December 2006
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

By the time this publication is printed, deer season will be in full swing. When I think of deer season, many things come to mind. When I wake up early in the morning of a hunting trip and go to wake my daughter, my thoughts invariably turn to my father. I remember the early mornings we would be awakened by dad to go hunting or fishing. Dad was one that told you one time to get out of bed. If you didn’t do it, the next thing you would hear would be your head hitting the floor as he drug you out of bed. I am the one at home that has to wake my daughter up every morning for school and that can be a chore. Parenthood is very interesting when, as the years go by, you begin to sound and act like both your mother and your father and you gain an appreciation for some of the things they used to say to you when you were a child. It can take forever to get my eleven year old out of bed Monday through Friday, but when I say the magic words, "Wake up, its time to go huntin’." She bails out of bed like something bit her. I was the same way.

If she is slow I tell her that I’m getting ready to leave and if she doesn’t get up she can stay home and play with the dogs, she kicks it into high gear and gets ready. I am almost dreading the day when I have to wait for her to put on her makeup, her mama says its coming and I think we are close.

Waking up those early, cold Wyoming mornings is a memory I will cherish forever, even though most Wyoming mornings are cold. About the only time dad ever wore jeans was when we went hunting or fishing. He had a red and black plaid shirt, his hunting boots and, of course, the knife. On his hip he always carried his Air Force survival knife. I don’t know if it was issued to him and it just kind of retired with him, but my brother has it now and just to see it is to conjure up dreams of rainbow trout and the bull elk dad never got to kill. The house smelled of eggs and grits. We probably had the only grits in the state of Wyoming. Dad had them imported by his mother from Alabama, special delivery. I am not sure about the only grits in the state, but I feel fairly confident that we had the only collard patch. Once again, grown from seeds lovingly sent from Alabama.

Anyway, mom would usually pack us a lunch the night before, constantly reminding everyone not to wake her up at 3:00 in the morning. Dad would get us fed breakfast and we would get loaded up.

On the way to where we were going, we would start asking for the hunting stories. And we would get them. Dad comes from a long line of storytellers. Nothing in our family can be told without a story to tell it. You cannot just tell some one what just happened, you have to tell every event that led up to the occurrence in great detail. You have to put the listener there with you on the scene whether it’s the shooting of a trophy animal or watching someone run a stoplight.

Dad had every type of hunting story you could imagine but his fishing tales were the best. I guess it was because he really enjoyed fishing. He would tell you what he was thinking and his strategy about which dry fly he was using and which rock he placed it behind to catch that eight-pound Brown Trout up in the old beaver pond. Given enough time, he would educate you as to the experiences that led to him using that particular dry fly and how many fish he had caught behind that same rock.

My brother and I had our favorite stories and mine was one he told that had come from a buddy of his that worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

This guy told dad that he regularly worked a game check station that I would imagine not only checks to be sure hunters are harvesting the legal limit and only legal animals but also to gather harvest information valuable to wildlife management. He told dad that they saw it all at those check stations. One of the wardens had a bird dog that used to run loose at the station. They had a guy come in from pheasant hunting and he showed them the birds he had killed and he and his companions had the legal limit of three roosters each. They were about to let him pass when they noticed the bird dog was locked up on point at one of the tires. Seeing this as highly unusual, they investigated and found three hens inside the hubcap. Checking the others, they found each hubcap contained more hens. This was not good.

As he would be telling this part, our mouths were watering for the conclusion of the story. Here it comes so get ready……

After rambling through various game violations over the years, he came to the case of the northern hunter that had come west to kill a moose. This gentleman came through the check station and he had his quarry field dressed and tagged. I am sure he was glowing with pride; a Yankee city slicker had come out here and showed these Wyoming cowboys how to kill a moose! At first glance, they thought he had killed a cow moose because although he had a carcass, he had no antlers and you just cannot miss the antlers on a moose. Upon closer examination, they found that he had successfully stalked, shot field dressed, tagged and transported a Missouri Elk. A Missouri Elk to you and me here in the South is a mule. They tried to explain to the man that he had shot a mule but he insisted that it was a bull moose. To make a long story short, some how they managed to locate the owner of the mule and compensate him and the guy from up North got to take his "moose" home. In the story, my dad’s friend would always chuckle and say how he would love to see that guy and his mule head mounted on the wall of his trophy room.

Dad always wondered what it was like to eat an entire mule all the while thinking it was moose.

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