We celebrate moms from outdoor families—even the ones who don't hunt or fish themselves.
As told to Ben Romans
My mother never had an interest in drawing a bow, shouldering a shotgun, or learning to tie an improved clinch knot, but in a family full of anglers and hunters, she’s the unsung hero. Whether she was buying plastic buckets from Woolworths so my siblings and I could collect tadpoles and minnows, or driving across town to hand-deliver yet another spinnerbait after I’d snagged mine on a submerged log, or cooking the holiday pheasants my brother and I harvested one Christmas Eve, her attention behind the scenes was, and continues to be, invaluable.
To celebrate the mothers who encourage the sportsmen in their lives with patience, support, and guidance, we’re sharing stories from three of them, in their own words, along with some of the F&S editors’ favorite memories of their own mothers. Have a great outdoor memory of your mom? Tell us about it in the comments. —BR
Marcia Polhamus is a wife, mother, grandmother, and hunter in Galena, Illinois. In 2012, she and her husband Ken were recognized by Field & Stream as Heroes of Conservation finalists for their work with the National Wild Turkey Federation’s JAKES program, through which they have introduced hundreds of children to the outdoor sports. Still, her most treasured outings are those shared with her family. Here’s her story:
“My husband and I started dating in high school and, even then, we would pheasant hunt together after school. Once we got married and had our two boys, we all spent time outdoors as a family.
“For years, we lived in a small community and had a lot of land to hunt. I’ll never forget times when the boys got off the school bus and just begged me, ‘Mom, can we go hunting?’ They’d grab their bows and run out the back door and up into a tree stand. Now, they’re 34 and 38, with homes and families of their own, but we still enjoy getting outside together. In fact, this past youth season, I took my eldest granddaughter hunting and she shot her first turkey, after six years of trying. The very next day, my 11-year old granddaughter went out with her grandfather and got her first jake. We’ve had so much fun, my 8-year-old granddaughter completed her hunter safety course, and my 7- and 8-year-old grandsons can’t wait to take theirs next year so then everyone can come join us.
“I could fill a book with all the experiences I’ve lived out in the woods with my family. There was one November when Ken shot a deer that ran through some icy, chest-deep water and expired on the opposite bank. Ken and my oldest son crossed, got the deer, dragged it through the water back to the other side, and then it took all four of us to get it into the truck. It might not seem like much to others, but it was a one of those family moments where we all just came together, and I remember it vividly.
“Another moment that stands out in my mind happened last year when I took my granddaughter out for her first deer hunt. A doe appeared broadside at 38 yards, and my granddaughter was ready to shoot, but all of the sudden, something about the moment or the adrenaline caught up with her and she launched into a fit of giggles. Then I started giggling—and we couldn’t stop. It was hilarious, and just really special.
“The fun part is reliving things through the eyes of our children and grandchildren. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from hunting that I apply elsewhere it’s that sometimes we need to slow things down a little. Everything is such a rush—we’re all rushing to sports practice or ice skating or something, but when you get a chance to spend time with your kids or grandkids, you slow down and enjoy the one-on-one time for what it’s worth. You put other things aside because you can’t get that time back.
“Sometimes I think we parents and grandparents get more excited than young hunters. A few years ago, we invited a father and son to our JAKES program. The father’s hunting partner died years ago and his desire to hunt had faded. But after spending some time chasing turkeys with his 11-year-old son, they found a common bond, and his passion for the sport returned. That’s why I do what I do.”
by Slaton L. White, Deputy Editor
My mother had no interest in hunting and fishing, but that didn’t stop her from introducing me to the world outside our front door. On a warm late-summer night when I was about 5 years old, she took me into the yard, where she spread a blanket. She had a copy of The Stars, by H.A. Rey (better known as the author of Curious George), a brilliant guide to the constellations. She took red fingernail polish and painted the lens of our flashlight, reducing the light output so it wouldn’t ruin our night vision. Then, lying next to me, she pointed out the stars and constellations wheeling above us. Later, when I was older and could sit outside by myself, I would stare in wonder at the great white slash we know as the Milky Way. The constellation I most remember was Orion, the hunter. It was her favorite, too, so I guess it’s safe to say my becoming a hunter was foretold in the stars.
Rachael Fitzpatrick is a single mom raising two boys, Jacob (13) and Sean (10), in Ohio, Illinois. While she wasn’t raised in a hunting household, she understands her sons’ budding passion for the sport and proudly helps them immerse themselves in nature whenever she can. She’s even learned a thing or two along the way. Here’s her story:
“I’ve been a widow for nine years. It’s just a part of my life. Sean was 18 months old and Jacob was four when my husband died in a car accident. Needless to say, my world revolves around my boys, and the outdoors wasn’t something I pushed them into, they discovered it for themselves. But as their mom, those are the kinds of things I’m happy to nurture, and so far, we’re having a good time doing it.
“In 2010, somebody at work told me about an upcoming youth hunt, and because hunting is something my boys had always talked about trying, I asked if they wanted to go. They had a wonderful time. I actually sat in the blind with them, and I think we only saw one turkey the whole morning, but they were hooked. Since then, they’ve gotten more and more involved in bird and deer hunting.
“For the most part, I just take them where they need to go. A few weeks ago, for example, I spent eight hours in the car while they went turkey hunting together. I also make sure they have what they need before they go out—warm clothes, calls, snacks, and their tags. There’s definitely a learning curve for someone like me, who didn’t grow up hunting. At least I don’t have any trouble waking them when it’s time for hunting, even at 3 o’clock in the morning.
“Last season, Jacob got his first deer, and I took lots of photos and watched him dress it and everything. We had a really great time. Sometimes, the best part about taking them hunting is listening to their stories after. One time they came back from a hunt and told me about a squirrel that kept dropping nuts on their blind. One of the boys said, “We were about ready to shoot that darn thing.” A funny, off-the-cuff comment like that is something I’ll remember forever.
“This is all new to me—my husband didn’t hunt, my father didn’t hunt, and I grew up in the suburbs. But it’s all about my kids. If they want to go do something, I’m here to help them do it. I’m their backer, but not without caution. I took a Women in the Outdoors workshop last year just to learn how to shoot and to make sure they do everything safely. Now, if the weather is nice, I go out with them to do a little target practice. It’s great. I like to see firsthand the joy they feel being outside and discovering new things.”
by Joe Cermele, Senior Editor/Fishing Editor
Although I spent many years fishing with my mom, by the time I was in middle school, she became more of a chauffer for me and my fishing friends than a fishing partner, happily dropping us off and picking us up at the local creeks and lakes. One of the kids she would often drive was my friend Matt. Now, like many 12-year-old boys, Matt was obsessed with snakes, but his parents would only ever sign off on the purchase of garter snake. That’s why he told me that if I ever caught any snakes, do please bring them to him posthaste.
One summer day I was fishing at a local pond when I noticed the big, brown head of a common water snake poking out between two rocks at my feet. At the time, of course, I didn’t know a common water snake from a pit viper, but Matt said he wanted snakes, and this snake I would bring him. I made a noose in the end of my fishing line, gently worked it around the snake’s neck, and the next thing I knew I was panicking with a solid four footer wriggling and snapping at the end of my pole. The smart thing to do would have been cut the line, but 12-year-olds rarely do smart things. Very carefully, I lowered the beast into my tiny plastic minnow bucket tail-first. It kept coiling and coiling until finally the head dropped below the rim and I snapped the bucket shut. Snake secure.
When mom showed up to drive me home, I informed her that we needed to stop by Matt’s on the way.
“I caught him a snake.”
“There is a snake in this car? Where?”
“In the minnow bucket.”
“It must be a pretty small snake to fit in there.”
When we arrived, I told Matt to find a big box before I opened the bucket. Mom was waiting in the car because she hated and continues to hate snakes. He appeared moments later with cardboard box about 3 feet tall. Plenty high enough, I thought. No way this snake will get out of there. And with that brain fart, I dumped the bucket into the box.
The snake was thoroughly upset. Before we could even blink, it scaled the side of the box and spilled onto the drive.
“Dude! Dude! That’s a poisonous snake!,” Matt screamed. “Oh my God!”
My instinct was to just kind of let it go, but mom, also unaware that it wasn’t actually a poisonous snake, came flying out of the car.
“That thing is going to kill somebody’s toddler! Matt, go get your dad and tell him to shoot it,” she yelled.
Matt was too busy shaking and blubbering and too afraid of his dad (who happened to be the chief of police) to go inside and tell him what was going down. In the interim of this chaos, the snake had slithered across the lawn and into the street. For fear that the demon serpent would escape and wreck havoc on the neighborhood, my mom suddenly cast all fear aside and got Medieval. She ran into Matt’s garage, grabbed a spade, charged the snake at full bore, faced off with it for a second, and then cut its head off right there in the street. I can still see her in the white jeans and white Keds sneakers she wore to work at the doctor’s office that day, putting all her minimal weight on that spade screaming, “C’mon on! Just die already!”
That was the last time I ever caught a snake. And Matt thought I had the coolest mom ever.
Angie Denny is a mother and hunting guide in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She and her husband, Scott, operate Table Mountain Outfitters and host their own show on the Sportsman Channel, “The Life at Table Mountain.” She’s thrilled that her daughter Kinlee (15) and son Keedin (13) have taken a shine to the outdoor sports.
“When I’m taking one of the kids hunting, versus a client, it’s the same activity but much more meaningful. One time, when my son Keedin was around 4 years old, he sat in a blind with Scott because he wanted to watch him shoot a doe antelope. He went into the blind, set up his chair and organized everything he brought. Scott didn’t have to tell him to do anything. He just sat down, opened his lunch box, and ate half his lunch while waiting for something to show up.
“They were only in the blind 20 minutes before Scott shot a doe. When I drove over to pick them up, my son said, ‘Mom, you won’t believe it! Dad shot a babysitter doe!’ My husband looked at me funny and shrugged his shoulders, so I said, ‘What do you mean, honey?’ What we realized was he knew how to see if the doe was dry and already figured out that this one didn’t have any fawns. Then he explained, ‘She had no babies. The babies belong to the other does, so daddy shot the babysitter.’ It was just one of those little things that kids are able to put into their own perspective, and as a mom, I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. Then he showed us how to set up the doe for pictures!
“When our kids were that little, we simply took them with us to hunting camp, but my husband and I thought it was best as they got older to let them decide if they wanted to stay with it. Now, in the field is the only place they want to be. In fact, they even help out on some hunts and some of our returning clients look forward to the kids joining them—they say they’re good luck charms. Given that they’ve grown up around our business, they’ve learned a lot and we don’t need to prompt them much to go hunting as a family.
“Being a parent, a hunter, and an outfitter, I never know what the day is going to bring, and one thing I’m always trying to bring from the field to my role as mom is patience. I can be an instant gratification person, but working with clients has helped me with that.
“I struggle to make the tough decisions about when I should stay home for things like hockey games, and when it’s OK to go back to camp. My kids are getting older, more independent, and are involved in more activities than ever, so we’re on the move all the time. My daughter is turning 16 this year, and I’m trying to figure out how to open our schedule so I can be in Cheyenne to take her to get her driver’s license. I don’t want to miss things like that. You don’t ever want to look back and say, ‘Gosh, I should have been there.’”
by David Maccar, Online Content Editor
What comes to mind when I think of my mom and hunting is the smell of boiling beef barley soup and seeing her at the stove in the predawn hours, carefully filling Thermoses for me and my father. She has never been one for the outdoors, but she always made sure we were prepared. For her, like any good Italian mom, that meant making us food.
Hunting trips for late season deer in Jersey meant a 4 a.m. wakeup, a long drive, and a frigid sit in a treestand, so we were always grateful to have something hot to defrost us at lunch. Every morning my mom would smile as she stirred the soup and say, “Sitting out there in this cold—you two are crazy.” Maybe we were. Dad and I were never overly successful hunters, but we did OK.
Those trips were definitely more about us spending time together than about shooting a buck. But our days in the woods wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much without my mom’s hot soup or her recurring farewell: “Bring me home a deer!” She has always been and continues to be the heart and soul of everything in our family. And sometimes, we even brought her home a deer.
by Nate Matthews, Digital Director
When I was 10 my father and I ran traps in the dairy country of upstate New York. For four years we woke up early every morning to check our sets, brought home any critters we'd caught and dumped them in the basement, then skinned them and fleshed out the pelts in the evenings after I returned from school and dad got home from work.
My mother didn't like dead animals, particularly ones in our basement, but it was cold out during trapping season, and skinning frozen raccoons was a lot harder than skinning thawed ones, so she allowed us a dark corner in the back near the root cellar. During the years we trapped she only laid down two rules. The first was that we couldn't bring skunks inside. The second rule was that I couldn't wear school clothes while out on the trap line.
We lived south of Syracuse at the time, a few miles from a small ski hill where my brother and I spent most winter weekends riding lifts and building jumps in the woods between runs. A few years after we started trapping Mom bought me a sky-blue neon ski jacket that I thought was the height of slope-side fashion. "Don't wear it trapping!" she made me swear, directions I followed until one cold, rainy, windy morning when my new, waterproof jacket looked a lot drier than the old wool coat I normally wore.
My job while trapping was to carry stuff for my dad. We had an old pack basket full of trowels, traps, stakes, and other gear that I'd hump out into the woods on weekends when we were setting new sites. But most weekday mornings were quick hits—scrambles down culverts or short hikes through pastures and along the edges of fields. On days like these I only carried the lures we used to rebait our sets.
Trapping lure is disgusting stuff. It comes in many varieties, most made from decomposing scent glands, muskrat organs, fox urine, and other foul substances designed to smell as powerful as possible. The ones we used came in small cylindrical glass bottles with threaded aluminum caps. To help us keep these organized, my mom had sewn a little holster made of camouflage canvas and elastic bands you could slip around the bottles. I'd carry the holster in my pocket, pull out whatever lure my dad decided we should use, hand it to him, then cap it up and put it back in the holster when he was finished.
When we got back to the house on the morning I wore my new ski jacket, mom had breakfast waiting for us—pancakes and bacon, or maybe cream of wheat with maple syrup and apple butter toast. She always made sure I had good food, a hot shower, and was wearing clean clothes before bustling me and my brother off to the bus.
To hide the fact that I'd worn my new jacket, I left it dripping on a peg in the back porch, which is where Mom found it after I left for school. Being a good mom who took care of her kids—even her disobedient ones—she threw it in the dryer so I could wear it that evening. Unfortunately, when she checked the pockets she must have missed the small bottle that I'd failed to replace in the lure holster.
The best thing about my mom has always been her easy sense of humor. I'm glad I wasn't there when she caught that first whiff of Hawbaker's Tutti Frutti wafting from the broken jar, but by the time I got back from school, I think she'd realized that this story was going into the family canon. She just handed me the jacket, sniffed the air, raised an eyebrow, and shook her head. And, even though all our clothes smelled like skunk for a week, that was the end of it.
Though it was a long time before any of my friends would ride the chair lift with me.