July 2006
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

I have spoken many times on how my father influenced my appreciation of the outdoors. Some of my earliest memories include hunting and fishing with dad in the mountains of southeast Wyoming and continue through my life including fishing in central Missouri to the Bon Secour River and salt water fishing in Baldwin County, Alabama.

One other person in my family that has made my time outdoors memorable is my dear brother. With five and a half years difference in age, we didn’t have a lot in common when we were growing up. Generally, when we were little, our trips to the outdoors with dad were usually solo trips because Dad didn’t want to spend all of his time refereeing his two sons.

When we became adults, we managed to find common ground in hunting, mainly deer hunting.

 Before Dad passed away, we all managed to get together for a deer hunting/catfishing expedition to Dale County. The plan was that my brother and I would go deer hunting and Dad would spend a few hours with his store bought catfish bait catching some channel cats from a farm pond.

My brother had borrowed a travel trailer from a friend of his and we had it parked in the barnyard of some wonderful friends that I had met while serving as a County Agent. My dad was fairly small in stature when compared to my brother and myself but even so, the little travel trailer was definitely filled to capacity when we decided it was time to hit the hay.

 Not ten minutes after lights out, it began to storm. The little trailer rocked and rolled to the beat of down pouring rain and crashes of thunder. My brother was grateful because the thunder at least drowned out the sound of my and dad’s snoring. We discussed how the drenching would change our plans for the next day and went off to sleep. We woke the next morning to cool weather and sunshine.

What later transpired that day is another story but suffice it to say that no deer were killed, no catfish were caught but a good time was had by all.

Later on, my brother and I would go to this same farm every opening weekend of deer season and our dear friends would allow us to go down into one large piece of property, pitch our tent and hunt deer. Many years, we wouldn’t take a thing, some years he would score and some years I would score. We didn’t take enough deer to make it routine but we did get enough to make it special.

One year, my brother had come off a horse and fractured his elbow. Very little ever kept us from our weekend in the deer woods. He busted his arm about two weeks before deer season and he put in the time trying to figure out how to shoot his rifle with a broken elbow. He called me to tell me that he had figured it out and the trip was a "go."

We loaded the Trooper and headed for Dale County. That afternoon, we set our stands. I helped him get his up in the tree and we were set.

Dawn found us nearly ready and I escorted him to his stand and watched him climb painfully to his seat. Then I made about three or four trips up and down the ladder stand hauling him his gear. Exhausted, I told him that he was not to get down because I wasn’t going to be there to help him back up. Surprisingly, he did what I told him to do.

I then headed off to my stand and waited for the deer to move.

Some time later, I don’t remember how long it was, I heard a shot ring out from his direction.

Now let me pause for a second and brag on my brother’s shooting abilities. When we were kids and in the Boy Scouts, he had every shooting award you can imagine. He even was a summer camp counselor as a young teenager working on the shooting range, where he was able to shoot constantly. In short, this man can shoot.

Small bore, large bore, handgun, it doesn’t matter. Whatever he points his weapon at and pulls the trigger, he hits. I have seen him kill a deer at over two hundred yards shooting with the opposite hand because the deer just wouldn’t step a little more to the right, I have seen him head shoot two running deer and drop them within five feet of each other. I swear to you this is all true with none of my usual "lily gilding."

So, when I hear him shoot, I know that he had more than likely got a deer on the ground. My first thought is to sit tight and hunt out the morning so I could get a deer. Then I thought of my poor brother sitting all alone in his stand knowing that he has a deer down and cannot climb from his stand to check it out. So, I decide to go and help him out.

I get there and sure enough he’s got one. Now I make three or four trips up and down the tree to move his stuff and then I get him down. We go find the deer and this has the makings of a great weekend.

Usually if we harvested a deer, we would hang it in camp and then load it on top of his Trooper to get it home. This was before the days of the little devices you put on the trailer hitch to hold stuff. Tossing a one hundred pound deer to the top of a small S.U.V. is no problem for two young, stout men but when one of them has a broken elbow, it becomes a problem.

Fortunately, we did not allow it to become a crisis because we both knew that it would be something to laugh about someday.

We had great times in those days. The tales we can tell are many. There was the time we trailed a deer for about a mile and a half through the woods; there also was the time we went to sleep and the temperature was in the sixties and when we woke up it was in the twenties.

With both of us having been Boy Scouts, we are no strangers to pitching tents in the dark, sleeping on rocks and roots, cooking on an open fire and just generally being miserable but still having a good time. We’ve gotten trucks stuck and un-stuck several times, we’ve frozen and sweated, been sick and well on our trips and we’ve always had fun. We even made a trip to Texas to hunt deer after Dad died and had a great time doing it.

We have introduced his two sons, my nephews, to hunting and given them a reason to be outdoors for more than earning a merit badge. We still try to go hunting together on opening day, but we just don’t seem to have the time we used to have. But we still manage it every now and then.

Although many times you might think that your appreciation for the outdoors comes from one or both of your parents, don’t forget your siblings.

Hunting adventures with my big brother are right up there with some of the best times I have had and yet we still haven’t gotten some pheasant, and our bull elk is still out there walking the Rockies where we dreamed about hunting when we were kids, waiting for us to come home.

Dad may not have been too impressed by deer hunting, he may have preferred fishing, but there is one thing I can guarantee – he would be darn proud of how we have taken the heritage he passed on to us and passed it down to our children. He would also love to have seen how excited we get when hunting season is near and we start thinking of hitting the woods. Dad would be proud of the fact that we enjoy hunting together not because we are friends, but because we are brothers and in some respects, we are one. Right Jeff?

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