I used to think that getting older would be a total drag. I’d be sitting in the rocking chair reflecting on the good old days and I guess that day will come. I am now in my early seventies and have no desire to lead moose or bear hunters anymore, but I am delighted to find that I can still climb a tree stand or pull meat from the woods. I don’t haul deer or hog very far anymore, but I’ve learned that butchering and packing the meat in smaller quantities suits my stage of life better! I’m still a very active hunter, but these days I’m in the mindset that the next decade of hunting should be spent experiencing the glorious days of fall and winter doing exactly what I enjoy most.
I have eagerly awaited fall and hunting in cooler weather for a total of sixty-four years. Yes, I started hunting when I was eight years old, squirrels and rabbits mostly in the woods around our farm in rural Red River County in northeast Texas. I never considered letting my kids hunt on their own at such a young age, but things were different in the late fifties, especially for country kids. I remember following my father and older brother through the woods since I was old enough to keep up with them and Mickey, my brother’s old black and tan hound. At the age of 8, with eyes as sharp as a tack and plenty of target practice, I was quite capable of knocking a fox squirrel out of the top of the tallest oak tree at our place, using the ox-horn sights of my old lady. .22.
Maybe my upbringing as a kid in the 1950s and 1960s is a contributing factor to my love of not only hunting but all things outdoors, but maybe not. I have had friends and family who never showed an interest in the outdoor lifestyle. Perhaps people are a bit like hunting dogs: Desire is either ‘wired’ or it isn’t. I have introduced many adults to hunting who took it as if it was something they were meant to do, but just needed someone to expose them.
When I go to the woods or fields these days in search of game or game birds, I not only enjoy the ‘here and now’ but also the many good times I have experienced in the field over six decades. When I have a hunting partner bring down a pair of mallard ducks or harvest a fat buck for the freezer, I can almost always relate the experience to a fond memory of the past where much the same thing happened, just in another place with someone else.
I vividly remember the first whitetail deer I ever saw caught and hope the statute of limitations has expired! I was eleven years old and it was a cool November day. My brother-in-law, who was also one of my main hunting mentors, asked me to join him and a friend who was a serious hunter. This guy was the epitome of Grizzly Adams, beard and all! I was summarily placed in the lower branches of a tree while my mentors made their way to their hunting grounds. I managed to support the tree branch for an hour or so and then spent the rest of the morning sitting on the ground under the tree.
On the way out, “Grizz,” as we’ll call him, made a comment something like this: “There’s been a couple of doe feeding on acorns under a white oak tree every morning around the corner. Get ready,” he instructed my brother. . -in law. “You are about to kill your first deer.”
Whether the range was legal back then I don’t know; I seriously doubt they were. As we rounded the bend, ‘Grizz’ jumped out of the car first, armed with an old Chinese military rifle he had bought through the mail. Yes, back then he could order a firearm from a catalog and have it delivered right to his door! My brother-in-law was armed with a .22 magnum, probably also illegal at the time. He never got a chance to shoot.
Ol’ Griz set his sights on the shoulder of a fat doe and sent that steel military round his way. The solid bullet obviously ‘holed’ the deer and came out leaving very little blood.
“Let’s go back to Grandma’s house,” he said.
Griz lived with his grandmother in a cabin in the woods. I vividly remember that Griz’s room was a corner of the cabin separated from the rest of the place by sheets hanging on the wall. Cracks were visible through the floor which was covered by the cheap blue flower patterned vinyl flooring common at the time. We enjoyed an amazing breakfast cooked on an old wood stove and then loaded up a couple of dogs and went back to tracking the deer. It’s funny after all these years, but I remember every detail of that first deer hunt; the hawk that perched on the tree she was under, how awkward that branch was, and especially the amazing breakfast served by that beautiful old lady who had lived her life in a very different world than the one we are experiencing today. Looking back, it’s not the deer hunt that I remember, but the great fall weather and great food and, yes, the company of a couple of very experienced lumberjacks who had also lived in a very different era.
As I matured, I continued to add chapters to my life as a hunter. As I began my career as an outdoorsy writer, the chapters continued to grow as I experienced hunting and fishing with many people in many places. I well remember making bowhunting supplies in North Dakota with a fine family who farmed 20,000 acres of very rural land not far from Jamestown, ND. They supplemented their income by equipping bowhunters. For several years, I looked forward to my annual trips to the area to hunt those huge farmland deer and spend time with these fine people.
The people were of German descent and the ladies cooked and fed everyone in the camp. Could you ever cook? During the noon after the morning deer hunt, we often drove down the roads and hunted pheasants; yes, at that time hunting on the roads was legal in certain places. The ladies turned those pheasants into some of the tastiest game food I’ve ever eaten. One of their specialties was pheasant covered in mushroom sauce with rice. I have since tried to duplicate her recipe and sometimes get pretty close, but no one could cook game like those ladies! It has been a decade since I met my friends in North Dakota.
Hunting seasons are almost upon us once again. As a famous outdoor writer once wrote: “My health is always better in the fall.”
Get in touch with outdoor writer Luke Clayton through his website www.catfishradio.org. Watch A Sportsmans Life, a weekly outdoor show with Larry Weishuhn, Jeff Rice and Luke on Carbon TV www.carbontv.com or Youtube.