January 2006
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground



 As one who eats, sleeps and breathes the outdoors, I asked myself why do we do it? If you hunt or fish, your outdoor experiences are usually ones of extremes.

If you hunt, you go out in the worst weather you can imagine on a regular basis. When the temperature is at its coldest, you can bet that somewhere, someone is out there hunting. When the temperature is mild, we are fighting the insects, all of which sting or bite. We hunt when it is raining because we know the deer still move in the rain. Most fishing takes place in the summer when, you guessed it, its hot and "buggy." I won?t even mention the people that ice fish up north.

Once again, why do we do it? In the old days, people hunted and fished in bad weather because they had to hunt to eat and hunger doesn?t care what the weather is like. Now days we have people that pay money to go to the Canadian forests to hunt whitetail deer in weather conditions that as an Alabamian I can?t even imagine. I saw some guys the other day on television hunting in Alaska and the mosquitoes were almost as large as the caribou they were hunting. I have seen saltwater fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico come in burned to a crisp. One thing all these people have in common is that they all have a smile on their face.

This leads me to one conclusion; we do it for the experience and the memories. I honestly cannot remember what I had for lunch yesterday but I can remember every detail of the time when I killed my first deer. I remember the date, what day of the week it was and what the temperature was. I can take you straight to the spot in Skipperville, Alabama, where I killed that deer. I remember the time of day and what the woods looked like on December 3, 1983. I can tell you every single detail of that day, but I have a hard time remembering to take my blood pressure medicine every morning.

There are some older memories from the outdoors that are still just as vivid. Almost all of them involve my father.

I remember going trout fishing with Dad when we lived in Wyoming back in the 1960s.

My dad loved to fish. He grew up in Northwest Florida and went fishing as often as he could. He would tell us stories of fishing with his mother and his grandparents.

Dad made sure that we went with him when he went fishing. I have made the comment before that only now can I truly appreciate what an effort it was for him to take my brother and me fishing with him. With a child of my own I understand how much trouble it is to get a child out of bed, get them ready and then having to bait hooks, feed them lunch, keep them occupied in the shooting house, teach them to cast a lure or shoot a rifle and answer an endless string of questions from wildlife management to what kind of person they are going to marry when they grow up.

As much as I cherish the memories of my own "grown up" experiences in the field, the ones that are rooted to my heart and soul are the ones I have from childhood and knowing how dear they are to me makes me try even harder to include my daughter in my outdoor activities.

I?ll give you an example of how these memories can last forever. When I was about six years old, my dad put a fishing pole in my hand for the first time. Until then my fishing trips consisted of going at night to the local city Rose gardens in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on night crawler hunting expeditions. We didn?t have wigglers in Wyoming. Dad would take us with him and with flashlights we would walk among the rose beds looking for worms that had crawled out of the mulch. Then we would go up to Pole Mountain in the Medicine Bow National Forest near Laramie and fish for cutthroat, rainbow and brook trout. Dad would fly fish, my brother would fish with the worms and mom would tie me to the bumper of the car (there are photographs to prove it).

Forty years ago, dad decided it was time for me to fish. We went and got our worms and the next day headed out to Pole Mountain.

My fishing pole was quite possibly the only cane pole in the state of Wyoming. My grandmother brought it with her from Lew Childre?s cane patch in Foley, Alabama. (I can only imagine the difficulty in hauling an eight or nine foot fishing pole 2000 plus miles in a car.)

I vividly remember dad telling me to get the cane pole the day before so we could rig it with line, shot, a bobber and a hook.

We got to the beaver pond and dad placed me on one side and my brother on the other. He baited my hook and flipped it out in the pond for me. He handed me the pole and told me to watch the bobber. He then made his way to the other side to help my brother get fishing but he never made it. I will never forget the tug of that trout when it hit that worm. It bent the pole almost in two and I remember calling out that I needed some help. Dad came back around the pond; never having made it to my brother, and helped me land the trout. He re-baited my hook and handed me the pole once again telling me to watch the bobber as he headed back to my brother. I watched that bobber for about ten seconds when it once again plunged into the depths of the beaver pond. Once again I called out that I needed some help. Once again dad interrupted his trip to my brother to come back and help me land my fish. We had two fish on the stringer and my poor brother hadn?t even gotten his hook wet.

I honestly do not remember whether we caught any more fish on that trip or not but I remember helping dad clean my fish and asking him thousands of questions about fish anatomy, fishing in general and many, many other things. I remember that both fish were female cutthroat trout and they were full of roe.

That fishing trip happened over 40 years ago. No photographs of my fish exist and my father has passed away but I remember that fishing trip as vividly as the day it happened. The moral to this story, take your children with you and you will be building them memories that will last their lifetimes and possibly longer. Your children will pass on their memories to their children and grandchildren and then they will get to know you long after you are gone.

I just wish I could remember where I put the remote control.

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