July 2008
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

By Ralph Ricks

Having just celebrated my 49th birthday in May, I am beginning to wonder if it is worth it. The years are definitely catching up with me. Now, I know there are people who are saying at this very moment, "Old at 49?!? Give me a break."

Just remember this, it’s not the age, it’s the miles. I look back on some of the more stupid things I have done and I wonder just exactly what was I thinking? One thing I know, it sure did seem like a good idea at the time!

I wasn’t a bad kid; I just managed to get hurt a bunch of times.

It’s a combination of old injuries and plain old age that is my problem now. My worn out ankles and knees I’m used to so I can handle the pain from them. I have been kicked by cows, stepped on by cows, bitten on the finger by calves still in the cow, thrown from horses, bitten by dogs, cut with a pocket knife a million times, bashed so many fingers and thumbs I’ve lost count. I have broken an arm and almost lost my left eye from an angry cow. But all of this I’m used to; they are injuries I’ve had for years and they are almost like old friends. (They tell me when the Resurrection comes, we’ll get a new body that doesn’t have all the old damage. If so, I won’t know how to act, assuming I make the cut.)

What I can’t get over is how I just don’t have the stamina I used to have. When I was 19, I could exist on about six-and-a-half hours of sleep. I would work all day on the farm, quit at dark and then go help the neighbors load watermelons until midnight, just for the fun of it. I’d get home, grab a shower and go to bed and get up at five o’clock in the morning and do it all over again. Not anymore.

When I was in my 20s and even 30s, I could still hand-load about 700 square bales of hay, unload and stack them by myself.

I could outrun cows when I was tagging calves. Now I have to stand my ground and fight them because I cannot outrun them.

As I neared my mid-forties, I had to admit I was slowing down. It’s funny how when you are young, you think 50 is ancient, but as you get closer, it doesn’t seem that old. I turned 49 in May and reality set in. It really set in back during turkey season, a good four weeks before my birthday.

It all started on April 2nd. I have been hunting a particular turkey for three years. This bird had always managed to give me the slip. He was the boss tom and although he would come close when I called and he would enthusiastically answer me, he never showed himself. Many mornings I thought I had him only to have him hang up and eventually move off. Sometimes I felt as though I was running a turkey dating service as I watched a hen pass by me, wave her wing in thanks and go straight to the gobbler telling the world where he was and that he was available. I hunted and scouted, scouted and hunted, and finally developed a game plan to get him. He followed a pattern every morning and I knew within 100 yards where he would be at any given time between sunrise and 9 o’clock in the morning. The problem was he knew how to make me commit to a stand by making me think he was coming to me.

Finally, my time came and I was in the right place at the right time. I only called to him three series of yelps. The first was when he was way down in the woods and, when he answered, I just knew he was going to come. Of course, I had been there many times before over the past three years. He was about halfway between me and the hardwood bottom he started from, when he gobbled again. I gave him three or four soft yelps and he answered, this time much closer. I did just what all the books and magazines tell you to do, I shut up. It was just a few minutes and I saw him coming through the pines. He was about 40 yards out and made a cut to my right and, instead of coming to me, he was moving away from me. He was behind a youpon bush and I could see him, but not shoot him. He was one step away from an opening between another youpon bush. I yelped at him very softly another three times and he stepped into the small opening. My dad’s old Winchester thundered and just before the recoil I saw the underside of his wing, which told me he was down. I jumped to my feet and went to recover my bird. I had carpal tunnel surgery back in January and I still have problems putting weight on the palms of my hand…like when an old fat guy gets up off of the ground. If my hands hurt, I wasn’t aware of it. I got to my old bird and later measured his spurs at an even inch and a quarter. I admired his 9.5 inch beard and tried to guess his weight (18.5 pounds). I felt very satisfied with myself. I had gotten this turkey, with no help from anyone but the man above. I slung my turkey over my shoulder and started on the satisfying walk only a turkey hunter can appreciate.

It wasn’t long afterwards I was convinced I had shot the heaviest turkey ever killed. At least it felt that way. I had probably a half-a-mile walk to my truck and had to stop to rest twice. All of my clothes were soaking wet and I could hardly breathe. I was worn out. I was only 48 then.

Just a few weeks ago, my wife had me running a tiller at church to plant some shrubs and I literally thought I was going to die. I told her if this was what getting old was like, I’d just as soon die now and get it over with. I am now at the age where I cannot hear most of what is said to me and remember even less. Too many loud tractors and guns have made me half-deaf.

There are some benefits. I know a great many people who are way older than I am and I’ve always been a believer in, if someone has got enough sense to survive 70 or 80 years (or even more), they have earned the right to do some things the way they want to, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I feel as 50 nears, I deserve a few of those "survival perks."

One is that I refuse on or after my 50th birthday to ever pick up or even touch another square bale of hay. I just am not going to do it; I don’t care if the barn is on fire.

I am sure this list will grow as 2009 approaches. I’ll let you know.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.