The Soulful Series | Chapter 3 John Brooks

Washington Backcountry and The Soulful Hunter Podcast know first hand how hunting has the power to transform lives through primal adventure. It is the driving force behind our mission and now it’s time to celebrate the success and share the stories. In this series you will get a first hand look into the lives that have been impacted by what hunting has to offer. It is something that is rarely shared or talked about and through the vulnerability of our guests, we hope that you find inspiration for your own transformation.

the Soulful Series | CHAPTER 3

Written by John Brooks

I didn’t grow up hunting, but I grew up hunting adjacent. My uncles, cousins, granddad all hunted the Ozark hills into which I was born while my dad preferred to fish. I was the “city cousin” who lived in town and I always felt like I was missing something, but was too embarrassed of my ignorance of what most of my family knew intimately. I didn’t know where to start. 

One year shy of turning 40, I decided to stop waiting, and start hunting. I didn’t have a plan. I simply learned and did things as they came up. I got a bow and shot it every day for 6 months. I read and researched everything I could. I talked to everyone I met that knew anything about hunting. Most importantly, I just went. When your understanding is limited to whitetails, turkey, and small game, starting from scratch in a state with bruins, elk, and three kinds of deer over the counter (not to mention draw tags for Moose, and sheep) was daunting. I took what I knew and made the best of it. I spoke the language even if I wasn’t exactly writing poetry and I made a lot of mistakes.

When folks at the archery range ask me if I’m a hunter, I generally reply with “I like to think so, but mostly I just take my bow on long romantic walks in the woods.” I do love it, but I am bad at it. There is no shame in being bad at something. Being bad at it makes it all the more interesting. Every trip I learn something. Everything is new. With time, the pursuit starts to take shape in front of you, like a puzzle without a box, or driving through the mountains on a foggy morning. This season I learned my most important lessons. It was my most important, and successful season of my five years as a novice outdoorsman, and I never even loosed an arrow.  I never hit the woods and didn’t even buy a tag. 

This past July, my wife of 15 years had surgery. She had a double mastectomy and full reconstruction. She was in the hospital for a week. Pain medications made her violently sick. She was not allowed to get in and out of bed without my help for six weeks. There were stitches, drains, and gauze to change.  Trips back to the hospital and infection to worry about. My wife’s surgery went as well as can be expected and her prognosis is good. No cancer. 

We both work in schools, so she was off all summer and I was able to be flexible with my hours to come home and check on her, make lunch, take our two boys to camp, or baseball practice. It was hell on her, and she muscled though it like a champ. By summer’s end she was walking around, scars healing and started the school year.  Not quite as if nothing happened but close enough. 

I was completely in the weeds at work. I wasn’t be able to take any time off for elk or deer season. Even if I could, I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t done any scouting. I hadn’t shot my bow for a month. None of it mattered. My wife was healed up. The impending danger that hung over her head since her mother died of breast cancer when she was a small girl was gone. The relief in our house was a physical presence you could almost touch. My boys’ mother, my partner, is going to live. She isn’t going to go through chemo and get sick as a result. She will now get to watch the boys wherever they take their lives, and that is important. 

Hunting and time in the woods is an escape, and is important for me. This year I gave up my time and my thing without hesitation. Because without our family, there’s nothing to come home to and no one to provide for. When I take to the woods, I’m not escaping from my family, I’m escaping to them. I never think so often or so fondly of my family as when I’m watching the sunset over a valley in the backcountry or sitting quietly waiting for an animal to pass. I am never so happy as when I see their faces again on my return. 

We were given a gift this summer. Our boys will grow, and we will head into the future together. Nothing is guaranteed, but we have a better chance now. That’s worth all of the hunting seasons I have left.

John Brooks | Instagram – @jbrooks999

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