December 2005
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

 November is probably the best month of the year to the adult Southern male in Alabama. November is the month of deer season, Iron Bowl and all the turkey and dressing you can eat.

Just when it seems that November cannot get any better, you realize that opening day of deer season and the Iron Bowl are on the same Saturday. Talk about going to bed on Friday with visions of sugarplums!! Some years it is a wonder our wives don’t send us to bed with a lump on our head from our sleeping bat, er, pill.

The opening of deer season is just about the greatest day of the year to me, it was a day that I didn’t think could get any better. Opening day of deer season is kind of like the first day of football season in that all teams are equal.

Before sun up, the big deer are still walking. As sunrise approaches you still have the confidence that not only might this be the year you kill "The Big One" but that this is going to be the best day to do it. Things will only get worse from here on down. The deer will get smarter, the weather will get colder, the stand seat will get harder and the hours of sleep will become less and less.

But on opening day, none of this matters. As I have said before, most of the male population around here spends 70 days hunting deer and 295 days talking about it.

For many years I figured that it would be hard to improve opening day of deer season, but I was wrong. I became a father on January 23rd, 1995. My deer hunting buddies told me that I had shot hunting the peak of the Alabama rut forever. They said that now instead of sitting in a deer stand watching trophy buck after trophy buck chase does past my stand until I decided to take one of them, I would be sitting at Chuckie Cheese, or at least at home, listening to screaming children, putting up with doting grandparents and a nagging wife forever. Yep, they predicted right, hunting the rut was over for me until college and the child left home.

I refused to give up hope. As the first birthday came around I was able to stay and celebrate for a couple of hours because the baby didn’t really know what was going on and didn’t really care what she got as presents. The grandparents wore out early and were happy just sitting around sipping coffee with my wife. When the "down time" hit, I was out the door and gone to the woods. That time proved that if you sit around and whine enough, your wife will be glad to let you go hunting.

As the years progressed, my daughter started going hunting with me.

Taking a child hunting is a big, royal, inconvenient pain in the backside, and I recommend it to everyone.

Probably the best thing about it for me was that I now truly appreciate my father taking me fishing with him when I was a kid. Kids just don’t understand what a chore it is for an adult to get them ready, get them set up, get their snack, assure Mom that they won’t get shot or freeze to death.

In the woods I have had to try to teach my daughter to go to the bathroom in the bushes (and not being real sure how women do it anyway), carved a spoon for her pudding snack, listened to a thirty minute lecture on how twirling a oak leaf with a pine needle jammed through it can call deer, and tried to explain that: no Daddy cannot shoot a deer with you on his shoulder.

I had no idea what Dad had to go through, but I am glad he did. Those are some of my best memories of my Dad. I now realize how easy it is to get out of taking my child to the woods. The excuses are ready made and believable and partly true.

But the memories are unbelievable. We have seen turkeys, hawks attacking squirrels, lizards and birds of every shape and size. We have heard turkeys fly down from the trees, a doe snort, and a hawk’s cry as he soars over a clear cut at sunup. Last year is when my daughter heard for the first time the crack of dawn and now she knows what it means.

By far though, the neatest thing I have ever heard on a hunting trip with my daughter was on a rainy, windy, cold Butler County day. We had been sitting on a food plot watching an old doe that was being way too cautious. Had we wanted to harvest her, we could have done so several times and she never would have seen it coming. Eventually the old girl winded us and took off as though the devil was after her. We sat there getting colder and wetter and we never saw another deer that day.

That’s when my daughter looked at me and said, "Well Daddy, we didn’t get a deer, but it sure beat sitting at home watchin’ TV."

That it did Savannah, that it did.

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