My best hunts of 2021 were close to home

The end of the year is widely regarded as a time for reflection and a stereotypical regurgitation of personal highlights. As we close out 2021, many people just want it to be over, as if turning a calendar page really means a new beginning. I’m just hoping for a break from plowing and shoveling snow, and while I don’t really think a new year means anything more than what we do with it, I find it nice to take some time to reflect on the arbitrary chunk of time we call 2021 and stop in some of the good memories created. Life is busy, and it’s very rare that I just sit back and enjoy the memories I’ve made.

The past year was filled with blessings and challenges, as well as great hunting memories. I’ll admit I had my chances blown here in Alaska, and was able to take several black bears (including one of my biggest warthogs with a bow), get my ass kicked on a sheep hunt, shoot a bull elk at 25 yards and filled the freezer, killed a large male caribou with my bow and watched my wife shoot her first caribou. I was able to take my first bull elk and aoudad and had a great year. I have a lot to reflect on, but still, my favorite hunting memories of 2021 are when I saw my five-year-old son hunting squirrels with his bow.

Faith Freel's First Caribou
Many hunting memories were made in 2021, including the author’s wife, Faith, taking her first caribou. tyler freel

My oldest son, Jed, has been shooting bows with me since he was two years old. I started it with a tiny wooden longbow and eventually graduated to a larger one. At three and four years old, he would accompany me to the archery range on winter days and blow up balloons five meters away, and he would spend a lot of time shooting at dinosaur targets in our garage. Last winter he turned five, and not long after he asked, “Can I try shooting that bow?” He was referring to an old second-hand Bowtech Rascal compound that had been hanging on the wall for about a year, waiting for him to become it.

Shooting it was awkward for him at first, but he soon figured out how to use the sights and make a repeatable shot.

“Keep a stiff hook on the string and keep pulling,” I would say. “Just let that pin float there.

Jed Squirrel Archery 1
Author’s son Jed with his first archery squirrel tyler freel

Before long he was shooting surprisingly well. From time to time, I would gradually sneak in a few turns to increase his pull weight. When spring came and the snow melted, a bountiful crop of red squirrels began their annual tradition of raiding my bird feeders. Since there is no closed season here in interior Alaska, you must save the skin, tail or meat of the squirrels. I figured it would be fun to hunt down Jed, and he could keep them at bay. We set up some arrows with small game heads and I could hardly believe it when he cut one off on his first shot. That squirrel got away, but Jed and I got hooked.

Opportunities were plentiful, and breakfast was always abandoned the moment we heard the high-pitched chatter of one of those red bandits. If we were lucky, he would see the squirrel first and tell him to calmly go get his bow and slowly sneak around the house to shoot. If he didn’t remind her, he would usually grope in sheer excitement and charge like a banzai out the back door, startling the squirrels, who quickly began to notice. I’ll never forget the first squirrel his arrow hit solid, dropping it instantly. He was excited and in disbelief, and I was even more excited than he was.

Our daily “mini-hunts” continued for most of the spring, and it was a constant source of pure joy and entertainment for me. We had lessons in safe shooting, stalking, and arrow hunting. We look for many arrows. In all, I think he killed a dozen squirrels, and I couldn’t think of a more satisfying morning than watching him stay cool as a cucumber while he hit a good shot, and then go wild with excitement when his arrow connected.

I am blessed with the opportunity to create many great hunting memories here in Alaska. But in 2021, my favorites were watching my five-year-old shoot squirrels with his bow. I think it’s safe to assume that as he gets older, my chances will become his chances, and I think I’ll be fine just watching him.