The author’s father with a gobbler.
Today I went hunting with some old friends. They didn’t all show up at the same time, yet they all came. It was a great hunt. It was comfortable, like that old hunting coat that just smells right.
The first to show was Jack. Jack is a huge man; the man who perhaps taught me the most about deer hunting, and doing it right.
I’ll always remember his words from my very first deer hunt.
“Hunt the thickets young fella,” he said. “Big bucks are always near the thickets.”
I left him stalking near a thicket, and wished him good luck as I went on my way.
Next it was Alex. A considerate man and not one to rile, he’d laughed as he told me about his new camouflage. It seems his wife had thrown out his old gear that he’d placed inside a garbage bag with pine boughs to help disguise his scent with the weekly trash.
“I needed some new bowhunting duds anyway,” he said. Recently he’d had six bucks near that stand going at each other, in three separate pairings. I nodded and moved on.
Finally I saw Curt. We go way back, Curty and I. As little boys, we sat in awe and listened to the stories our fathers told of duck hunting on Saginaw Bay. We both fell in love with the smells of the marsh still clinging to their clothes and boots. The mallards, bluebills, redheads, and canvasbacks they lay before us, with their extraordinarily colored feathers, helped to paint vivid pictures in our minds that we longed to see as hunters.
“The flight birds are down, but we need a northeaster”, he said.
I whispered, “Good shooting,” as I left him at the pond.
A brace of Curt’s favorites.
I never took a shot that day, but memories of past hunts with those friends made it a wonderful time just the same. Their voices in the wind are all I really have, as they left us much too soon. Though gone from this life, the pleasures their memories brought to my hunt are as real as it gets.
Curt went first. The last time I saw him, he was grinning from ear to ear with his cockeyed smile as he headed to the “cottage” for some late-season hunting. Curt lived to duck hunt. It was his mistress.
Then Jack was gone. My favorite hunting memory is of Jack ghosting along in a heavy November snowstorm, still-hunting away in a world quickly turning white. He jumped and shot a dandy eight-point that afternoon.
Alex left us on a cold day in November. Ironically, it was opening day of the regular deer season. A fighter till the very end, his tree stand shall remain in place for all time.
Each hunting season, during certain ventures to the thickets, the tree lines, and the marshes, I can sometimes still hear their soft voices, see their crooked smiles, or smell their wet wool coats.
I hope that Jack has found himself a thicket just chock-full of bucks; for Alex, a dominant buck stepping cautiously into his shooting lane; and for Curt, I pray that his beloved bay becomes whipped to froth by a northeaster, its leaden sky further darkened by millions of birds in flight.
It took me a long time to recognize a thicket, to draw back an arrow quietly under pressure, and to discern a bluebill from a canvasback in flight. These men took me all the way there and beyond. And each fall, fond memories of each of them men still do.