The End (of Hunting Season) is Near


Arthur Farrell tottered back and forth on his heels, watching the rain outside wash away another deer season in his beloved Tennessee. Coffee steamed his glasses and bacon popped in the pan. Earlier, when he’d gone out to retrieve some eggs from the chicken coop, 13 does stood grazing in a winter wheat field just beyond the barn. They know the pressure is off, he thought.

But just because deer season in Tennessee is over doesn’t mean there aren’t other opportunities for Arthur to hunt. Or hell, to fish. Even though the usually peaceful Elk River was a torrent of mud and water at the moment, the southeast abounds with bountiful rivers where trout are caught year round. Pretty soon, even spring would arrive, bringing the world back to life—the dogwoods blooming, trees turning their new leaves, bream moving to bed, and best of all, turkey season, which reminded Arthur of a news article he’d read recently that raccoons and opossums were realized as eminent threats to the turkey population, what with the varmints raiding the nests for the succulent eggs.

Arthur had accidentally bush-hogged over a nesting hen some years before, killing the poor mother of several, but salvaging about a half dozen of her eggs. Two of these he’d saved for himself, and delicious in the pan they were. Four he’d taken to a local man who had an incubator. Three of those four grew up to be strong and healthy birds and actually roosted in the man’s front yard once they were old enough to be out on their own.

As the rain continued pattering the tin roof, Arthur began to plan the rest of January. The month was by now more than halfway over, but outdoor adventures abounded with duck season in Arkansas a couple weeks shy of concluding, as well as deer season in Alabama. Even though he wasn’t quite so certain he wanted to deer hunt much more, the idea of another cooler full of tender cube steak from his favorite processor was almost more enticement than he could stand. In fact, shortly before his latest departure, his son, Jack, had cooked up a couple packs in the easiest way possible. He simply coated the strips with olive, salt, pepper, and Montreal steak seasoning, then pan seared them at very high heat—so high you’d want good ventilation in your kitchen or goggles. After about a minute on each side and they were a perfect pink in the middle. Damn, they were fine, he thought, wondering aloud who might let him come deer hunting one last time.

Of course the allure of wingshooting always appealed to Arthur more so than anything else. “You can have your deer hunting,” he would often say to his son, “I’ll take cuttin’ feathers any day!” He often retold the story of how he and Jack had hunted one morning with his dentist over near Scottsboro in North Alabama. A flight of mallards came in right at dawn and Arthur claims to have watched Jack shoot one particular greenhead, as he had taught him to try and let the Susies, whose motherly parts are the gateway to the population, go unimpeded. The duck dropped at the report and another hunter went to collect the duck, picking up Jack’s alleged greenhead in the process and hooping and hollering like a slobbering fool that the duck was banded—with a Jack Miner band, at that! Miner was a waterfowl conservationist and one of the first to band ducks and geese at his Ontario farm in the early twentieth century, inscribing each band with a Bible verse, which in essence became his signature. But that’s another story. Neither Arthur nor Jack ever said a word to the near-minded nitwit that claimed the duck, as they were guests at someone else’s camp. Jack’s still not so sure he actually shot that mallard, but who’s to say?

Lost in thought, Arthur forgot about the sizzling bacon that was now extra crispy in the pan, but would still go just fine with a couple of fried eggs and toast. The latest report from friends and Ducks Unlimited claimed the birds were sitting happily down in the Mississippi Delta. That was, of course, before the behemoth of a winter storm cruised through the Midwest and Southeast, driving temperatures down into single digits. Perhaps they dusted off their Spanish-speaking lips and headed even further south. Of course, sitting in the duck blind and around camp is about more than the killing of ducks. The club near Brinkley, Arkansas, where Arthur is a member, also includes some of his closest friends who he’s hunted with for a decade or more. In fact, two of the stately gentleman had coached Jack’s baseball team some years back, but that, too, is another story.

For now, though, with breakfast minutes away and the rain continuing to fall, Arthur feels content in his cozy cabin in the hills of southern Tennessee. There is firewood aplenty; the cabinets bugle with bone-warming brown water and the freezer contains enough meat to feed a small army. Why hurry? Less than two weeks to go, but it doesn’t have to start today.

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