Hunting buddies

NEW TO THE GROUP - John Matilla started dove hunting with me about a decade ago. He now has become interested in all types of hunting and enjoys the same hunting diversity I enjoy. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO


It seems in these trying times where curfews and mask requirements are the norm, we start taking stock of what we really find important in life. Certainly family and the close friendships we’ve developed over the years rise to the top of what we can all be thankful for. For me, the closest relationships I have outside of family are those I have with my hunting buddies.

As we move through the hunting season, I start to reflect on what makes a good hunting buddy. I’ve hunted with quite a few individuals over the last 25 years, yet I can count on one hand those that I consider my regulars; my true hunting brothers.

When it comes to hunting, I’ve always considered myself very cautious on whom I let join the guild. This isn’t like adding a fourth to your golfing foursome. There are obviously firearms involved and the attention to firearm safety is where I start. Coming in with a basic understanding of how to handle firearms safely is good; however, being able to take safety suggestions is also a must. I am not shy about voicing my opinion when it comes to keeping me and others safe. If these suggestions fall on deaf ears, you won’t make the cut.

PREDATOR HUNTING BROTHER – The author (left) and Ed Davis during a successful predator hunt. I learned a lot about hand calling from Ed and have shared some amazing hunts with him over the years. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

Beyond attending a basic hunter’s safety course and understanding common gun handling safety, hunting experience doesn’t matter much to me. In my small group, hands down, I have the most diverse species hunting experience and I am happy to share what I know. If you’re interested in getting outside and enjoying what’s involved in becoming a hunter, I’m happy to have you along.

After safety, comes personality. If I’m going to spend a large portion of the day with anyone, I’m hopeful we’ll get along. Despite being described as surly, sarcastic and seldom serious, I feel like I can get along with just about anybody.

Years ago, someone reached out and sent me a message through a hunting forum I belonged to. They had seen some of the photos I had posted and were interested in hunting with me. We traded messages back and forth and finally agreed to meet. I decided to take this person out to one of my rabbit spots so we could kick the brush for cottontails. I also left the afternoon plans open in case things didn’t work out.

In the ninety minutes it took to get to the hunting area, this individual barely spoke. I had to carry the conversation the entire time and I made several attempts to kick start the interaction. It became very clear to me early on that our personalities were entirely different. He was beyond safe, a decent hunter and even paid for gas, however, we didn’t click personality wise and we never hunted together again after that.

A FAMILY AFFAIR – Sometimes you don’t have to look too far for individuals that like to spend time in the outdoors. The author (left), his daughter’s Jessica (center) and Alyssa enjoy hunting with their dad when time permits. These two will always occupy the top hunting buddy spots. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

When I pack my hunting rig for a hunt, I’m serious about every aspect of the hunting plan. That is where my seriousness ends. If you hunt with me, you better be able to take a joke, laugh at yourself and just be able to have a good time. I absolutely love to hunt, but I don’t remember what was killed where or who got limits and who didn’t. I’m all about the camaraderie and spending time with good people. If you can give it back to me as well as you take it, there’s a spot in my truck for you.

Some more basic requirements for me are to understand that heading out to the field takes effort and gas. When someone invites me out to hunt, I offer to pay for gas or lunch, sometimes both. I show my appreciation by paying for the day. It has nothing to do with affording the trip. It is a gesture that demonstrates that the guest appreciates the effort and the invitation made by the host.

If I’m driving, my buddies either pitch in for gas or pick up lunch while we’re out. To be honest, I rarely take their gas money anymore. My small group has reached a level where the offer is enough. We trade off driving duties on hunts and it all evens out. With the daylong laughter and camaraderie, I sometimes feel like I should be paying them.

IF THE WILD COULD TALK – The author, and his longtime hunting buddy, Jose De Orta. A true brother to the end. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

Lastly, my hunting time is valuable to me, and when I plan a day trip, I’ll hunt from sun-up to sundown. It’s important for me to hunt with individuals that hunt as hard as I do and understand that we won’t be headed back until dark. If you tire easily and need to return to the truck for a rest, you’ll be sitting by yourself until we leave. The guys I hunt with know this and stay out as long as I do.

While I do label them my hunting buddies, in truth, we have so much more in common. We do so much more laughing and catching up than we do hunting, and I love that. We are a small group of friends that would do anything for each other. We like to say, one phone call and I’ll be where you need me. And in these crazy times, I am thankful beyond words for each and every one of them.

INTERNET SENSATION – A chance meeting on hunting forum in 2002 resulted in one of the strongest friendships I have. Rito Escamilla (left) and the author during a small game hunt. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO