With Land and People— Relationships Are Built With Time

By R.G. Bernier

“An almost perfect relationship with his father was the earthly root of all his wisdom. From his own father, he said, he learned that fatherhood must be at the core of the universe. He was thus prepared in an unusual way to teach that religion in which the relation of father and son is of all relations the most central.” —C.S. Lewis

The one equitable commodity that each of us share is in the amount of time we are allotted on a daily basis. The disparity is found in how we choose to spend that time. Like money, where some elect to frivolously fritter away their monetary holdings in order to satisfy immediate gratification, others will prudently invest their assets into commodities that will eventually mature and bring them a return on the investment. Essentially, the choices we make in life become the dividends of tomorrow.

Make no mistake about it—developing meaningful relationships requires energy, selflessness, consideration and the time necessary for them to blossom. Serving as a very real and credible example to this is the relationship I share with my wife. Despite the fact that it was love at first sight when I first met Sharon, we really didn’t know a lot about each other. Through the dating and engagement period we began to learn and understand certain character qualities that both of us possessed. Once the ‘I Do’s’ were pronounced on that blissful day, our investment into the relationship didn’t end there. Although the ‘stars and infatuated sensations’ have long since been overshadowed by reality, time has given us the ability to nurture and build a lasting, happy and prosperous marriage. Through that union we were blessed with two children—a son and daughter. When it comes to hunting, I have had the parental pleasure to teach and instruct our son about firearms, the whitetail and the strategies required to succeed. I was with him when he shot his first deer; and believe me, there is no greater feeling in the world than watching your son perform flawlessly when aiming at such an unpredictable target.

Perhaps that is why Archibald Rutledge penned the following words with regards to his own boys: “A dad likes to accomplish things in the woods, but I guess he gets more real pleasure out of having his sons accomplish what he knows is not so easy to do.” Throughout the maturation process, a relationship was being forged between my son and me.

Today, Dwight is a full-grown man, and because of the time and dedication that was invested into his childhood, our relationship has evolved from a parental overseer into a close-knit bond. He is my hunting partner and one of my closest confidants. You see, in my opinion, the worth of a life is to invest it into something that will outlast it. Whether or not I ever shoot a world-record whitetail is irrelevant when stacked up to the value of relationships. While a record-book buck may bring temporary pleasure, it cannot compete with the lasting satisfaction that solid relationships engender. Think for a moment about some of the people you have chosen to be your friends and ask yourself why they are special enough to hold such a significant position in your life. Unlike family members, you specifically solicited these folks for distinct reasons. Initially, something about the individual’s character, compatibility or similar interests drew you to them; but whatever the impetus was that formed the friendship, time is the foremost ingredient necessary to strengthen and enrich the relationship.


Kinships are certainly not just relegated to human interactions. We have, as entrusted stewards of this planet, a relationship with the land as well. After all, everything we consume originates in some way from the land, be it the food that we eat, the energy we burn, or the materials utilized to craft our dwellings and right down to the very water that serves to alleviate our thirst. Over time, forest practices and land use has changed dramatically. Some of these changes have benefited whitetails immeasurably while others have had a negative impact. For instance, early in the 1900s when settlers began pushing further into the country to farm the land, parts of the forest were cut in order to clear fields for growing crops. This transformation accomplished two favorable necessities for the whitetail deer: it opened up the forest canopy, which in turn promoted new growth and it provided large field openings which whitetails gravitate to as edge animals. Realizing it or not, these early farmers were creating an environment highly suitable for the resident deer. One might say they were the early pioneers in the food plot business. 

Then, in the 1930s the Federal Government began a buyout program called the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act. This governmental program paid the farmers fair-market value for their farms and relocated the families to various locations. It wasn’t long before the forest began to reclaim what was once cleared and the whitetails’ meal ticket diminished with each passing year. Were it not for the logging industry, which has fed the consumers’ great need for paper and building supplies, whitetail numbers may well have continued to decline. It should be clear by now that regardless of why the forest is disturbed, be it for raw timber, planting food sources or for a dwelling, the whitetail almost always benefits from the by-product of this clearing. In the late 1980s the Whitetail Institute came on the scene and began promoting what hunters and landowners perceived as a new concept in land use. In reality, the Whitetail Institute was reintroducing what our ancestors had accomplished unaware. Whitetail Institute founders and researchers realized that to build herd densities and promote optimum growth potential for individual deer, certain vital ingredients had to be introduced. Chunks of forest once again began being cleared and replaced by gardens. 

Only this time, these food plots were built to entice the palates of deer and other wildlife. Throughout the course of time the way deer are managed has also changed. In many instances, whitetails are no longer controlled strictly for their best interest but rather for cultural carrying capacity. In other words, managers now attempt to keep population levels tolerable to those folks living within a specific geographic location or wildlife management district. The dynamics of our whitetail herds have changed dramatically. Deer population numbers that were once severely diminished have now exploded. Bag limits have increased with hunters being encouraged to harvest greater amounts of female deer. Antler restrictions have been imposed in a number of states to help generate a more balanced age structure amongst the buck population. All of these modern day management plans take time to flourish and will ultimately benefit the land, the hunter and the whitetail deer that inhabits that environment.


Personal gratification is the reward for those who have made a legitimate effort in managing resources entrusted to them. If you are of the belief that only monetary remuneration can satisfy calloused hands, a sweaty brow or fatigued muscles, more than likely you’ve never invested the time or toil into an enterprise where patience and hard work can produce results. Although the customer of a finished product can derive great joy from the completed commodity, no one other than the manufacturer can fully appreciate the sacrifice it took to produce it. Today, adept hunters are meticulously managing their land in an effort to stimulate regeneration and provide unlimited food choices to the resident wildlife. 

Through this endeavor, they are producing quality whitetails. To the casual observer it would appear that the individual hunter who plants food plots and selectively harvests trees on his property can only be doing so for the opportunity to shoot better deer. That is true perhaps, at least initially. But as more time and effort is devoted to this labor of love, the entrepreneurial steward often gains as much satisfaction from managing as he does from hunting this same piece of real estate. And because of his stewardship, birds, bunnies, turkeys and a whole host of other animals profit from the landscaping changes. They have at their disposal easily obtained food that would not ordinarily be available, as well as newly created habitat suitable for permanent residency. What the non-hunter cannot see, nor even envision, is why a guy in a sweat-soaked shirt with dirty hands leaning against his tractor at the end of a long, hot day would go to this effort with nothing of monetary remuneration to show for it. But, as the orange ball begins to descend on the western horizon, the content land owner, who is sipping a tall glass of ice tea smiles inwardly as he watches the first of many whitetails emerge from the forest to dine on the cultivated clover. That, my friend, is more than enough payment to compensate a man who has his priorities fixed on something more than tangible objects.


Think with me for a moment and ask yourself, what in life has had more of a direct—impact, something that was given to you as a gift, or an accomplishment realized only through determination, hard work and dedication? Although a gift is certainly an appreciable gesture of someone’s good will, it still cost the recipient nothing. It has often been said by many a prudent parent in raising their children, “If you work for something, you will value it far more than if it were given to you.” Although this may initially seem harsh to a youngster who has been accustomed to getting everything provided for them from mom and dad, the reality of the lesson is they learn to appreciate the results of their labor. By the very nature of the process, building relationships requires time and energy. Despite the obvious physical and financial investment of cutting trees, plowing soil, planting seed, watering, fertilizing, and weeding, it quickly becomes a labor of love that gratifies the very core of the land manager directly linking him with that plot of ground and the wildlife that inhabits it.