A Hunter's Resolutions

Sure, I want to be in better shape, a more thoughtful spouse, and in better touch with old friends, but my resolutions on this New Year's Eve shade more toward the achievable.

Because I'm a hunter, I'm interested in both the journey and the outcome. I love where I've been, but I'm mighty curious about where I'm going, and in 2010 I hope to be going both far and staying near.

It's both the curse and the blessing of all hunters that we are never quite finished. There is always another region to explore, another animal to study and pursue, another skill to acquire. So, in the spirit of self-improvement, here are a few simple goals and resolutions for a new year of hunting:

1. Practice Proficiency--I'm pretty good with a gun and a bow, but I can get better. As much as I love to shoot, I don't make enough time to practice my craft. I pledge to shoot more often this year, just for the fun of it, instead of checking my zero a day or two before opening day. After all, we hunters owe the animals we love a quick death.

2. Befriend a New Hunter--For all our talk of outreach, we hunters are a pretty insular lot. Don't like the way I hunt deer? To hell with you. Don't like the equipment I use? Take a long walk away from me. I pledge to introduce hunting to someone who may be a stranger to the break of day, to the quickening pulse of the stalk and to the blood brotherhood of hunters. Maybe it's a kid, maybe a desk-bound insurance agent or the non-hunting father of my kids' friend. They don't have to dress in the same camo pattern, or carry the same type of gun or bow I do. I won't even demand they be especially quiet or woods wise. But I pledge to be supportive, enthusiastic and non-judgmental and to show them the best of our wild world.

3. Focus on My Children--I have three kids, twin 9-year-old boys and a 5-year-old girl. They all say they like hunting, but it's more out of obligation to me rather than a self-perpetuating passion. I pledge to spend more time outdoors with the kids, letting them kindle that intensity for hunting on their own terms, with some gentle guidance from their dad.

4. Learn to Love Tree Stands--This is a simple resolution. I just don't feel particularly comfortable in tree stands. It's not that I'm overly acrophobic, it's just that I didn't grow up with tree stand hunting and I'm not familiar with sitting, or moving, a dozen feet or more above the turf. In 2010 I pledge to sit more often, and more comfortably, in elevated stands.

5. Rediscover Small Game--Cottontails and fox squirrels rattle me all out of proportion to their diminutive size, but I forget about my love of hunting them as I'm distracted by antlers and horns. I pledge to spend more time hunting small game--preferably in the company of my kids--than I have in the last five years combined.

6. Hunt a Sheep--I've killed caribou in Canada and impala in Africa and just about every animal in between, but one critter I've never tagged is a wild sheep. That surprises folks who know my love of mountain hunting and sheep ecology, but I've never drawn a bighorn tag in my home state of Montana or been lucky enough to get an invitation to hunt the thinhorn rams of the North. It's a chapter of my hunting odyssey I'd love to write in 2010.

7. Better Respect Whitetails--I used to call whitetails "woods carp" for their ubiquitous ho-hum commonness. But 2009 showed me that whitetails can be smart, unpredictable and downright electrifying. I have reevaluated my opinion of America's favorite mammal, and hope to have more game-changing encounters in 2010.

8. Invest in Habitat--For wild animals, habitat is everything, and across America wildlife habitat is impaired. I pledge to devote myself to helping improve habitat with the same passion and intensity I devote to hunting the animals that require it. Financial donations are great, but many habitat initiatives need muscles, sweat and time, and in 2010 I will do my part. Will you?