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Will Weaver's memoir is also hunter's take on what matters

WILLMAR -- You can't help but notice that there are fewer young people chasing wild game these days.

There's lots of discussion about getting young people involved in hunting and what the future might hold for hunting. Author Will Weaver of Bemidji offers some interesting and timely insight into it all in his new memoir "The Last Hunter, An American Family Album."

It's foremost of all a story about his family and his roots, but hunting plays a center role in how he lives and relates to others.

Weaver is well-known throughout Minnesota for his works, two of which brought him great attention when produced for television and the big screen. His debut work "Red Earth, White Earth" was produced as a movie for national television. His short story, "A Gravestone Made of Wheat" became the award-winning independent movie "Sweet Land," which was filmed largely in the Montevideo area.

"The Last Hunter" (Minnesota Historical Press - 192 pages) speaks to his family life, but also the relationship to the land and the traditions and values we hold, and the changes that challenge them.

Weaver grew up on a farm in northern Minnesota under the mentorship of a father who instilled strong ethics and respect for the traditions of hunting and stewardship of the land.

Hunting is a way of life Weaver fully expected to pass on to his son, but things didn't quite work that way. It's Weaver's nephew that has become his deer hunting partner.

"In my family the pendulum has swung as far as it can go away from hunting, and "The Last Hunter" covers that bittersweet arc of change," he wrote in response to a request for comments on his book.

Weaver's skill as a writer is the way he gives life stories, and "The Last Hunter" is no exception. It may take on serious topics, but it's all told as part of entertaining stories that make up his life. You feel his excitement in stalking the big buck and pushing him towards his father. You can chuckle and understand the feeling when father and son get lost in the woods, "but not seriously lost."

Anyone who enjoys hunting will appreciate his first person accounts of his adventures in the field, and quietly nod in understanding at the lessons he derives from them, both good and bad.

By the same measure, anyone who has grown up on the farm, or a generation or two removed, can fully appreciate his observations of coming of age and finding his own way in this modern world.

Weaver left the land, graduated from the University of Minnesota, and pursued a career in California, only to return. He made an attempt at being what he called a "gentleman farmer" on the family farm, but eventually made his living as an English professor at Bemidji State University and full-time writer.

Weaver's son grew up in town with basketball courts and friends always at hand, but he had no barn pigeons to target or farm lands to roam with shotgun in hand, as had his father.

The author did his utmost to introduce his son to the outdoors, and succeeded; just not where or how he expected. His son's love for adventure is found on wilderness waters or trails with paddle, backpack or bicycle, not with loaded shotgun or rifle.

In telling his story he reveals so much about what it really is that we value about the outdoors and hunting. It's exactly what we need to understand if we are to have any serious chance of perpetuating the traditions that matter most.

"The Last Hunter" is both a thoughtful and entertaining way to know them, as could only be told by a hunter.

Don't take the title to mean something beyond Weaver's observations on his own family. Weaver said he believes that the fact that we have fewer people living on working farms is one of the reasons fewer young people are hunting today.

But he feels the far greater reason is the fact that so many young people are "plugged in" to all the electronic gadgetry of life today.

He is optimistic overall, pointing out that so much is being done by all sorts of organizations to introduce young people -- both boys and girls -- to hunting. It's also become all the more important.

"As I discuss in my book, young women who hunt seem much more self-confident, and far less vulnerable to the trends of fashion and consumer culture," stated Weaver. "Girls and boys who get out in to the woods just seem to have a healthier outlook on life."

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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