Not too long ago it was common for nearly every family in a small community to hunt. So common that tales of adventures and experiences were a major subject at school after each weekend afield. Stories were typically told to see who wielded the best hunting skills in the class. During elementary years, abilities were evaluated on the number of dove, squirrel, duck, rabbit or quail in the game bag. These were the true main pursuits of an early education. Deer, scarcer in the 1960s and 1970s, were a whole different ballgame. If you killed a deer over the weekend, everyone knew it before school on Monday morning.
On Saturday, your prize and story of the hunt would be taken to the center of town for all to see and hear. The entire story would be told in detail, without being asked, to everyone. So proud you were to help put food on the family table and in the freezer. Everyone was proud for you, too, and envious. Anyone could shoot a squirrel or rabbit—but, a deer? Well, now you were becoming a hunter like your dad.
As a boy, you learned to tell the tale the way dad did. How you first found “sign” by following tracks on an old logging road into an oak flat. Those tracks lead to a line of “rubs” where you had proof positive a buck lived in the area and the area was “hot.” You found “scrapes,” small at first, then larger as you went, finally finding the perfect tree to lean your stand against as you prepared for the wait. Then, in the right place at the right time, you shot your prize and were forever to be remembered as a deer hunter in the annals of family and community. Reading the sign, and using your best woods sense taught by dad, you had outwitted a buck. Small game was exciting to pursue, but deer filled the freezer quicker.
Reading sign, tracking, being patient while learning to appreciate the smell of gun oil and burnt powder as it mingled with dad’s lessons permeate memories today. Finding your stand by following his lantern-lit footsteps in the predawn light during those first years, gaining the ability to stalk quietly and manage a gun safely are lessons learned of how we hunt. Walking beside dad while easing through early fall woods in pursuit of squirrel or wading with him through cold, black water for ducks are life experiences that keep us hunting.
It is not just the number of animals placed in a game bag or the size of antlers hung on a wall that counts toward one becoming a hunter, but also the quality of memories and lessons learned.
Dad taught us to hunt by providing those lessons and memories. He left those gifts for us to give to our children and to pass on to others. Though some hunting practices have changed, others have not. There are still logging roads holding sign to walk down, fall woods to slip through with quiet conversation, and a pool of cold, black water waiting for us. Share a hunting opportunity with someone else and help create memories for them.