August 2007
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

My father has always been influential on my outdoor experiences. Both my brother and I were Boy Scouts and Dad was involved as a scoutmaster and taught us, and other boys, how to pitch a tent, build a fire, use a knife and ax and then how to administer first aid as a result of using an ax or knife.

Dad taught both of us how to shoot, clean game, cast a rod, bait a hook and many other things I didn’t realize until I started to show my daughter how to do some of these things.

As I have stated before, Dad was a fisherman first and an on-again, off-again bird hunter; big game didn’t thrill him at all. Small game such as squirrels and rabbits weren’t interesting to him probably because he had to eat so many of them when he was a child. However, my brother and I both got into deer hunting and we did everything we could to get Dad to go deer hunting with us. Finally, one year we talked him into it. In our minds, this was going to be the trip of a lifetime and, while a lot of expense was spared, no effort was too great to make sure Dad had a good time.

The first concern was weapons. Dad was of the opinion the only deer killer in the south was a shotgun; rifles were for "Out West" where you had to shoot long distances. The only rifles we had were mine and my brother had his, but the one dad could use was his old WW I era .30/06 that hadn’t been shot in years. To Dad it wasn’t a problem, he had his old double-barreled shotgun he had killed his first turkey with as a child and as long as he could buy buckshot, he had a deer gun.

The next thing was transportation and lodging. My brother had an S.U.V. that at the time was considered the national vehicle of Texas and would hold most of what all three of us owned. Dad announced there was no way he was going to sleep in a tent. My brother had a friend who loaned him a small travel trailer that would pull behind his S.U.V. just right.

Food was no problem, so now we just had to keep Dad entertained. I knew he would bring along his fishing rod just in case he had a chance to fish in one of the farm ponds on the place we were going. I knew there were no bass in the ponds, so I made sure we had a bag of smelly catfish bait for him to use.

There was no doubt in my mind that eventually he would find a way to go fishing and leave us in the woods.

The day arrived and we set out for Dale County. We got to our destination with no hitches and things looked great.

As we bedded down for the night, we hear a rumble from the skies; and one of the worst storms I have ever seen assaulted the little travel trailer we stayed in that night, and I have been through almost every hurricane since Camille while living less than ten miles from the Gulf of Mexico! As we lay there in that rocking trailer with rain sounding like bird shot hitting the side, the discussion worked its way around to whether or not the weather would be fit for hunting the next day. Dad didn’t really care, my brother was convinced it wouldn’t be worth the time and I was equally convinced that rain was the best deer hunting weather you could ask for. Finally we went to sleep.

We woke to a clear, cold Wiregrass morning and I knew it was going to be good.

We got Dad up and as we dressed in our cold weather gear and camo, Dad put on his clothes that weren’t anything close to concealing, much less camouflage and topped it off with a golf cap that had a little white ball on the crown. I was shocked!

We set off for the woods and hunting.

I went to my favorite spot and had to cross a small creek I had crossed dozens of times in the past. The previous night’s rain had swollen the creek, but not to the point where someone who knew where the rocks and stumps were couldn’t cross it without getting wet.

Unfortunately, I had neglected to bring a pair of rubber boots with me; fortunately, my brother brought an extra pair so I had them on. Now, my big brother, although not much taller than I, has big feet, either that or I have very small feet; suffice it to say, the boots were way too big. I didn’t worry about it because I wasn’t going on an around-the-world hike, just a little deer hunting until things dried up some.

As I was saying, I crossed the creek and went to my stand. After several hours with no luck, I decided to call it a morning and went to meet up with my hunting partners.

When I got to the creek (that I had already crossed) I saw Dad’s little white fuzzy ball above the dog fennels and whistled to him to let him know it was me. He walked over to me and, from his side of the creek, told me that it was pretty deep where I was getting ready to cross. (Remember, I had already crossed there a few hours before.) He had watched some cows cross and it was knee deep to them. I failed to think about how far a cow’s knee is above the ground, but he had a solution. I asked what and he showed me a log across the creek that, in his opinion, would make a great "footlog" to cross on. Against my better judgment and as a good son that trusted his father to never tell him anything that would bring him harm, I crossed the creek on the log.

I never made it to the other side. While my previous crossing spot was knee deep to a cow, this spot was almost over my head. Somehow I managed to keep my rifle dry and slog the one hundred yards or so to the spot, you guessed it, where I had crossed before to get out.

The whole time, Dad is following me along the bank, perfectly dry, mind you, laughing.

I tried to explain to him, with as few curse words as I could, that laughing at your wet, cold son while he is holding a loaded, dry rifle might not be wise.

I emerged from the creek to find out that as cold as the water was, the air was colder.

We had all agreed to meet up at a catch pen in the woods at a certain time and that time was upon me and Dad, so we set off for the pen, which wasn’t too far away, fortunately.

We got there in just a few minutes and it wasn’t very long till my brother arrived. He walked up and immediately asked what had happened to me. The look I gave Dad got him started laughing all over again and by the time he had paused several times to catch his breath while telling the story, my brother was laughing as hard or harder. Once again, I felt it was my duty to point out to them, using a minimum of curse words, that they were lucky that not only was I a good son and brother, blessed with a wonderful sense of humor and filled with both paternal and fraternal love for my closest blood relatives, but that I had a single shot rifle and there were two of them, laughing at a cold, wet person. It was not a wise thing to do.

After what seemed like several hours as opposed to minutes, the laughing subsided and we had decided to walk back to the truck and consider our next move. Dad suggested that I dump the water out of my borrowed boots before we walked the mile or so back to the truck. I followed his advice and sure enough, when I had dumped out the first boot and put it back on, things were better. I removed the second boot and emptied it as well.

Although my foot was soaked, I didn’t want to put my foot down on a bunch of mud and manure (usually found in most cattle catch pens) and tried balancing on one foot while dumping the boot. I lost my balance and, as I was trying to regain it, I heard the sound of laughter. Finally, I had to put my foot on the ground to keep from falling.

My brother was laughing hard and was trying to tell me something, but he couldn’t get it out. He swears that he was trying to tell me not to step on the board with nails in it. Of course, I did. The laughter grew worse/louder. This time I spared no curse words, all the ones I knew and some I made up; each one only fanned the flames. The madder I got, the more they laughed. I told them fine, they could laugh all they wanted and that I would meet them back at the truck. My departure only made things worse.

To hear my brother tell it, there is nothing as funny as watching your cold, wet, injured little brother limp off as mad as a hornet and knowing that you had absolutely nothing to do with it except as a witness. I would say priceless instead of funny; but as it turned out, this was the last time we three would get to spend time as a father and his two sons because Dad passed away the next summer.

I got pay back, though, the next year. I allowed my brother to talk me into going to Texas deer hunting and we took Dad’s precious compact pickup truck and almost burned up the clutch; but that is another story.

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