I slit open the deer's belly and began to empty the contents. "What's that, Daddy?"
"That's the liver," I replied.
"Can I touch it?"
Our conversation continued that way as we field dressed the doe. Jill was fascinated with the stomach, kidneys, heart, lungs and other internal organs.
Twenty-one years later, a nominee for Vice President of the United States stopped at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World near Cincinnati to buy his 10-year old daughter a camouflage jacket to wear deer hunting this fall. If the picture I saw is an indication, the jacket had pretty pink piping.
As predictably as a rutting buck sniffs out a doe, anti-hunters condemned Paul Ryan and pro hunters applauded him. The report on the CNN website included feedback comments all the way from "What a creepy, pathetic excuse for a man," to "Quite common here in the upper mid-West for girls to learn gun safety at a young age."
When The Everyday Hunter isn't hunting, he's thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell him exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com. This column and others can be accessed online at www.EverydayHunter.com.
Certainly it's not creepy and pathetic for an avid hunter to introduce his daughter to hunting - it happens all the time. That's one of many reasons women are the fastest growing demographic in the ranks of hunters. If young Liza Ryan has an interest in hunting, and if Dad Ryan is free from the stereotype that hunting is a man's sport, then teaching Liza to hunt is as normal and natural as coaching her soccer team.
And hunting will be like soccer. She may lose interest or she may become passionate about it.
Or, she may experience something else, as my daughter Jill did. I couldn't buy her a camo jacket with pink piping. No one made them in 1991. I simply suited her up in clothing I hoped would be comfortable and took her along to expose her to my passion. What she did with it was up to her.
And what she did with it still amazes me. Though it was the only time I took her hunting, the memory stayed with her - especially the memory of field dressing the deer. She had some general idea what was inside a body, but she had never seen it. To say she was fascinated is an understatement.
Four years ago, she entered medical school and decided to become a surgeon. That hunt, she says, was one of the things that made her think about a career as a surgeon. Surely it wasn't the only thing. Maybe it wasn't even the biggest thing. But it was something and she says it was important.
Now, I'm not taking credit for her becoming a surgeon. She might have become a surgeon anyway. Nor am I taking credit for being a great dad, though we had a memorable time together. I take credit only for giving her a day that remains vivid, and precious, in her memory.
She remembers eating candy bars hardened by the cold. She remembers feeling badly about the doe's head bouncing along the ground as we dragged the deer from the woods. And she especially remembers her curiosity about what was inside the deer - that's what stuck in her mind. It's what she recalled over and over and what remained with her through the years.
She graduated from medical school in June, and now M.D. comes after her name. And she's in a top surgical residency program in Chicago where she sees things much sadder than watching a dead deer's head bounce along the ground and way more fascinating than what was inside that deer those many years ago.
A dad took a girl deer hunting, gave her hands-on exposure to something only hunters' kids see, and now - every day - that girl's hands are playing a role in healing the livers, kidneys and other organs of real live people.
I'm truly glad I took my daughter hunting. If you take yours, even just once, I promise you - it will be worth it.