THE GENEROSITY OF A STRANGER
I think that we have all had experiences in our lives that feel somewhat surreal. I have had that happen to me a few times since I started hunting back in 2012. One of the most memorable experiences I have had was the few days I spent hunting turkeys with my best friend, on the Duren Farm, located in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin.
Doug Duren, via social media, invited a few folks who were novice turkey hunters to visit his family’s farm for a chance to hunt the “elusive-to-them” birds. I was one of the fortunate souls who got the invite and I was thrilled when I was told I could bring my best friend, Sarah, along to hunt as well.
Sarah and I had high hopes of getting into some birds, for sure, but we were just as eager to meet Doug and learn more about the farm that had been highlighted on a few episodes of a television show called “MeatEater”. Doug was kind enough to take us on a tour of the entire farm via a side-by-side, he gave us some detailed history of the place, and shared with us some special memories that have been made there over the years.
A big part of getting to visit and hunt this farm was the agreement that we would be working with the landowner, in this case Doug, on various projects on the property. Since Sarah and I had long careers in horticulture, Doug set us up on a woody ornamental planting across the road from the farmhouse we were staying in for the weekend. We worked between hunts on removing unwanted undergrowth around dogwood shrubs that were spaced out in two long rows that worked across the landscape. Once cleaned up, each shrub was mulched with econo-mulch that Doug provided. It was tedious work, but nothing Sarah and I hadn’t spent years doing, leading up to this experience.
On Friday afternoon, after scouting out what would end up being an excellent spot to sit for the following morning’s hunt, and after spending some time looking for morels in Doug’s super secret spot, we sat down on a hillside overlooking the big red barn that his small herd of cattle call home. We talked about this and that; hunting, politics, the interesting disposition of people in general, and more about his family’s farm. We didn’t solve the world's problems, but we shared a great conversation while overlooking a great Wisconsin landscape.
It was obvious what this farm meant to Doug, and why he spends the time he does on conserving not just the landscape, but also the abundance of wildlife that reside there. For someone to open that kind of meaningful space up to, for all intents and purposes, complete strangers, really says a lot about Doug. He clearly has a passion for sharing the land that means so much to him and his family with others, so long as he knows it will be respected and appreciated by his guests.
I shot my very first turkey, a bearded hen, the following morning. It was a crazy encounter, one that Sarah and I had to debate quickly before I decided to pull the trigger, but it worked out and I couldn’t wait to let Doug know. He met us in the barn lot, shortly after we had walked down the very hill we sat and talked on, the evening prior. The smile on his face as we walked through the gate, reminded me of the proud smile I still get from my dad, when I accomplished something special.
That experience on the Duren Farm was a catalyst in my decision to start taking new hunters out on the land that I have access to here in Indiana. Many new hunters cite access as the biggest barrier to entry to hunting, but landowners like Doug, who see the value in sharing these special places with others, are making that barrier quite a bit smaller. That Driftless Area bearded hen that I have on display in my living room will always remind me to pay forward the generosity of a man who was once a stranger, but now someone I consider a friend.
Cindy Stites is a hunter, an angler, a conservationist, and a woman for whom the outdoors is as much of a part of her as the dimples on her face. You can read more of her writing at https://cindystitesoutdoors.com/.