Very Long (6 pages) Hunting Story

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Feb 25, 2005
Very Long (2 posts) Hunting Story

A Hunter Is Born
The Hunt That Turned
A Boy Into A Man
by Glenn Bartley,

© October 30, 2005, all rights reserved; no portion of this work may be reproduced in any many (including electronic and digital) without the written permission of the author Glenn R. Bartley.

Yesterday, a new hunter was born. No not an infant child who will someday roam the woods or fields in search of prey but, a 15 year old boy who became a man – a real huntsman, on a late October day just a few days before Halloween. The father and the boy went afield to the hardwood forests of upstate New York where they had hoped to bag a few Gray Squirrels. The father had been to the spot a week before and had seen squirrel nests up in the trees and, he had seen lots of acorns on the ground. It had rained that day, pretty hard and the wind had howled and swayed the tree tops so the upper branches of one tree entwined with another. The smart fellow he is, Old Mr. Bushy Tail and his family had stayed holed up in their dens that day.

Yet on the day that the father and the boy arrived at the same forest, the rain wasn’t falling even though the cold gray clouds threatened above. There was a chill in the air made colder by a brisk wind and, there were small patches of white on the ground here and there but that did not deter the two as they entered the forests in the hope of bagging a few grays for the dinner table. They had traveled about 3 1/2 hours from their home to be here to hunt together and, the anticipation they both felt was strong. Each was eager, the boy to bag his first game and the father to be their with the boy when he did so. They had done this once before when time had allowed, about 2 years before in another forest closer to home. That time they had seen lots of deer sign and the boy learned about the way of the Whitetail a bit; about as much as one could learn in a one day squirrel hunt. He had also learned about the importance of being patient even though his nerves were tensed like a trigger spring in a cocked firearm. He learned a bit that day about how to keep his finger off of his own trigger - how to endure until he had hunted the good hunt and a shot finally presented itself. That day he had seen some squirrels too far off to attempt a shot so he had waited. Then he spotted one at near the limit of the workable range of the .22LR cartridge he was using and he looked to the father who gave him his nod. The boy lined up the crosshairs on his low power scope, and squeezed off a shot. The plump little gray went up in the air about 6 feet spinning end over end, then it came back to the ground with the grace only one of these little acrobats could show and it took off into the forest at full throttle never to be seen by the father and the boy again. When they went to examine the patch of snow on which the squirrel had been sitting they could plainly see the squirrel footprints and they also plainly saw the impact and trail of the bullet where it had come in low about an inch or so before the squirrel. It had been dead center as far as windage had gone but was woefully low on elevation.

That was the only decent shot that presented itself that day. The boy had learned a thing or two about hunting not the least of which was the disappointment of a missed shot. Still, the boy was happy about the day despite his frustration there was no disillusionment and he wanted to do it again. As things often go, there are other more important things to tend to than a hunting trip. School for the boy, work for the father, chores for both and so on. It was not until 2 years later that they again had the opportunity to go on a hunt together and they jumped at the chance. So on that late October day, well into the 16th year of the boy’s life (he would turn 16 that coming December) they were again off to the woods in the hopes of bagging some dinner. That 3 ½ hour drive was interrupted once for gas and once for a stop to buy the boy his license. Even though he had learned a bit about patience on the last hunt, patience can sometimes be a thing that turns into procrastination and he had yet to learn about how that could put a damper on things. The father had made a few tries at getting the son out to their local sporting goods store to pick up a license in the previous weeks, all to no avail; there was always an excuse as to why the boy could not go. So as it worked out they spent about an hour searching for a place to buy a license, that added an hour to the regular 2 1/2 hour trip and it ate up an hour of hunt time. IT was a lesson to learn and hopefully it sank in so that next time there will be more time afield. Still, they had a lot of time for their hunt.

When they got to the forest, they parked the car, got out and stretched a bit. Then they got to the business of gearing up. Each carried a small day pack with some essentials. The essentials for a safe and comfortable hunt that is; they included: a couple of MREs each (meals ready to eat), water bottles, first aid kit, flashlights with extra batteries, a compass, fire-starters, papier du toilet in a sealed plastic bag, extra dry socks in a plastic bag, space blankets, extra gloves, an extra hat each, fleece sweaters, extra ammo, the hunting regulations and so forth. Other things they each carried on their persons: another flashlight, a knife, some ammo, and their licenses and back tags. They dressed well to avoid the chill. The father had just hit the half century mark and had hunted fairly often before; he knew how to dress for the hunt to avoid the chill that would inevitably creep into their bones when they sat in a likely spot, waiting for Old Mr. Bushy Tail to come and enjoy the bounty that nature offered in the form of ripe acorns. Once they were all set with everything else, including a triple check to make sure the father had not forgotten the car keys anywhere within the car, they attended to the firearms they would tote along that day. The boy had chosen a Remington 870 pump action shotgun. The father had chosen a number 6 game load shot shell for him. For himself, the father had chosen a scoped Marlin bolt action rifle in .22WMR (22 magnum). If they boy wanted they could switch off. The boy had not gotten much practice yet this season, so the shotgun was probably his best choice out of their possible selection of about a dozen possible rimfire rifles and, one shotgun. In addition to the lesson about not procrastinating (about when to buy your hunting license), he would learn another small lesson that day, the shotgun was heavier than most of his 22s. Yet the father will readily admit, he bore it well and safely all the hunt through.

Finally they were off into the woods to hunt. Well not quite yet ready to hunt. They waited until they were down the trail, about 75 yards or more from the parking area, before they loaded up for the hunt. Just being a little more safe than loading around the car and the active roadway, that’s all it was. After they loaded they were of in the search for the little gray ghosts of the hardwoods. As they walked they chatted in muted voices about the forest, the acorns that seemed abundant but not as abundant as the prior week (meaning they hoped that plenty of squirrels had been kept busily active collecting and burying their treasure of acorns), about what they hoped to bag, about the lay of the land, and about deer hunting. This place was new to them both, only the father had been there before and only once at that. He was hopeful to have found a new small game and deer hunting area. He had lost out on what had been a sort of hunting/fishing paradise a few years back in the form of his uncle’s farm. The uncle had sold the farm and moved to Florida. They had all lost a piece of heaven with the sale but, life goes on. So here were the boy and his father on state land hoping to have found a new piece of paradise. As they walked and spoke the father explained he had seen a beaver dam the previous week, at the end of a large pond that probably held lots of fish, frogs and turtles – a good reason to come back another time to do some fishing and frogging, and looking for turtles. They walked to the pond, or maybe it was another, by a different route than the father had used the last week. There was a small beaver dam not the larger one the father had seen before and, this pond looked different. When they saw the houses nearby they realized they had strayed off of state land. They turned around and headed back to it. No hunting on someone else’s land without permission for them.

Once back onto the state land they continued the hunt. They saw numerous small birds, woodpeckers and at least one unidentified critter that the boy just caught out of the corner of his eye. He thought it was pretty big, maybe a deer. They walked a while further, then sat nearby to some mighty oak trees, hoping that a gray or two would come scampering into range. They looked and listened but never heard the familiar rustle of leaves, the hallmark of a gray searching out acorns or other delectable treats on the forest floor or up high in the branches of an oak tree. They also had seen plenty sign of turkeys, so they had hoped to maybe see one or two of these too and maybe get a shot at one. Time passed and the had lunch. Each made sure to clean up well, no trace was left behind to show that men had eaten meals out of plastic pouches, and snacks out of foil wraps here in this beautiful wood. The only trace they would leave of their passing would be footprints. After they had eaten, they waited both hoping for the arrival of a gray. As luck would have it, the wind picked up scattering the low clouds and, the sun finally broke through, peeking out now and then to warm things up a bit. Still no grays bagged and, here had been no sign of them. There was also little deer sign to be found around, so they moved on to hunt elsewhere and so the father could scope out deer sign for a future deer hunt. There was another site, on the other side of the road from the parking area and they wanted to try there too, off they went. As they had hiked along in search of prey that day, they had heard and seen a lot of birds. Little chickadees, woodpeckers all the way to vultures and Crows. They had also heard the high pitched squeak of alarm given off my numerous Chipmunks. That though, was when they had been walking more heavy footed. The boy had been told about how to step carefully a few times now by the father. He had been told that the term still-hunting referred to a hunt in which you walked through the woods in search of game and, that if you clomped along heavy footed you would be still hunting with no game bagged at the end of the day. The father half joked that is why it is called still hunting, because most hunters walk so heavy footed and are still hunting when others on a good stand have bagged their prey. It was not all correction that was done that day. The father also noted some very good things. While the father may have had to correct the boy’s walking style, he did not have to at any point correct his gun safety. This was a lesson the boy had learned over the course of many trips to local ranges and while shooting at their uncle’s farm. Of course, the father gave a few reminders now and again, and at one point when the father was slightly careless the boy reminded him. They moved on.

As they walked they heard a crow’s caw and the father answered back with his best imitation. Within a moment or two the crow answered back. In about a minute two or three crows flew close overhead and the boy asked if he could shoot one. The father replied sure if he wanted to but, to what end. The boy joked to have it stuffed it and put it in his room. A trophy hunter in the making - well maybe but maybe not. Before long, as they walked on, the father spotted some lateral movement in the brush just off of the trail ton their right. He stopped for a look (as they had been stopping between sets of a few steps each) to take a look to find the source of the movement. Just as he was about convinced that it must have only been a leaf blowing by in the wind, he caught another twitch of movement. There it was a squirrel but, no it was not a Gray Squirrel, not even a red Squirrel. It was a Chipmunk. He pointed it out to the boy and they watched this little fellow for a good few minutes. It came out and looked back at them too, apparently concerned about them but not scared enough to give its alarm squeak and then to scamper off to the security of a burrow, or a gap in a pile of stones, or a hole in a tree. Then it continued with its business of cleaning itself and looking about. I guess they had gotten the ‘still-hunting’ thing together; the boy learning another small lesson as evidenced by the fact that Chipmunks are one of the wariest critters in those woods, usually squeaking off an alarm call and scampering to safety at the first sign of danger. They had enough time to really see this one up close; it remained fairly well at ease in their presence. The father checked it in his rifle scope, then took the shotgun from the boy and handed him the rifle for a look through the scope. The boy asked if he could shoot it and; the father asked to what purpose. The boy only half jokingly, said to eat it. It seemed he was really wanting to bag his first game animal pretty badly by then. The father just said he supposed they could eat Chipmunks and make a meal of them if they had gotten enough of them. He asked the boy if that was what he wanted to eat and; the boy just laughed and then he said something to the effect: well I guess there is no point in shooting it if we aren’t going to use it. While he would have many other lessons yet to be learned, the boy had just taken a very big step in the shaping his own life. At that precise moment the boy became a man at least in the sense of being a true huntsman, a true sportsman. The father - he was proud of his boy, err - of his young man that is! They walked on and, the Chipmunk lived to see another day and maybe to see the making of another fine young hunter.

Soon they neared the parking area. They unloaded while still in the wood. Then back to the car for a quick drive to the other area. Upon arriving at the new area, they turned off the paved road onto a dirt road that ran along side a large pond. The pond also ran adjacent to the main road off of which that had just come. They parked in a parking area off of the side road and; then they began to gear up as they had earlier in the day. As they prepared for a new hunt, they heard a turkey yelp off to their right. A moment or so later, a fairly large bird of prey flew by and landed in an old dead weather beaten tree growing on the bank of the pond. It called keeee-keeee-keeee and sat there majestically on its perch overlooking the pond. They wanted a closer look but had no binoculars, only the scoped rifle. The son told the father to at it through the scope but, the father answered it might not be a good idea with it on the rifle. The boy suggested not only making sure it was not loaded – which it was not yet but, he also suggested taking out the bolt so that no one coming along might think they had been attempting a shot. Smart boy. That is what they did. What they saw was a beautiful hawk like bird. White breasted, white faced with a black bar across its face. Dark winged, almost uniform dark gray or black. The bird sat there and called again. They saw this as a sign of better luck to come, maybe that turkey, the one they had heard yelp, would fall to the boy’s shotgun. As they readied themselves and their gear, they heard footsteps and turned to see a hiker approaching. Paradise usually attracts more than just one or two people so it was probably inevitable that someone else would be in these same woods with them. The hiker was heading into the woods and stopped to say hi. They pointed out the hawk to the hiker and he too admired it. He then asked what the father and boy were going to hunt and they told him squirrels to which he replied, there are a lot of squirrels at a spot several miles away. He never said that these particular woods did not hold a good population of them but, it was implied in his tone and the look on his face. They decided then to just take a hike and leave the guns behind. They told the hiker they would instead of hunting just be hiking, he did not seem to mind one way or the other – the father got the impression he was probably a hunter himself.

The father and the boy spent the next couple of hours hiking. They looked for deer and turkey sign, and say some turkey scratchings (spots where turkeys had cleared the leaf cover looking for food), saw a few more Chipmunks, saw more birds like woodpeckers, and so on. They also saw quite a few old stone walls here and there. The father said he would like to fond the foundation of the old farmhouse that must be nearby somewhere so they could return in the future with a metal detector for some fun. After about another 15 mintues of the hike, they came across just that, an old stone foundation for a small house. They looked around a bit and prepared to move on. As the son still kicked around in the dirt a bit with his boot toe, the father hear footsteps on the trail. Half expecting to see a deer ambling along he looked up to see the hiker they had met earlier in the parking area. He stopped a moment and told them of a fire tower nearby. He pointed them in the direction and off they went. Along the way they came across another stone house foundation, this one had had a basement from the look of it. Up the mountain to the top, to the fire station, two small buildings and a tower. They climbed up to very near the top of the tower, the observation platform was closed, but they got a grand view anyhow. Off to the west were the majestic Catskill Mountains, in the distance, across the Hudson River. It was not easy for the father to go up that high, he has some difficulty with heights but not so bad when there is a railing. When he got there it was an exhilarating scene made more so by a fairly strong wind swaying the tower back and forth a bit. Now it was time to coax the boy up there. The boy had little fear of heights when at the Grand Canyon a couple of years back, he was ready to sit on the canyons edge to look about and jumped from rock to rock to get there. Yet at a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, he had been pretty scared walking up to the nose bleed seat section near the top of the stadium. The father coaxed him up, and the boy had his view. He later told the father that this was the best part of the day, the view of the fabled Catskills.

(continued in next post)
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Back down to the ground and, off to check on a leanto shelter for which there had been a sign pointing the way from next to an out building at the fire station. Once there, they had another MRE each, this the suppertime meal. Then back to the car for the long ride home. On the way down the mountain, they spotted some deer sign on a small deer trail off of the main path. They had seen the deer tracks here earlier,,on the climb up, but they had missed something big. What they had missed the first time round was a couple of rubs. One was on a large enough tree to make the father think it was a sizeable deer that had left his mark. There were lots of deer tracks around this one area, the most they had seen all day long. Maybe a future deer hunting spot was in the making – a return trip or two to the same area, before deer hunting season was in order. The boy had seen rubs before but had forgotten some things about them. Some of what he had learned seemed to come back to him when he saw these rubs and, what did not come back to him the father told him again. He remembered why a deer makes them - to rub off his velvet. He learned it is also to strengthen his neck muscles for upcoming buck to buck combat and to get out some aggressive tension. He also learned that deer make these rubs where they often traverse and where they feel comfortable enough to stop and often where they apparently think other deer will see them. He learned about scrapes and how to know the difference between a scrape to a rub – something many hunters seem to confuse with one another. He also learned that sometimes bucks follow these same trails in the rut, but sometimes they just follow the does. He learned about the rut too. All this he was taught in a few minutes around those rubs yet, he would have a lifetime to truly learn about these things.

With all that done and seen they headed back to the car fairly well contented despite the fact that there was not even one bushy tailed gray ghost in the bag for their efforts. As they walked they talked about the day and about hunts to come. The boy was not all that disappointed about not bagging any game, he had had a great day nonetheless. This was an indication he had learned yet another lesson about the hunt – the hunt is not just the taking of game – there is a lot more to it than just killing an animal and, it is all enjoyable whether or not you wind up with meat for the table or a trophy for the wall. Yes he was becoming a fine young man after all. As they neared the car, they heard the honking of Canada Geese. The boy spotted them right off but, it took the father a while to focus. There were two flocks of they circling the pond – it was almost as if they were trying to see which flock had rights to land there. After a few minutes and a few times circling the pond by each flock, one decided this was the place for them and headed in for a landing. This was obstructed from view for the father and boy but, the by did get to see them coming down, wings arched, prepared for a water landing. As the boy and his father walked to the car, they got a clearer view of the pond and the small gaggle of geese. Then they heard more honking and the other geese again flew overhead. The boy mentioned that they would have been too far out of range for a good shot if they had had their guns ready. With that the father was about as convinced as he could be that the boy had learned some valuable lessons and had that day become a man. The ride home was a happy one, with plenty of talk of hunts to come – hunts that the father would enjoy with his hunting partner his son - the boy who earlier that day had sat beside him on their drive to the woods and, the man who now sat beside him on the ride home.
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