Hunting is a year-round passion, but it’s the late summer and early fall seasons when hunters develop one-track mindsets. It’s the start of an annual ritual and a natural pull to nature that can’t be fully explained but is understood by anyone who loves the outdoors.

As hunters prepare their tools and head to the range for their final practice sessions, we wanted to capture what it feels like to anticipate the return of the fall season. We interviewed Tim Wagner, an avid hunter, outdoorsman, Professional Outdoor Media Association speaker and Outdoor Life Grand Slam Adventure winner, for his views on hunting and why he returns to the hunt each year.

1. Who first introduced you to hunting?
Tim Wagner 1

This is going to be the most original answer ever! My dad. I think he gave me a Daisy Red Ryder when I was 4 or 5 years old. We were farmers, so I had plenty of room to explore with it. I graduated to a Crosman 760 pretty soon after that, and there was a five-cent bounty for me on the head of every sparrow and black bird raiding our wheat crop.

2. What was the first game animal you hunted?

My first game animal was a mourning dove — then bobwhite quail, then pheasant — all taken with a 16-gauge single shot made in 1916 that came up to me through my grandfather. We lived in the Texas Panhandle then, and there was no such thing as big game near us — nothing bigger than a coyote. When we moved to Arkansas, I hunted squirrels and rabbits with my Marlin Golden 39M.

3. When did you finally move on to bigger game?

Dad took us deer hunting once in the Ozark National Forest, but we saw hundreds of hunters and only one deer. It wasn’t until college that I shot my first deer, a button buck, and I was out all by myself. That felt good, to accomplish a huge goal through applying everything I’d learned via decades of reading Outdoor Life and listening to my dad. Later, my dad was with me in my stand when I shot my biggest buck ever. I’m not sure that’s a story coming full circle, but something like that.

4. What keeps you coming back to the field each year?

About a dozen different things, really. I’ve loved animals since I was tiny. I can never get enough of watching wild animals go about their lives. Non-hunters rarely believe how much a true hunter loves the animals that he kills. It’s a dichotomy — we know that.

5. Do you ever feel a conflict between your love for animals and your love for hunting?

There’s certainly a conflict inside us about loving, possessing, killing, thankfulness, and yes, even remorse over hunting. That’s also what makes us the best conservationists — we don’t just want to watch animals on a TV program. We want to interact with them, eat them, and enjoy all aspects of them.

6. Other than the interaction you get with game, what else do you enjoy about hunting?

I very much enjoy the strategy and pursuit of game animals. I also love the solitude, the quiet, the reverie of hunting. I like the trophies on my wall for the memories they bring and the pure beauty that has been captured.

And, I and my family enjoy eating wild game. I clean and butcher all of my own game and we make from scratch our own smoked, German venison sausage every year. The self-sufficiency aspect of hunting is also important to me. You just can’t extricate hunting from me — it’s an integral part of me.

7. What is your most memorable hunt?

Tim Wagner

I can’t remember what I watched on TV last night, but I can remember just about every hunt of my 40-year life. In the December 2009 issue, Outdoor Life ran a feature article about the hunt and you can still see the photos and videos online. I see my mounts from that hunt in my home and relive that experience every single day of my life. My son was also born that year, so he’s grown up under the watchful eyes of a gemsbok, impala, and steenbok. That makes me happy.

So, memorable might not be the right word to differentiate it, but there is one hunt that will stand out for obvious reasons. In 2009, I wrote an essay and entered it into Outdoor Life’s annual “Grand Slam Adventure” contest. Out of a couple thousand entries, they chose my essay as the winner. So, I got to take a safari to South Africa and hunt plains game! An editor and photographer went with me, and a videographer joined us for a few days.

8. Even if you don’t use your tags, what are your key takeaways from each hunt?

Well, come on — I always fill my tags! But, yeah, that’s just one of the end goals. I’m more peaceful and fulfilled after each hunt. I’ve found my solace in the outdoors. The world slows down a little for me after hunting. Although I rarely hunt deer with someone else beside me, I’m almost always with a group of family and friends before and after each hunt. So, I always get that camaraderie and fellowship, too. Plus, almost every time I’m out in the woods, I have a new experience. I see animals do something I’ve never seen before, or I learn something that will be useful when I hunt again.

9. What is your ritual before hunting season?

All those things I mentioned above. I usually start growing a beard a month or so before hunting season. This year I started three months early! I check all of my gear and replace anything that is worn out or damaged. I sharpen my knives, sight-in my rifle, and get my camouflage ready. Then I wait another month for hunting season to roll around.

Seriously, hunting is a process that starts in August and usually ends in January for me. We’ll have dove season in Texas over Labor Day weekend, and I’ll get to hunt while preparing our property for deer season. My season usually wraps up after New Year’s weekend, when the family gathers to make sausage. So, it’s really that whole season — almost half a year — that I anticipate. Man, do I anticipate it! I’ll start literally losing sleep over it pretty soon, because I can’t stop imagining the coming hunts when I lay my head on my pillow.

I can’t say that I “live to hunt,” because I live for some loves and beliefs that are much grander than hunting. But on my priority scale, right below those eternal priorities, hunting is right there.

You can connect with Tim Wagner on Twitter at @prranch and make sure to follow @Hunter_ed for more updates and interviews!