December 2009
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

A couple of weeks ago I was minding my own business when I happened to be watching an older gentleman of high regard doing a small task with his hands. As I stood there watching him, I noticed time had crept into his hands and there was a slight tremor that was barely visible. There was, or rather is, nothing wrong with this gentleman that could not be fixed by a good dose of "being younger."

As usual, I suddenly found myself thinking of things totally unrelated to what was going on at the time. My last thought before coming back to the task at hand was, I wondered how in the world he could hit anything with a rifle if his hands were shaking that way. Later on, I boarded this train of thought and let it carry me on a long journey.

After determining this fellow would have a hard time hitting a stationary target, I told myself to remember how lucky I am my hands do not shake and my marksmanship hasn’t gotten any worse since turning 50 years old; it also hasn’t gotten much better either for that matter.

As I struggle to line up the front and rear sights on an open-sighted rifle with my bifocal glasses, I begin to see time is catching up with me. Last year, I took my daughter dove hunting and had one heck of a time finding the fast-moving birds, my old tired eyes just couldn’t make them out anymore. I heard the other hunter’s guns going off but just never saw the birds.

I sat there still watching those hands tremble, and a little voice kept telling me to be thankful it hadn’t happened to me yet. Sure rifles are a little heavier, hills are a little steeper, the days are a little colder, the bed feels better at four or five in the morning, but ain’t it a great way to spend a day, a weekend, a week or even a whole season?

My advice to myself and to my fellow hunters is to appreciate the days afield we are granted.

Thank goodness my hands are not shaking to the point where I cannot hit a deer with a rifle. Thank goodness I live in a country where I can still spend hours upon hours in the woods pursuing game animals. Thank goodness I have places where I can go to enjoy being outdoors.

I cannot imagine the torment life would be if I were unable to hit the woods each fall and spring and go hunting.

So once again to you younger hunters and fishermen out there, every day you are able to do what you love, remember to appreciate it one day at a time and give thanks you are able to go outdoors because there may be a time when you cannot.

The more I thought about this situation and reminded myself in many ways how lucky I was and how terrible it would be not to be able to go out into the woods, my mind wandered even further off the path and I started trying to figure out how I had fallen in love with the outdoors and when it had happened. I cannot remember a time where I didn’t want to go hunting. Suddenly it hit me. I realized where all of my enthusiasm had come from. For years I thought it was just something I was born with that had developed from reading hunting magazines and such. I was wrong; it was something much closer and larger.

It was my Dad. The following list is probably similar to most outdoor folks.

Dad:

- Helped me catch and land my first fish.

- Took me hunting for the first time.

- Taught me how to eat a bologna sandwich on the bank of a creek.

- Taught me how to bait a hook.

- Taught me how to cast a fishing pole.

- Taught me how to shoot a rifle.

- Taught me how to sharpen a knife.

- Taught me how to shoot a squirrel.

- Taught me how to dress a squirrel.

- Told me how proud he was with my first deer.

- Taught me how to "skull" a jon boat.

- Taught me ethics.

- Taught me a good hunter never shoots game he doesn’t intend to eat.

- Taught me a good hunter and a good fisherman never break the game laws.

- Taught me how to be a man.

- Taught me how to be a father.

There are many milestones in my outdoor adventures that Dad never got to see. He never got to see the big ten-point buck I killed in 2003. He never got to see that first turkey I killed. He never got to see the first turkey I called and killed all by myself. He never got to hear me call a turkey. I never got to make him a turkey call. He missed seeing his only granddaughter kill her first deer. He never got to see her pull in her first fish or watch her bait her first hook. He never got to tell her all of his hunting and fishing stories. He never got to show her what great bait Catawba worms are. I have spent countless hours in the woods since he passed away and he missed all of them.

So my second bit of advice to the younger hunters out there is to appreciate every single minute in the woods with YOUR dad because someday, he won’t be there and hunting with ghosts isn’t nearly as much fun, but there will come a day when its all you’ve got until its your turn to be Dad.

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