As Christmas draws near, we at MeatEater are reflecting on the best gifts we’ve ever received. What you’ll find below is a compilation of some of our favorite December 25 memories. We wanted to bring you something different this holiday season, rather than another worn-out gift guide.
“Out of all the of gifts my father gave me as a young hunter and angler, the best was an extremely well-used, sporterized, Czech army Mauser rebarreled to .30-06. The bluing was faded and the stock’s grip had a crack behind the receiver filled with wood putty. It was my first real deer rifle and although it wasn’t pretty, I used it to kill my first whitetail buck and several other deer as a child. Later, poor and in college, I sold that rifle and I deeply regret doing so to this day.” –Brody Henderson
“I surprisingly didn’t get many hunting or fishing items for Christmas over the years—I either bought all of my own gear or was given the necessary equipment leading up to trips. For that reason, the best Christmas gift I can remember isn’t a bow or a gun or a new set of camo, rather it is the annual collection of books I was given each Christmas by my parents.
“I remember being gifted books such as Indian Creek Chronicles by Peter Fromm, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, If That Isn’t Jerky What Did I Just Eat by Bill Heavey, and so many others that helped inform my passion for hunting, fishing and the outdoors.
“Late each Christmas morning, I’d grab one of those books and settle in a corner chair, more excited about diving into a new book than trying out whatever other new gizmos or gadgets I’d received. More than anything else, I believe it was this love for reading instilled from a young age that has helped me grow the most as an outdoorsman and conservationist. As cousin Eddie said in Christmas Vacation, ‘it’s the gift that keeps giving.'” –Mark Kenyon
“Hands down, the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received is a puppy. Three years ago on Christmas Eve, my husband came home with Zissou Vom Wiredhaus, a Deutsch Drahthaar. Being opportunistic hunters, it’s very fitting for us to have a versatile hunting dog. He can retrieve greater Canada’s across a cut field, point a covey of Huns and track down rabbits. Today Z continues to impress me in the field and has been part of my most memorable hunts. You will be hard pressed to find a better hunting companion with as much heart and drive as a good bird dog.” –Danielle Prewett
“Many people regard their stocking as an afterthought on Christmas morning, but when I was a kid that’s where the real action was. Instead of the normal garbage that people put into stockings nowadays, such as Starbucks gift cards and cutesy knickknacks found at drugstore checkout counters, my folks packed my stocking full of genuine hunting ammo.
“The types of ammo that I was given changed over time. Starting around five years old, I’d get one of those paper cartons that normally came full of milk, but these were packed full of a thousand or so copper-plated steel BBs for my Daisy Red Ryder. I used those to pretend to be a hunter. A few years later, when I was around nine, my stocking stuffer was upgraded to a few plastic flip-top containers full of .177 lead pellets for my Crosman 10-pump air rifle. That gun was not quite suitable for the big fox squirrels in the woods around our home, but I made it work now and then through persistence.
“When I turned 12, it was back to paper milk cartons, except they were now full of 250 rounds of Remington .22 ammo. That’s when squirrel hunting got serious for me. At 14, I was given my first 20-round box of ammo for a Winchester .32 Special deer rifle that was given to me by my father’s best friend. In those days, in our circles, that many shells was meant to last through a few seasons and should earn you at least a couple of does. Today, I’ll burn that amount of ammo up in an hour at the range.
“Sadly, no one replenishes my stash at Christmas. But I do still carry with me an appreciation for parents who were willing to load their kid up with a sock full of ammo so that he might experience the wild thrill of being a kid out there in the natural world. In my mind, that’s the greatest gift that anyone could ever give.” –Steve Rinella
“As a teen, my passion for the outdoors was only matched by my passion for photography. I was so intrigued with photography because my dad had plenty of hunting and fishing stories, but never the images to compliment them. I didn’t want to look back one day and wish that I had taken the time to get more pictures, too.
“With that said, I only ever captured my outings through the lens of a crappy digital camera that couldn’t compete with a modern cell phone, until I got a hand-me-down DSLR one Christmas in college. It changed the way I was able to document my time spent outdoors. I’ll forever be grateful for my first real camera that gave me plenty of good years, even as I dropped it from tree stands and dunked it in live wells.” –Spencer Neuharth
“When I was 16 years old, my godfather gifted me a lifetime Kansas hunting and fishing license. Twenty years later, I’m 36 and use the lifetime license every year. There is no doubt in my mind that this gift helped pave the path to my continuation of hunting and fishing passions, and certainly saved me a lot of money along the way.
“Currently the price sits at $962.50, a small increase from what it used to cost. When you look at out-of-state whitetail tags for Kansas, it has paid for itself numerous times over. A non-resident spends $442.50 yearly for the chance to hunt deer there. Unfortunately, not all states offer this, otherwise I’d have one in Colorado, Utah and now Montana. If you have the opportunity to make the investment for a loved one, I highly recommend pulling the trigger on it.” –Morgan Mason
“Nowadays, Christmas is a time to reflect. I sit back and watch my little boy rip open gifts and smile, while tolerating the new socks and gift cards that seem to always come my way. I appreciate the holidays, but for different reasons than I did when I was a kid.
“When I was 12 years old, Christmas day was about getting sugared up and charging the tree like a maniac, tearing through my gifts with no regard for reflection. At that age I was also a fanatical new hunter in need of lots of new gear. Among all the awesome things I received that year, I remember scoring a brand new, blaze orange Elmer Fudd hat with a fuzzy inner lining that proved to be pretty warm on cold, all-day sits.
“I wore that hat for many years, eventually feeling the need to write “Deer Killer” across the front and even tallying up my kills on the brim. There’s a lot of history in that old thing now, and of all the gifts I received during my younger years this one stands out. I imagine that’s because it tells the story of my hunting past better than any other material thing.” –Ben O’Brien
Feature image via Ben O’Brien.