November 2008
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

As I always do when the weather breaks from summer into fall, I mentally go through my hunting equipment list to make sure I know where everything is and whether or not I need to replace something I either lost or didn’t work last year. Invariably my thoughts stray to memories of past hunting trips. This year, I kept up my familiar routine and for some reason I began to think of some of the more stupid things I’ve done in the pursuit of game and fish.

We’ve all done things we shouldn’t have when we were younger and usually in the long run they turn out to be character builders, assuming nobody got hurt or we didn’t get thrown in jail.

Then there are the things that are just plain stupid. You know the things that there is no way you can justify what you did other than realizing you were just not paying attention or just had a stupid moment. In my case, it usually involves being stubborn or losing my temper.

Every once in a while it’s different. Take the case of something I said to my dad once while he was whipping me with a peach limb. Dad had the ability to whup you and hold a conversation with you, simultaneously. I had done something I deserved punishment for, I can’t remember what it was mainly because the list is so long and complex, and while the punishment was being carried out dad asked me what I was thinking when I did what I did. I cannot remember what I had done to receive a switching, but I do remember the answer I gave. I told him at the time it just seemed like the thing to do. Wrong answer.

Anyway, sometimes our stupidity is just the result of "it seems like the thing to do at the time."

My brother and I used to go hunting over in Dale County and one time I did something I feel was really stupid and I feel guilty about it to this very day and I don’t think I ever told my brother about it.

It was a misty November morning and we were hunting an area on the Choctawhatchee River and there was not a deer moving. I decided to leave my stand a little early and walk around a little. I was wearing my hunter orange and the only other person in the area was my brother and he is a very safe hunter, so I wasn’t worried about getting accidentally shot. I knew where Jeff was sitting so I reflexively knew not only to stay away but also not to shoot in that direction. As I topped a hill there about a million yards away was a deer. I took a rest, aimed and shot. The deer was so far away I saw the bullet hit the dirt and throw up dust. Of course, the deer took off and, as I chambered another round, it hit me my brother was somewhere beyond where I had just shot. I just sat down in a cold sweat. I had violated one of my father’s main rules, "Never shoot in the direction of where you know there is a person."

I had no excuse, it was just plain stupid.

The November after dad passed away, my brother and I went to the Texas Hill Country on a deer-hunting trip. He had lived in the San Antonio area while he was in the Air Force and had many friends. One of these friends owned some land in the Hill Country. Jeff talked to him and he invited us out to hunt. Needless to say, we took him up on it.

So, we loaded up in my late father’s economy class mini-pickup and headed for Texas. Eight hours later, we made it to Houston. We decided get our hunting licenses when we stopped for dinner. I shelled out 200 bucks for a hunting permit. For a person from Alabama, paying more than 20 dollars for a hunting license was unheard of back then, but hey, it was Texas. We loaded back up and headed for "San Antone" as they say in country music. I don’t know how far it is from Houston to there but I know that it’s a long way. We arrived at Jerry’s house, loaded up again and headed for Burnett. (It’s LBJ country for those who care or remember who LBJ was.) On the way, we saw bunches of deer on the side of the road.

After going through 11 gates, we finally arrived at the "mountain." Some of you might remember many years ago, an auto manufacturer had a commercial that had their "tough pickup" climbing a pile of concrete blocks. That is what this "hill" looked like. We were climbing it with my dad’s pride and joy truck — a little standard shift with a four-cylinder diesel engine. Lets just say, we really tested the clutch that night. Finally, we made it to the top and our Texas adventure would begin at dawn. After we got settled in, the guy who owned the place told me not to take the first deer I saw. He said this 425 acres was a corridor for deer traveling from the feeding areas to their bedding areas and that usually, the biggest movement was around 8:00 in the morning. Before sunrise, they sent me to what they considered as the hot spot. I found my stand and waited for sunrise. Just as it became bright enough to see really well, I detected movement to my right. I slowly swiveled my head in that direction and close enough for me to smack with my rifle was one of the biggest does I have ever seen. She was moving slowly and cautiously, unaware of my presence. I shouldered my rifle and was preparing to shoot when I heard the words, "Don’t shoot the first one you see."

I passed on the deer. After about an hour, I heard my brother shoot a couple of times. After a few minutes, knowing that my brother doesn’t miss, I decided to go and see what he had gotten. As I neared his stand, I saw a nice four-point lying on the ground. But my brother was nowhere around. This seemed strange to me. I started to walk back to the cabin and he appeared with the truck. I asked him if he knew he had a dead deer behind his stand. He was coming to get it with the truck. As he was taking care of his buck, I decided to sit in his stand and see if anything came by. I hadn’t been there five minutes when a nice yearling doe came by. She was not running but neither was she ambling, I sighted on her and once again passed on the shot because, "…there will be plenty of deer."

The long and the short of it was that we drove countless miles to Texas and back, spent 200 dollars on a hunting license, I had the opportunity to kill two deer and several hogs and I came back with nothing but memories of a fun trip.

I blame this only on myself, I was being stupid by not harvesting one of the two easy deer I saw that morning. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time.

This summer I did something I do believe may be the stupidest things I have ever done.

My daughter and I went fishing on a farm pond of one of our friends. Savannah agreed to go fishing with me that day only if we would leave by 5:30. I agreed since I didn’t really want to stay all that long myself. We got to the pond and within 15 minutes, I had caught a nice bass and put it on the stringer. Things went slow for about 45 minutes and then we had another one for the stringer. At about 5:15, she reminded me of the time. I told her to let me finish fishing the cast I had just made and we would clean the two we had and call it a day. As I was finishing up, I hung another one. It was a keeper. I had the bass in my left hand and was trying to untie the stringer with my right hand. Knowing that this wasn’t wise, I put down the fish in my hand and devoted both hands to the stringer. Somehow, I let go of the stringer. The two fish noticed it about the time I did. As they swam off, tied together, I dove into the pond trying to grab the loose end of the stringer. Needless to say, the fish were gone, destined to be together for life. I sure hope they were friends.

Losing the fish was just plain stupid, diving in after them…. just seemed like the thing to do at the time.

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