By HEATHER BALLEK
I’m currently a 27 year old female living in upstate New York. I’d like to once again declare that I live in upstate New York – the city is about 4 hours South of my area. I am surrounded by views of scenic mountains, rolling hills and colorful trees so picturesque that the sight would rob your lungs of air and heart of a beat. Too many people, including my younger self, believe New York to be swallowed by the city – not understanding the true beauty the state really has to offer. Now, if the politics were as pure, I’d certainly live in a paradise. But, it’s my home now, and you have to take the bad with the good.
Delaware is my first home, and also the “first state” (for those of you who thought you knew what Delaware was but wasn’t sure). Don’t feel bad – you’re not the only ones – we Delawareans get that a lot. The running joke seems to be, “Dela-Where?” Thank you, Wayne’s World.
I have two amazingly intelligent and delightful young children, one boy and one girl – Perfect! And now the oven is turned off indefinitely. I have a hard time wrapping my head around having more than two children – but parents have done it! I don’t know how they have the time, but they make it work. I bow to you.
Basically, I’m outgoing but reserved, I reside in my own head a great deal but I’m painfully observant, I tend to be open-minded in just about all scenarios, even to a fault (it’s almost impossible to have a solid opinion about anything when you can accept both sides of a story), and I have an infatuation with trying new things.
It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend, Adam Valastro, in the year 2011, that I was first indirectly introduced to the world of hunting. Before him, hunting was something I saw people do as I switched channels on my television, or a sport I associated with anyone who wore camo. I was completely oblivious to what hunting stood for.
Adam is a thoroughly devoted hunter. As a matter of fact, for us to engage in dating, one out of the very few conditions he had was that I fully accept his hunting and absence during the seasons. All I knew was that venison was a much healthier alternative to beef and I was all for storing copious amounts of meat in my freezer. Done deal!
I was never forced to enter this world. Quite frankly, I never cared for it. I was a writer since a child – heavy into creative thinking and had more of an artistic way about me than an athletic one. I didn’t grow up around mountains, forests, or fishing lakes and spent most of my time with a pen, paper and Walkman. Hunting was his “thing” and at the time, music and artistry was mine. We were free to be our own individuals, yet still enjoy each other’s time together.
One day I accompanied him and our good friend, Dave Howard, to a local archery shop where I fully intended to be somewhat of a cameraman during their archery practice. As I followed the two around the building with our little video camera, I was stopped by the owner and asked if I had ever used a compound bow before. Taken back, but curiously thrilled by his inquisition, I responded that I hadn’t. The owner slipped away into the shadows as I’d imagine a ghost would. A few minutes later he returned with what he called a “nice beginner’s bow” and next thing I knew I was shooting at targets along with everyone else. He taught me correct form, did some tuning, and soon I was placing my arrows in tight groups at 20 yards.
At the time, I didn’t realize that archery was the beginning of a life chapter for me. But, falling in love quickly with this little bow, I ended up spending most of my free time flinging arrows and practicing my form. It had soon become the only sport I had ever tried up until this point that I thoroughly enjoyed – I was good. Archery built a sort of confidence within me that I had only ever experienced previously with writing.
It wasn’t until my girl friend approached me about joining her to take a hunter’s safety course that I ever considered using my skills to harvest an animal. Much like the nature of my free-spirited being, I accepted her invitation. Soon, we were both enthralled with learning about safety harnesses, conservation and kill shots. When the course was complete and we were both certified hunters, we extended our knowledge base with attending a bow hunting course. My once archery-only equipment was now going to be utilized to take the life of an animal. I was intimidated but oddly excited. I acquired my license and I was an official New York state hunter.
In the Fall of the 2014 opening weekend of archery whitetail season, Adam and I set out on my first journey as a new hunter. This beautifully crisp afternoon was spent practicing our shots, interviewing the camera and fixing the camouflage of our previously set-up ground-blind. We were ready, at least in the physical sense. Mentally, I didn’t know what to expect. Only about 45 minutes into our hunt, we were caught off guard. A small, yearling doe was curiously making her way through our food plot – scoping out our location. We had enough time to fix only one camera on the deer, and my adrenaline and uncontrollable breathing made the string feel almost impossible to pull back. After the third try with my trusty little bow, I finally had her in position and the kill shot within my sight. I released. It didn’t feel right. The arrow, seemingly headed for her lungs, instead flew smack dab between her brisket and shoulder blade completely severing her spine, puncturing a lung and she collapsed. It was so sudden and the shot wasn’t at all what I had anticipated – mixed emotions coursed through my head as I watched her limp on the ground twitching as if having a fit of epilepsy. All I could think was, Did I injure her? Was it a quick death? When I finally approached her, a feeling rose through me like I had never felt before, and continued in my memory long after. The feeling I had sensed wasn’t of remorse, or sadness. It was respect. I had instantly developed an appreciation for this deer more than any animal I had ever encountered. That’s when I knew I was a hunter.
I’m unsure if anyone has ever experienced a delay similar to mine with their first harvest, but it wasn’t until the next day that I felt the undeniable urge to be sitting in that ground blind – the torturous temptation to call off my work duties to go prepare for a last-minute hunt. I wanted so bad to have that same day repeated again. I was beyond question, irrevocably absorbed with the idea of constantly being in the woods. My passion for hunting has grown heavy ever since.
Even as only an amateur, I have since retained precious memories, and have lived unforgettable moments sitting in the outdoors. I have acquired ever-growing, life-long skills, felt excitement and longing as of a child, and I have reached deep inside of myself during my time spent with nature. The epiphany one develops that instantly creates a passion for this sport is one you cannot overlook – there exists a moment in your life, specifically while you are hunting, when you suddenly realize that this sport is not simply just a way of life – it is who you are. Hunting is now who I am.
Heather Ballek is a devoted family woman, writer and enthusiast for all things outdoors. Her work with Adirondack Bowhunters, Dressed to Kill TV and Raghorner Media Group allows her to share her deep-rooted passion for hunting through her writing. Heather’s experience in the outdoors has drawn her closer to nature and to her inner self.
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