Time Well Spent

Hunting: A Southern Tradition Bringing Families Together

By Brenda Shafer

Photography by Lanewood Studio


A time-honored tradition in the South, hunting is often passed down from generation to generation. Beyond sporting skills, hunting provides lots of quality time for fathers and their children. Whether the time is spent on life lessons, family stories, the importance of nature, or just enjoying each other’s company, hunting has drawn these family members closer to each other. For each of these hunters, it’s been time well spent.

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John Sheehan with his son, Jack hunting in chattanooga

John Sheehan with his son, Jack


“My dad used to have this hat that looked like it came from 1970. It was bright orange and similar to what Elmer Fudd wore,” Jack Sheehan shares. “When he busted that hat out, you knew it was serious hunting time.”


Jack grew up watching his father go on hunting trips. “I’d always see him packing and was enamored with the gear and camo,” Jack explains. “Being a hunter was it for me. When I was finally able to go, I was beyond excited.” The first trip John took his son on ended up being a father/son trip with his college friends. “Every year, I get together with three fraternity brothers,” John says. “And that year they brought their sons as well!” Jack was only 10 at the time, so he just observed, but the camaraderie on this trip welcomed him to the club. “A cast of characters go,” John adds. “The host is one of the best storytellers. We have a lot of laughs, plus, a lot of good food and drinks, and of course, some great deer hunting.”

Over the years, John has introduced Jack to both deer and bird hunting. “He’s taught me everything I know. I’ve learned patience and not to expect that I’ll always get one. But I’m not yet as good as he is, so maybe I haven’t learned all the tricks yet,” Jack laughs. “Maybe he’ll let some of those tricks go later on in life.”

Both John and Jack prefer deer hunting because of the time it gives them to enjoy the quiet of nature. John explains, “It gives me time to recharge. I have so much quiet time that I can think through a lot of things – some of my best business ideas have come while I’m in a deer stand.” Like father, like son, Jack enjoys the quiet. “It’s nice to escape the hustle and bustle of life.”

Most of all, hunting has brought them closer together. “It’s a shared interest that we love doing together,” Jack says. “It gives us time to talk without distractions,” John adds. “We have a lot of one-on-one time, even just the four- to five-hour drive we take.”

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Dr. Calvin Bell with his son, Winston hunting in chattanooga

Dr. Calvin Bell with his son, Winston


Hunting goes back generations in the Bell family.


“It started on a tobacco farm in North Carolina,” Calvin shares. “I would hunt rabbits and squirrels with my father, grandfather, and uncles.” So that’s how he introduced hunting to his son, Winston. “He was just a little boy watching his grandfather skin rabbits,” Calvin says. “We showed him the process, so he would understand. Hunting wasn’t just a hobby but a sustaining force back then – that and farming. I am truly thankful I can pass on family traditions to my son.”

Hunting has been a way to pass on life lessons as well. “I remember hearing a lot of wisdom and life lessons imparted to me in the field – concepts of respect and kindness to all people,” Calvin explains. “I reflect on those days in the field, hunting with my father, grandfather, and uncles and know that I had true gold then. I appreciate it more now that I’m older. It was a treasure.” 

Now Calvin makes the most of his time with Winston, passing along wisdom and family stories. “One of the biggest things my dad has taught me is patience,” Winston notes. “And not just in regard to hunting but also in life. It’s all about timing.” And it seems Winston has learned the lesson of treasuring time with family, as he already reminisces about family time. “One of my favorite memories was when my mom traveled with us for a family bird hunt. She isn’t a city girl but not a country girl either, but we were all together and making memories,” Winston recalls. “It’s cool to have a picture where we all harvested something.”

“It’s a spiritual connection out in the field,” Calvin recollects. “I’m able to ask him what’s going on in his life and listen to his concerns. I may not have all the answers, but I can give him an answer and that’s God’s word.” Winston equally cherishes the one-on-one time. “It’s nice to be out in the fresh air, to be able to talk and reflect on the day. It’s hard to get time without distractions, and this is truly one-on-one time.”

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Hastings McGinness with his daughter, Ella Hastings hunting in chattanooga

Hastings McGinness with his daughter, Ella Hastings


Ten-year-old Ella Hastings has been going bird hunting with her dad since she was 3 or 4 years old.


“It’s really fun, and I like doing it!” she exclaims. Her namesake and father, Hastings, shares, “During dove season, we go about every weekend. I never force her to go; if the weather isn’t good, sometimes she doesn’t come. But normally, she is always up for it.”

The first time she went with her father, it was a family affair. “The whole family came because I had just gotten a Boykin Spaniel I wanted to try out. Ella Hastings enjoyed it from the start,” he says. “She’s always enjoyed being outdoors and playing in the dirt. I remember her chasing the grasshoppers and retrieving the birds. Bird hunting is pretty social, so she could just be herself.”

Ella Hastings remembers her father’s first instructions to her. “He taught me how to be safe, and he has taught me to cover my ears when he shoots,” she says. “We eat what we take; sometimes we’ll eat it the same day for dinner.”

Hastings also recalls Ella Hastings naming all the doves as she put them in the cooler. “She’s so funny. She named one Headless because its head had come off.” Ella Hastings remembers naming one of her first retrieved doves Tricycle because she wanted a tricycle for Christmas that year.

This year, Ella Hastings went deer hunting for the first time and got her first deer. “I always assist and guide her as she shoots,” Hastings explains. “She really wanted to try deer hunting, so it was exciting that she got one her first time.”

Most importantly, it’s the time spent together that is remembered. “I get to spend more time with my dad, and I get to know him better,” Ella Hastings shares. “And I really like that.” Hastings has his fingers crossed that his youngest daughter will continue to hunt with him as she grows older. “I hope she continues to enjoy it. It’s special to get to spend time with her in the field and just watch her interact with nature,” Hastings adds. “I look forward to it every year.”

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Al Rogers with his son, Rooster hunting in chattanooga

Al Rogers with his son, Rooster


“My dad raised me outside,” Rooster shares. “There’s a picture of the first time I went hunting, bundled up in four layers of clothing. I was probably 2 or 3.”


Now Rooster is a true outdoorsman, according to his father, Al. “He always bests me. He’s gotten much better-quality deer than I ever did at his age. I enjoy watching him be so successful.”

The success started early for Rooster. One of Al’s favorite stories to tell is when his son killed two geese with one shot. “We were sitting in a blind, and four geese came in. I said, ‘Count of three, let’s shoot.’ I got two and I’m looking around, hearing only one shot, going, ‘Where’s the other two?’ Turns out, he got both of them with one shot. He was only 7 or 8 then!” Al exclaims. “I knew right then that he
was hooked.”

Al has introduced Rooster to all kinds of hunting. “We’ve hunted just about anything a Southern boy could hunt,” Al notes. “Squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl, turkey, deer, even hogs. We love our wild hog hunting trip in South Florida that we take with guys from Silverdale Church.” Three years ago, Rooster took down his first hog by himself. “We hunt the hogs with dogs and knives, but one time, Rooster got to a hog before the dogs did,” Al recalls. “He’s a heck of an athlete. When we and the dogs finally got there, Rooster and this 300-pound hog were in a standoff. The only thing separating them was a Palmetto tree. It was pretty intense!”

Beyond successful hunting trips, what mattered most to Al was to teach Rooster about stewardship. “I’ve tried to instill in him that the Lord gave us things to use but to use wisely. Never take what you can’t use,” Al explains. “God has blessed us with the outdoors. Soak it in; enjoy the beauty. Most people are still asleep when we are enjoying a gorgeous sunrise, one of God’s most beautiful paintings.” Rooster’s love for the outdoors shows that the lesson was learned. “My dad was always telling me growing up how blessed we are, pointing out God’s creation,” Rooster explains. “He taught me respect for nature and for animals.”

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Dr. Kevin Bryant with his sons, Patrick and John, and dog, Beau hunting in chattanooga

Dr. Kevin Bryant with his sons, Patrick and John, and dog, Beau


One perfect Christmas morning 17 years ago, Patrick and John received their first rifle.


In their stockings was a note promising a hunting trip to Uncle Ben’s farm. “On that trip, on the same day, we both got our first buck,” John remembers.

Patrick recalls that first trip with fond memories as well. “We were riding around Ben’s property, tracking a deer, and Ben looks at us and goes, ‘Guys, I don’t know about you, but I’m loster than last year’s Easter egg!’ Then John and I looked at each other like, if he’s lost on his property, then we’re definitely lost,” Patrick laughs.

Kevin’s favorite memories include the anticipation of the trip. “The questions were constant from two excited 7- and 8-year-old boys,” Kevin explains. “Then, that first morning (like many mornings after), it was a scramble to find the lost glove, a ‘where are my socks?’, ‘my zipper is stuck!’ and just a scramble to get to the stand before daylight. Looking back, all these years later, those are some of my most cherished moments.”

That first hunt, full of precious memories, set the tone for all the rest. “Dad never let us have a bad time,” John says. “He planned hunts well, but he also taught us that time spent together was more important than a successful harvest. It was about enjoying time together. He instilled that in both of us.”

Patrick recalls many life lessons from his father that he learned through hunting, including the importance of focus and goal setting. “Walking through the woods, I would always be concerned where I was stepping. My dad would say, ‘Pick up your eyes. Look ahead; don’t worry,’” Patrick recalls. “It’s the same way in life. Keep a forward mindset.”

“It’s not just about the hunting. I feel there is a friendship with my sons, and now my son-in-law, that has been reinforced with a common passion for hunting,” Kevin says. “It allows me to share life lessons and also just have fun with my boys.”   

“I’m thankful for a dad who made the investment in time and taught us a skill,” Patrick shares. “I hope I have the same opportunity one day with my kids and my nieces and nephews.” SG

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