I don’t know how old I was before I realized how great my dad is. He took me fishing, woods-tromping, and eventually hunting when I was little. But like most kids, my world was small, and I figured every boy’s dad behaved like mine. And, like most boys, there were times I didn’t think my dad was all that special. At age 13, I was mad at him all summer after he accepted a job promotion and moved us from Wisconsin to Iowa. But I got over it in the fall, when he took me out for the pheasant opener, and I shot my first rooster.

I know lots of men who are close to their dads without any outdoor bond. But hunting and fishing is the glue that has held me to mine. From the start, Dad knew that of the many things boys can jump into in their hurry to grow up, hunting and fishing were among the safest and healthiest. I got a week off from school every November during deer season, and dad OK’d a retriever for our first family pet, knowing that raising and training that golden would teach me a whole lot more than just how to put more birds in our freezer.

Dad is 84 now and still hunting avidly. Our roles have been reversed some; now I’m the one setting up opportunities and encouraging him to stay in the woods, but I don’t have to coax too hard. He bowhunts as much as I do, and he still tags a gobbler just about every spring.

Every now and again, a friend–often a hunting buddy–will say, “I hope you realize how lucky you are to have that kind of relationship with your father.” I usually just smile and nod my head…. Unlike that little boy of many years ago, I know now, and appreciate more than ever, that not all dads behave just like mine.