June 2007
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

At this writing, turkey season has just closed and I must say that it has been a very satisfying season for me. I managed to bag two gobblers, which was unthinkable for me just a few years ago. With deer season long gone and turkey season just ending, I took some time Sunday afternoon to unload all of my hunting gear from the truck.

As I dug through all of the accumulated clothes, bullets, knives, scents, hats, hand warmers, binoculars and unloaded them for the trip into the house, I paused with each one to savor the last time I used it. The binoculars, for example, were last used to look at a turkey out in the middle of a fresh planted cotton field. My hunting knife was last used to clean that doe I took on the last day of the season. My insulated hat was used that one cold hunt in January. I finally found that bottle of cover scent I had been looking for and I knew that I bought two boxes of shells before deer season.

I got all of my junk into the house and ceremoniously hung my shotgun on the wall, then headed for the dirty clothes hamper to deposit my dirty camouflage. As I sorted through the clothes to separate November’s flannel from April’s lighter weight stuff, I reflected again on each item of clothing as I tossed it into the hamper and a thought came to me.

We talk, read and write about some of the best hunting buddies we ever had but we all forget about some of the most faithful hunting partners that we could not do without. These partners are the equipment we use. This stuff never complains about how tired they are, how cold it is or how early in the morning it is.

Ever since I was a child I was (and still am) bad about anthropomorphizing (my dad paid Auburn University a lot of money so I could learn how to use that word) both animals and objects. I was born the son of one of the worst pack rats there ever was. Where dad would pick stuff up out of the middle of the road or keep things because he never knew when he would need that very item, I tend to keep things I don’t need because I’ve had it a long time. It just doesn’t seem fair to reward years of faithful service to an object that is now useless by throwing it into the trash. I have a broken rifle scope and at least one broken hunting knife.

I have lost things I am convinced are sitting wherever they ended up missing their family.

The one thing I have the hardest time getting rid of is my old hunting clothes. As they head to either the trash can or Goodwill, I start to remember the good times we had roaming the woods after all sorts of game.

I am currently in possession of the best pair of hunting pants I have ever had. I’m not even sure how old they are, but they have many seasons behind them. They no longer have a button to hold them closed but have a key ring and a spring clip in the holes where the button used to be. They have a patch on the seat and numerous scars from many a hunting trip. I can look at these camo jeans and they tell me stories. I look at them and I see the tears, now repaired by my wonderful wife, which I got from mesquite trees on a south Texas deer hunting trip. That hole in the seat came from an encounter with a barbed wire fence somewhere on a hunting trip. I see blood stains from the big buck I killed several years ago.

To my wife’s thinking, they are worn out and need to be discarded. I have a totally different line of thinking. She sees one of the nastiest pairs of pants in existence, where I see a grizzled old hunting partner that needs to be retired as opposed to being destroyed. She thinks I need a new pair, whereas I dread testing the luck of a new pair.

Not only do I give these items of clothing human characteristics, I also am very superstitious as to whether or not they are lucky. If you do not believe this, just ask the people I hunt with.

If I have a piece of clothing that I have never killed a deer while wearing, it no longer is part of my gear. When I am going on a big hunting trip, I promise you there is not one item I take with me without it being used or worn in the harvest of a game animal, preferably the species I am after.

Occasionally, this can backfire on me. I once bought my daughter a new pair of hunting boots. She wore them on opening day of deer season that year and I was worried that they might not be lucky. I told her I sure hoped that we got them bloody on this trip to be sure they had some luck. We killed a doe that morning and after we had it, I caught her grabbing the deer by the ears and letting blood drip all over her new boots. When I asked her what in the world she was doing, (not sure about this one) and trying to figure out what excuse I was going to give her mother, she calmly explained to me that I had told her we needed to get some blood on the new boots. Getting blood off of a new pair of boots before you get home is almost as hard as getting magic marker off the television screen before mom gets home…. or so I hear.

I think I have found a way to get rich. If there are more hunters out there like me, then I can make a fortune manufacturing large picture type frames that will hold your retired hunting clothes. You’ve seen the type of thing I’m talking about in restaurants, those things they put famous football jerseys in, so you can see them and preserve them.

Instead of tossing your old buddies in the trash, they could have the noble and honorable retirement they deserve. I’d better get going on this before my wife declares my stuff D.O.A. and has the remains cremated because they are unidentified.

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