By Patrick Durkin
Even though hunters are the marrying type, they often spar with their spouse each autumn about their time away from home.
And yes, hunters are “the marrying type.” When the research firm Responsive Management recently studied hunters in the southeastern United States, it found 73 per cent were married. In contrast, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data shows 50 per cent of Southeastern adults were married and 30 per cent had never married. Meanwhile, only 14 per cent of the region’s adult hunters have never married. And although divorce and separation rates were roughly the same, researchers found hunters were less likely than nonhunters to be widowed, 1 per cent vs. 6 per cent.
But if hunters are so big on marriage, why do their foyers often have “Gone Hunting” or “We Interrupt This Marriage to Bring You the Hunting Season” knickknacks? And why do they forever seek marital advice from each other, especially from well-travelled hunters?
Two such “marriage counsellors” are TV and podcast hosts Steven Rinella, 45, of MeatEater TV and podcasts; and Randy Newberg, 54, of Fresh Tracks, On Your Own Adventures, and Hunt Talk Radio: Randy Newberg Unfiltered.
Rinella—who has also written five award-winning books and scores of magazine articles—and his wife married 11 years ago. They have three children, ages 4, 6 and 9. He spends about 100 days away from home each year to produce his many shows. He also travels roughly 10 more weeks for speaking engagements and other business commitments.
Newberg and his wife married 30 years ago. He, too, hunts away from home 90 to 100 days each year for his shows. He also serves on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Board of Directors, and regularly travels to state capitals and Washington, D.C., to testify on legislation affecting public access. Those commitments add about another month of annual travel.
When speaking at seminars or corresponding with readers, viewers and listeners, Rinella and Newberg often get asked about marriage. “They raise their hand and ask how I get my wife to let me hunt so much,” Newberg said. “How do I get away with it? I feel like Dr. Phil. They must think I have something figured out, but I tell them the noose doesn’t loosen with time. I also know I married so far up life’s ladder that I couldn’t see the rungs from where I started. If I hadn’t met my wife, I’d be sitting in a bar where I grew up in Big Falls, Minnesota, and there’d be a stool with my name on it.”
Rinella is equally devoted and grateful. “I love hunting and fishing, and I love being married,” he said. “When I wake up, I tell myself that my main job today is to not get myself divorced. I’m dead serious. That’s my goal. I truly love, admire and respect my wife. I value her judgment. She’s our family’s leader. Her impulses are right. She’s less selfish than I am. So when I joke about being afraid of her, it’s more that I fear upsetting the strong, content home we’ve created for our kids.”
How, specifically, do Rinella and Newberg maintain happy marriages while being gone half the year? They offered these fun, smart, heartfelt tips:
1. Newberg: “You must value peace more than justice. Don’t insist on proving you’re right. Winning an argument at all costs is financially and emotionally expensive, and you won’t get to hunt as much. Let them be right. They’re right half the time anyway, but you’re six months down the road before you realize you were wrong.”
Rinella: “It’s no good to seethe and think, ‘I’ll show her! Wait till she asks for something! She’ll never mess with me again!’ That’s when it escalates, and it’s like, ‘What are you going to do now, dude? Really? You’re going to create all this trouble over that?’ No. It’s not worth it. Randy’s right: Peace. Not justice.”
2. Rinella: “Set a strong precedent while dating. Lead the life you want to live 10 years into marriage. If you normally go hunting or fishing over Thanksgiving while you’re single, don’t quit going while you’re dating. It’s like water access: If you quit using that access point, you’ll lose your access rights. As long as you keep using it, you can keep going.”
Newberg: “Make sure she knows who you are during the test drive. Do not surprise her after she’s bought the car. But even now, my goal is to keep refining myself, so if I were in her shoes, I’d look at me and ask myself if I’d want to be married to me. If not, how do I change that?”
3. Rinella: “Pick your battles and respect her turf. On issues involving our kids, their clothes, their schedules, our finances, how we structure our house, and how we allocate our time for family, holidays and social life, that’s mainly her area. I have input, but I don’t fight about it.”
Newberg: “The best deal I ever made was when we built our house in 2004. I told my wife she could take 15 per cent of the house’s cost and add it to furnishings. Whatever the amount is, fine. I don’t care about colours, sizes or what you buy. In return, I don’t want to hear another thing about my hunting or fishing. Ever. She jumped on that like a rat on a Cheeto.”
4. Newberg: “Realize that your wife knows you as well as you know yourself. That’s one big reward of long-term relationships. My wife pushes buttons that need to be pushed to keep me going, and she smiles while she’s pushing them. Divorce has never been an option for us. If it’s not an option, you don’t even consider it.”
Rinella: “Marriage’s real power, its staying power, is commitment. I feel absolutely true love for my wife. She’ll never let me fall into a funk and become unproductive. She wouldn’t stand for it. We have that commitment to each other.”
5. Newberg: “If you want to hunt a lot, don’t be handy around the house. If you own a chainsaw, a woodstove, a lawnmower and a weed-whacker, cross one week off your hunting schedule for each one of those devices. If you want to hunt a lot, sell your tools on eBay or Craig’s List. How many guys do you know who built their own home who also hunt a lot? None. But before I leave on my first trip each fall, I make sure the snowblower is ready, with a full can of gas next to it, and the smoke alarms all have fresh batteries.”
Rinella: “I get everything in the house squared away before I leave so there aren’t many tangible reminders of my absence. I get all my stuff tightened up, too. My desk is cleared, the recycling is taken care of, and all the house’s little maintenance things are done.”
6. Rinella: “Be open with your schedule. Get a dry-erase wall calendar and put everything on it. If you might be gone eight or nine days, put down nine. I used to hide information if I wasn’t sure about the exact dates, because I didn’t want her to know how severe it might be. It’s better to be apocalyptic. Give the worst-case scenario. If it turns out you aren’t gone as long, that’s OK. But if you’re leaving Aug. 15 and you fill in the actual dates on Aug. 14, no one will talk to you. They’ll hate you.”
Newberg: “We use a dry-erase calendar too. I used to tell her about the two tags I had for October, but I wouldn’t tell her about my back-to-back Iowa and Kansas deer hunts over Thanksgiving. That wasn’t a good idea. Now I put everything on that calendar. If we get done early, I make sure she hears about it. ‘Hey honey. Guess what? I’ll be home over Thanksgiving.’ Well, isn’t everyone home for Thanksgiving? But she likes it when I get home early.”
7. Rinella: “Leave on a Monday, come back on a Friday. Do not leave on a Saturday morning and return on a Sunday night. That’s trouble. It looks like you’re ducking out. Leaving on a Monday after a weekend with lots of family time, that’s slick. And never come home late. I don’t care if you’ve been unsuccessful and tomorrow is clearly the best time to hunt. If my wife and kids expect me home, I better be there. If I come home early, even better.”
Newberg: “It’s much tougher traveling when kids are around. Steve has three kids. I can’t grasp how much additional competition that brings in. People ask how I stay married 27 years. When my son went off to college eight years ago, I found other ways to be out of the house so I didn’t drive my wife nuts.”
8) Newberg: “Call home every day. That’s important to my wife, even though we usually talk only three or four minutes. A lot of times I hike or drive somewhere after dark to get reception. That means a lot to her. She appreciates it.”
Rinella: “We don’t do that, but I like making the call that says I’ll be home early. Daily calls don’t work for us. If we’re in a place where I need to use a satellite phone, I’ll call to say everything is cool. Our crew’s network is such that everyone knows each other’s phone numbers and emails, and they’ll spread the word that we’re all right.”
9. Rinella: “Don’t expect a homecoming parade when you return. If you sneaked out before the kids got up Monday morning, don’t expect a Daddy’s-home, cancel-your-plans, special-dinner reception. No matter how late I get home, I don’t talk about my rough trip and my need to sleep in to recover. My nose is to the grindstone. I’m up with the kids, doing breakfast, and letting her sleep in.”
Newberg: “I have a charge account with the florist. I call him as I’m leaving town and tell him to make sure my flowers are there at 1 o’clock Monday afternoon. I hope every time she walks past those flowers, she thinks of me. When I’m home, if she wants to get up and eat breakfast at the bistro, and go to a movie that night, that’s where I’ll be.”
10. Newberg: “If you want taxidermy around your house, stand firm right away or forget it. I folded that tent early in our marriage and she never forgot. She said it might be art in my family, but in hers it’s just dead animals. My mounts stay in the ‘Randy Room.’ What our home looks like is a low priority for me. I’d rather worry about whether my dog has rice or corn in its food than worry about what colour a room is. And since you asked, my dog had rice in its food.”
Rinella: “My wife doesn’t care. Except for the kitchen, every room in our house has skulls, skins and stuff. But I don’t bring up any other aspect of our home’s décor. I bring in ducks, line them up in the kitchen to clean them, and she doesn’t care. I could hang an elk quarter in our kitchen and she wouldn’t care.”
So, what’s the best way to remain a happily married hunter? Maybe it’s considering whether your hunting trips are exposing weaknesses and sore points in your home life.
“I can’t stand guys who say they never fight with their wives,” Rinella said. “We all do. Marriage helped me realize most fights aren’t about what started them. Maybe you spilled coffee and didn’t notice it. Instead of just wiping it up, you deny you did it and suddenly it’s no longer about facts. It escalates into a discussion about what kind of people you are. You’re thoughtless, you’re this, you’re that. If you simply wipe it up, you might get annoyed but it’s in your best interest. It beats getting into your car and sitting in a pool of coffee the rest of the day. No one wants that.”