Monday, August 17, 2009
Feeling Great About Life
Today was a great day to be alive. The air was pleasant at 7 a.m., and it’s that little touch of coolness that brings out strong urges for fall hunting.
The first of the autumn color will start showing up in another few weeks, and the color spectacle ripens like a tomato on the vine until it splashes forth in full glory. And then, as if a silent reminder to one and all, the color glows briefly, the leaves fall, and we are soon left with many months before fall color graces our lives again.
Today is the kind of day when I remove my Winchester 101 over-under from the gun safe, stroke the fine walnut stock, run a Hoppe’s No. 9 soaked patch through the barrel a few times even though it doesn’t need it. Hoppe’s No. 9, with just one whiff of this famous odor, is enough to bring back a half-century of wing-shooting memories.
I remember my first rooster pheasant exploding in my face from a Genesee County cornfield, and it rose, wings cupping the air, and cackling like some poor demented soul, and my shotgun barrel pushed ahead of the bird. I kept the barrels swinging, and down he came.
Close examination of that pheasant’s feathers, the bone-white ring around its neck, the glistening red head, and oh, those long barred tail feathers. This was a bird as beautiful as an autumn sunset.
Quick to mind came a memory of Fritz, a German shorthair pointer of mine, that was steady to wing and shot, and came with a snuffling nose that could ferret out pheasant scent like a Hoover vacuum chasing dirt. That dog could hunt for me, for the neighbor kids, and if a rooster existed, he could find it, work it into a corner, where the only possible opportunity for escape was to flush.
He and I were a pretty good team. He’d point them, and I’d shoot, and if he was of a mind to do so, he would retrieve. Most times, he’d lead me to the bird, and work off to find another one. My job, apparently because I shot it, was to pick it up. He was too busy hunting to care.
Back to the forefront of my memory was a dandy 8-point buck I shot on Oct. 2 last year. I was hunting from a pit blind, and it was a day much like today. Two bucks showed up, and there was an 8-point and a 10-point, and they began getting pretty wound up. Heads would drop, and together they would come, antlers clashing as they pushed each other back and forth. They kept at it for 15 minutes, and the smaller buck was as strong as the bigger one, and they raged on.
I had the chance on a dozen occasions to shoot the 8-point but kept holding out for the 10-point. The problem was the larger buck was quartering toward me all the time while his sparring partner was quartering-away. Both were wonderful bucks, and the distance was 12-15 yards. I finally gave in to temptation, and when they separated and both stood 10 feet apart, their chests heaving from the exertion, I drew, aimed and shot the big 8-pointer. He ran 40-50 yards before dropping.
Days like today bring back memories of many days spent hunting ducks. Those days with hard stiff winds, lowering skies, and a breeze with a bite to it. The ducks would come like feathered speed demons, screaming in low over the cattails before flaring up, turning into the wind, and pitching into the decoys.
I can remember the days before the point system began. There were ducks a hunter could shoot, and some w couldn’t. We knew how many birds we could take, and we went about our business in a methodical fashion. The shooting was good some days, poor on others, but there were real duck hunters in those potholes. If they worked a bird, and it passed over us, we would let it go and they would do the same for us. Now, it seems that it’s every man for himself and duck hunting is much the poorer for that stupid reasoning.
Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end, but sadly, many of them have. I hunt daily now, not so much to feed my family as I did before, but to experience the glory of the outdoors.
There were fewer anglers and hunters back then, more room to move around in, and sportsmen respected each other. Some of that still exists among the older hunters, but some young hunters need to spend time with an old-timer and learn about peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.
Days like this morning bring a flood of memories. And oddly enough, most of them are absolutely wonderful. It’s not all about fish caught or game killed, but it’s more about just being there to experience the day.