shared among multi-generational groups of gathered guests. In fact, the Thanksgiving weekend is always one of the busiest of our entire hunting season at Joshua Creek Ranch. Families representing two and three generations of shooters return year after year to shoot and hunt together, piling the memories and traditions higher each year. Whether it’s shooting clays, quail, or a mixed bag of upland birds, the fellowship and family/friend bonding that goes on during these activities seems unmatched. There’s an unspoken level of trust and confidence among shooters and hunters who are all carrying and using guns safely and responsibly while having great fun together. Bowling, dominoes, or even Texas Hold ‘Em just can’t seem to compare.
Coming from a family who defined “Home for Christmas,” holiday gatherings and family traditions are very significant to me. I was 30 years old before I spent a Christmas without my parents who had always celebrated the day with music and gifting and feasting. That was a colorless, carol-less day at a silent, undecorated hunting camp in south Texas where at the end of the day, my husband, Joe, drove me 20 miles to the nearest pay phone to call my folks for a long distance Christmas visit. I knew that day I had a lot to teach Joe about family traditions. We’ve been on the same page for a long time now and agree that these times are meant to be shared with family, friends, loved ones, and those who would otherwise be alone. These times are also meant to be joyful and memorable, even though we always fail to take enough pictures! As for the shooting and hunting part, I can’t explain exactly what it adds to these family gatherings, but it’s significant. I know, because when one son wasn’t here to share in it yesterday, there was a big hole in our hearts and in our family tradition.
Ann Kercheville is President of Joshua Creek Ranch. Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio and 90 minutes southwest of Austin, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of Joshua Creek and Guadalupe River bottomland planted in fields of grain crops for prime upland and deer hunting habitats. You can visit their web site at http://www.joshuacreek.com.