Due to a bureaucratic mess up, I recently had to retake a hunter’s safety class in order to bowhunt in Hawaii. While the instructors were careful to teach us about the dangers of hypothermia, plugged rifle barrels, wounded bears and poor gun-handling practices, I couldn’t help but notice a glaring omission in the curriculum: There was no discussion whatsoever of the dangers posed by a spouse who’s mad about all the time you spend hunting. To rectify this situation, I want to offer a six-step primer on how to handle—and prevent—this dangerous scenario.
1) Safe spouse handling practices begin with dating, not marriage. In other words, set a reasonable precedent for your hunting practices as soon as possible. If you don’t, you’ll have to live with your mistakes. A very good buddy of mine (I’ll not name names) abandoned his Thanksgiving hunting plans the first year that he was dating his wife-to-be in order to spend it with her family. He has not hunted on a single Thanksgiving vacation since then, and it’s been seven years. Learn from his mistake.
2) Make an example of your wedding date. The selection of one’s wedding date is an excellent, though often overlooked, way to establish your priorities. When my wife and I were planning our wedding, I made repeated and fervent statements that July would be an ideal time of year to get married. It was warm enough to have the ceremony outside, kids were out of school so it was easier for families to travel, the bridesmaid’s wedding dresses would look beautiful against the summer foliage and, most importantly, it was NOT hunting season. Placing my actual concern at the end of the list made it seem highly reasonable and responsible. To this day, I use July as a sort of clearinghouse for activities that might otherwise get in the way of spending time in the woods. My wife still treats October as having a somewhat forbidden quality with regards to her planning.
3) Plan an annual hunting trip with your father-in-law or mother-in-law. This way, you can take at least one hunting trip every year without having to worry about marital blowback. If you really want to suck up, bring along a couple of your spouse’s cousins, or aunts or uncles. Drive, pack a lunch for everyone, clean all the game. You’ll be a hero at home, at least for a few days.
4) Discuss hunting trips well in advance of their arrival. Don’t bother with the sketchy and evasive approach of breaking the news with subtle hints. Avoid sentences such as “There’s something that might just maybe come up next October, but let’s not worry about that now.” And don’t try the last-minute approach, where you spring a trip on your spouse just a week in advance. Instead, you need to be vocal and clear about your hunting plans as early as possible. A year away is not too soon. That way, it will seem so distant and remote that your spouse won’t yet bother arguing with you about it. Then you want to maintain constant reminders. Block out the dates with huge Xs on your calendar. Write the dates on sticky notes and post them on the fridge. When you’re in a store with your spouse, point at a product and mention how it would be great to have that for your upcoming trip. With this approach, the inertia of the trip will be so great that once your spouse gets ready to argue about it—say, t-minus three months—you’ll be able to claim the moral high ground by saying that your spouse is suddenly springing this on you. (Hint: Be sure to use the word “springing.” I’m not sure why, but that word really works.)
5) Don’t discuss hunting trips too far in advance of their arrival. Think of this as an addendum to number 4. In 2010, I tried to sell my wife on the idea of making a deposit for an Africa hunting trip in 2013. She blocked this trip instantaneously, citing the fact that it was impossible for us to see where our lives would be that far into the future. After all, she said, she might be nine months pregnant by then. Or there might be a worldwide economic depression with rioting in the streets. I should have waited until 2012; I probably could have made that work.
6) Cook lots of wild game. Trust me on this one. Cook dinner for your family on a regular basis, using the bounty from your hunts. Try your best to be inventive with the ingredients, and to utilize recipes from good wild-game cookbooks. Happily accept your spouse’s critiques. Then try to make something more to his or her liking the next time. Be sure to wash the dishes, too. Pretty soon, your hunting trips will be treated with the same reverence and sense of necessity as your trips to the grocery store. Or, if nothing else, it will help you plead your case when the time comes to stand your ground.