Nearly 40 years of hunting all of the United States different types of wild game has taken me across the country and I’ve met numerous people. I also learned many a life lessons from these experiences. When I think back, I come to the conclusion that even the days I thought were bad days turned out to be good days. What other hobby of yours can you say that about? Most of the people I met became good friends of mine or we at least stayed in contact somehow.
As a very young boy I would go hunting with my dad or granddad and see all these men greeting each other with smiles and handshakes. They would ask about each others families and their well being. It seemed they needed to “catch up” on the important things before we could get to the business of hunting. If someone had a new truck or gun the others were genuinely happy for him. If one man had lost someone special they would share a respectful moment for the lost member. Thirty – five years later these same men are still the respectable leaders I thought them to be back then. That was the beginning of my education, an education I never knew I was receiving.
Later, as I entered my teens, I would go out hunting squirrel after school with my .22 rifle. I would get close to that old hickory in the old hog pen, sit down and wait for those “bushytails” to sit on a limb eating the nuts. I became such a regular at the base of that tree that I had to become proficient at shooting them on the run. This time spent in the woods was my “clarity” time to think through all my adolescent problems and the pretty girls that were the cause of most of them. Over at the deer clubs on Saturdays I would drag the deer that the elders of the club had harvested out of the woods and clean them so that those men could tell the story of how he took it. When I obtained my drivers license a high school friend and I would go out after squirrel, rabbit, deer, alligator gar, raccoon and fox together. We sometimes go for a year or two without seeing each other but when we do the friendship and memories is instantly reignited. Although we both lead very different lives now, it goes without saying we share a very special bond. I also had 2 older men that would take me coon hunting with them and their prized hounds. If you have ever read “Where the Red Fern Grows” you know exactly how those hunts went. I overcame a fear of the dark and learned more about being a friend to a hunting dog from these men than I can put in words. It’s not just “owning” a dog but being a friend and parent to them and student of the dogs’ habits.
In my twenties I had a very good paying job and was able to hunt every day from beginning to end of the season. I would take younger boys whose fathers didn’t hunt or were busy working hunting with me. I carried Bobby to his hunter safety class then out into my favorite treestand to kill his first deer with my old Bear Whitetail bow. Bobby was involved in a vehicle accident in his twenties and did not survive. I invited Jimmy on several different hunting trips when he was 14 and he took his first deer with a shotgun on his third trip. Jimmy became a logger and was killed when a falling limb struck him from behind. David was another young teen that I pulled into the outdoors although he gave it up after high school. David missed several deer but did harvest a turkey once. He became a well known radio DJ and moved far away. I see David about every three years and stay in contact through emails. I think about Bobby and Jimmy regularly and wonder what kind of men and fathers they may have been. I hope I gave their families a good memory of them hunting and growing up.
In my thirties I was still a deer hunting addict along with a continued love of the treeing hounds. I began taking my son Charlie hunting and target shooting at 4 or 5 years old. He never backed away from a chance to shoot at pop bottles, paint cans, or milk jugs. We even once shot at small propane cylinders that were made for camping stoves. The explosion was dangerous but we were 75 yards away in an old sand pit where nothing could go wrong. When it came to hunting he was not unlike any other small child and lost interest about five minutes after you sat down and became quiet. I would beg and scold him for a half hour about being quiet and still. I’d soon realize my efforts were futile until his young mind wanted to accept the serenity of the woods. He collected many a rock, leaves and insects while I waited for him to grow into the hunter I hoped for. He killed his first deer and a blonde coyote 2 days before his 6th birthday. The coyote was saved for mounting and the deer became at least three excellent meals for us. Three short years later he and I were sitting in a swamp listening to a pack of walker hounds run and heard a deer coming. He shot this spike buck from about 10 steps and watched the deer as it passed away. On that day he gave up deer hunting until high school although we continued to hunt all other types of game. I hope he will pass along what I taught him to his children someday. I still hunt raccoon on evenings when the weather is right for my old bones and Charlie can come along.
During the time that Charlie didn’t want to hunt deer I grew weary of the tiresome and hurried pace of deer season and took up quail hunting with a friend from work. He later gave me my first setter pup that came from a litter his male had fathered. That pup and I learned all we could from everyone we thought had something to teach us. I’d take walks every afternoon with him and just watch him play and explore. We established a bond that couldn’t be broken. He knew me and my emotions better than I did and I could tell you exactly what he was thinking just by looking into his eyes. I thought he was the best bird dog ever during his first year but I saw him get even better as the years went along. When he was sick I felt it too, if he was anxious so was I. He passed away at a young seven years old from a snake bite and I cried like a child for three days. I had the best friend that every dog owner can attest to. The friend that gave him to me now travel all over to hunt upland birds together. We no longer work together and can go a month without speaking but we never miss a special occasion in each others lives. We were 2100 miles from home and met another bird hunter that lived only twenty miles from our hometown that we now hunt Texas with. We met an oil man in a Kansas restaurant eating with his wife and were invited to hunt his Nebraska farm the next year, we’re now yearly visitors to his home. While hunting quail in North Carolina and we met a setter owner who was admiring our dogs at a gas station and he invited us on a grouse hunt in NY. We ventured north and became yearly companions with him, trading hunts in our hometowns.
We bump into the occasional hunter who regards the land and game species as “his” and is not very friendly but they are rare. What I’m saying here is through hunting and the friends I’ve gained, I learned enormous lessons that serve me in everyday life. We are losing hunting rights and land faster than you can imagine. Don’t let that happen. Invite a friend to a hunt, teach a kid to hunt, let a neighbor enjoy a day in the woods on your property. Buy your hunting license each year and donate to organizations that are helping preserve the traditions. We take it for granted sometimes but it’s what makes us good friends, good fathers, community leaders and just plain good men. I value every meeting with people and hope the people I meet take something away from them like I do. Every hunter may not approach it the way I do, he may not act like I’d wish, but its for sure he has the same rights I do to attempt to take game in his own special way. I will not be his judge and I just may become his friend.