Mike Sawyers | Looking back, looking forward | Outdoor

August 1 has become a state holiday for me, a celebration observed by one… attentively.

The first day of the eighth month is the day I purchase my Maryland hunting license. Back when the information highway was not yet a dream, those purchases were made at sporting goods stores or other places that served as license dealers. In fact, in the early 1960s, you could purchase a statewide Maryland hunting license or, for less cash, a valid license for a county of your choice.

Now, of course, like most other hunters, I go online, provide my Department of Natural Resources ID number, pull out a credit card, and voila, I have a license.

I consider my printer that is connected to my desktop to be a throwback machine, because when that license is spit out, a lot of memories are generated.

Look, there’s one now… a souvenir.

I see my dad and I walking back to the car on Jacobs Road as daylight fades in Green Ridge State Forest. I see squirrel tails sticking out of my hunting vest. The vest seems to be quite heavy so maybe I had a limit on bushytails that day. The popularity of squirrel hunting in those days was such that I’m sure I heard the “boom, boom” of shotgun blasts all day long, probably on a Saturday.

That muzzle music was one of the threads that would bind and protect a hunting memory, so that it would be easy to remember 60 years later.

And there, there, I see Tom Mathews and me floating on the North Branch of the Potomac River between Cumberland and Oldtown. Those spots in the water downstream are surely wood ducks. Yes, I can see them better now. Wood ducks, sure. Hands off the oars now, just let the flat bottom float. Maybe we can get close enough to shoot before they drop.

September 1 is only a month away from August 1 and is memorable as the first day of the mourning dove season. There we are, the group of us, leaving Cumberland in the middle of the afternoon, intending to make it to our Washington County pigeon hunting spot in time to miss a bunch of gray-feathered impossible targets. I see Doug Buckalew, he was probably driving, and there’s Gary Carpenter and Bob Phillips. With all that lead that we would be releasing into the sky, surely at least a few pigeons would fall.

Then there is bear season. Who would have thought when they bought a license in 1960 that 44 years later it would be legal to hunt wildlife in Maryland? I do not. But in 2009 I drew a label, and thanks to Orion, a bear and I found ourselves in the same spot on Dan’s Mountain. It was made a Model 99 trigger pull and a hunting memory for the ages. My hunting partner, Bill Gostomski, and his son Pete graciously hauled the animal off the mountain and into the back of my truck, and I drove to Mount Nebo to check on the bear.

The most excited I’ve ever been on a successful spring gobbler hunt was when I called up a longbeard as a hunting partner and watched the harvest unfold. He was Mat Schartiger’s first Spring Tom and was a real eye-catcher. A group of birds began to gobble up out of sight, but a loud cry on my booth call knocked one of them away from the group. I watched as Mat, about 30 yards ahead of me, prepared to kill the bird once he was within shotgun range. His shot was accurate.

I see Ryan, our youngest son and the only one of our three sons who took up hunting as the old man. He’s going to get his first buck, a doe, with his grandfather’s model 94 Winchester .32 Special. I insisted that he shoot his first deer with an open-sight rifle. Then I see him get his first male, his first turkey and his first ruffed grouse. I was able to see the shot to the grouse and see it go down. Landing the first grouse you’ve ever shot is definitely a standout memory of the reel.

The thing about a hunting license is that it does double duty. Not only is it a road machine, but it is a kind of crystal ball that you can look into and see the promises of future memories to be made. It’s snowing in some views, but in others it’s hot and muggy and you need to work fast to take care of the meat of a bagged doe during the early part of bow season.

It’s a big deal, that hunting license.

Mike Sawyers retired in 2018 as foreign editor of the Cumberland Times-News. His column now appears every other Saturday. To order his book, “Native Queen, a Celebration of the Hunting and Fishing Life,” send him a check for $15 to 16415 Lakewood Drive, Rawlings, MD 21557.