My Sharing the Land Story
Growing up in a small town in north central Illinois afforded me plenty of time outside, whether it was fishing with my dad and grandpa, racoon hunting, or simply running around in the woods and pastures as a kid. I left to go to college at the University of Wisconsin, and eventually to graduate school in Milwaukee, before settling back in Madison to begin my career and family.
Since my wife and I raised twin girls and son, my outside time dwindled to a point where I started to pre-plan my trips, always plotting my next adventure. This primarily manifested as week-long camping/canoe/fishing trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Quetico Provincial Park.
As my friends, their children, and my own kids got older (and busier!), taking a full week away became less and less of a reality. I began looking for other ways to reconnect with the outdoors, which kicked off the search for my very own hunting property, ideally located not too far away from my home. The Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin had long been a favorite area of mine, and since my in-laws bought a second home in that area, I embraced the chance to become more well-acquainted with the region.
My wife and I bought a property that offered us the seclusion and beauty that we were after, and that opened my eyes to owning and managing my very own piece of heaven. I had never deer hunted until we purchased our 63 acres, but once I got into a tree stand for the first time—for both crossbow and rifle seasons—I was hooked. I soon met my good friend and mentor Doug Duren, whose farm is about six miles from my place, and I began to pick his brain about everything from invasive species control (“you can only hope to contain it”) to food plots (“why would you take sand to the beach?”).
The solitude that come with spending time outdoors provided me with a much-needed release from the stress of my work life. Splitting and stacking wood, hanging tree stands, making brush blinds, and checking trail cameras became the therapy I needed to unwind. After seeing my hard work pay off with some harvests and property improvements, I started to want to get some of my friends involved. This is how my interest in Sharing the Land was sparked, even before the program officially got its start.
My good friend Brett deer hunted as a boy and young man in the Grantsburg area of northwestern Wisconsin, without much luck or many fond memories to show for it. Like me, he is a busy father whose kids are involved in nearly every sport and activity imaginable, so his weekend time is often spent shuttling his kids around to those pursuits. Brett is a carpenter who offered to help us put a deck on our Driftless cabin, and in return I promised to take him hunting. He and I took does our first season together, and we learned about processing and freezing our own meat as neophytes. Since then, he took his first buck in more than 35 years, and my smile was ear to ear when I heard the shot ring out from the direction where his stand was. He’s always glad to pitch in with any house project that pops up, from fixing a crooked door jamb to helping us put a new lockset on our pole barn door.
My brother-in-law Scott, another busy father living in a decidedly non-rural area in Milwaukee, also loves outside pursuits and, importantly, processing and eating venison. Like me, Scott is new to deer hunting, but listens to podcasts, watches online hunting videos, and spends free moments looking at Driftless-area topo maps. I’ve invited Scott out to spend time on our acreage and he always insists on helping out with any chore we’ve got. He’s also a very handy fix-it guy and has figured out common-sense solutions to some of the problems we’ve run into. During the Sharing the Land Doe Derby this past fall, Scott took his first-ever deer, and with a sense of pride I helped him process the meat.
Brett and Scott are quick to help with any project that comes up, hunting-related or otherwise. We’ve picked garlic mustard, assembled box blinds, moved stands, and enjoyed many a campfire. They are always welcome to hunt at my place as we share the land, work together, and make memories. It’s been such a blessing to get to spend real quality time with other fathers who are otherwise over-scheduled!
I was able to attend the Sharing the Land kickoff at the Duren Farm and meet a conservation hero of mine—Ben O’Brien—along with other like-minded folks who understand the deeper connection that wild places (and the food that comes from them) can offer. If you would have told me just five or six years ago that in the near future, I’d have made my own maple syrup, harvested and butchered my own deer, called in a turkey, or found morel mushrooms on acreage that I owned, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Sharing these experiences and the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction from hard work have enriched my adult life in a unique way. I believe wild places should be protected and enjoyed, and sharing that connection with others resonates as the best way to do so. Generations who come after us will either benefit or struggle based on the conservation decisions we make today. As the Duren and Sharing the Land credo says, “It’s not ours, it’s just our turn”.