Hunting: Truth in Life
Hunting: Truth in Life
The following is a true hunting/life story. I want to share these events, although its difficult to talk about at times. These events have changed my life forever, for the better, and I can only hope that this story will inspire readers to view the wonderful sport of hunting in an entirely new and different light. I promise this is worth your time!
My first distinct recollections of hunting are of being a ten year old, armed with a Daisy air rifle and a box of lead pellets. I could walk for miles along brushy ditch banks or the agricultural fields and strips of hardwoods around my house in search of prey...bullfrogs, blue jays, sparrows, turtles, and the occasional squirrel.
For years my shooting accuracy was honed by peering through the open sites of that air rifle, holding a tight bead on many a sparrow's head while slowly squeezing the trigger. CLACK...and my quarry would fall to the ground. Eagerly I would run to retrieve my kill, examining the prey over and over until I found the trickle of blood indicating the pellet's point of impact. Only then could I feel confident and proud that my aim was true, and that I was indeed a great hunter. This was truly hunting at its best!
As the years progressed, the old Daisy rifle was abandoned, replaced as I graduated toward a battered .410 shotgun my father brought home one day. At this point, my hunting and firearm handling skills were as sharp as a kid's could possibly be. My father had engrained in me a true sense of respect for firearm safety. "Treat all guns as if they are loaded, son," he would state repeatedly each time we hunted together. Because of this he even let me carry the trusty old .410 through the woods in pursuit of small game.
My first big kill was a raccoon that I shot at eight times as it hastily made its way through our woods. I finally connected with my last shot shell. Its contribution to our supper that night was unforgettable, as the flavor of its tender meat, roasted with sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and onions was remarkable to our hungry appetites. I had enthusiastically asked if my uncle could join us for supper that night, and was delighted to share my epic story of how the raccoon came to end up on our table that evening. This was truly my finest hunt to date.
Months later, during the fall deer season, I had another opportunity with my reliable .410. My father had brought home some slugs for my shotgun after work one day and said, "Son, we are going deer hunting!" I could immediately imagine putting the front bead of the shotgun behind a buck's front shoulder, feeling the heavy kick of the gunshot, and knowing my aim was true. This consumed my thoughts for days leading up to our deer hunt.
Perched high in our homemade wooden treestand, I knew that this would be the day I killed my first deer. My dad was "King of the Woods" and I knew from previous hunts with him and from his friends' stories, that when hunting with my dad, you will indeed see deer. As the evening wore on, the November sun began to set behind the darkening trees. As the temperature dropped I was glad to have my father's warm arms around me. Although I was still confident, the day's hunt was drawing to a close. Suddenly, as if on queue, I was able to see a deer materialize in front of me. This was not only a deer, but a buck deer, and a good one at that! My dad's arms, which had kept me comfortable, relaxed as he whispered in my ear "Son, he's a shooter!" My heart raced faster as the trophy buck walked to within 20 yards of the stand.
As well rehearsed in my mind many times before, the front bead of my .410 found its place behind the spike buck's front shoulder. I inhaled one more breath of autumn air and glanced once more at the buck's four-inch white spike antlers, which seemed to glow in the diminishing light. The silence of the evening ended as I pulled the trigger. BOOM!!! The spike buck kicked and bolted out of sight. My heart, too, kicked like a thoroughbred out of the gate. This deer would soon be mine; this would be my first buck...at least that is what I hoped!
Years later, my father and I found ourselves in those same woods, chasing squirrels on an early October evening. The hunting was slow, as the squirrels seemed to elude us quite efficiently in the dense, early season foliage. Because of this, however, my dad and I had time to talk...in that special close way that only a father and son can. We spoke of baseball and how our team had done well again this past year (of course, my dad was the coach!), our last Crappie fishing trip at Huntington Point, and the upcoming deer season. We meandered down trail after trail and I wondered how it was that my dad always knew where we were in the big forest, without ever having to use his compass.
Eventually we found a quiet place to sit and rest on a large old log, deposited on the ground from a strong North wind seasons ago. We talked more; enjoying the sights and sounds found only in tranquil woods. Chasing squirrels became a second priority to our sharing this quality time together. We all but forgot about squirrels until a ruffle of dry leaves captured our attention. In eager anticipation of seeing a bushy red or gray tail, I was disappointed to see the distinct outline of an Armadillo. As it made its slow and deliberate way toward us, I said "Daddy, can I shoot it? Can I shoot?" My father did not answer simply "Yes" or "No" but rather explained to me how the Armadillo wanders the woods, scavenging for anything edible. He told me how they could destroy a nest of wild turkey eggs in minutes, but they are doing so only out of hunger. Finally, he left the decision to shoot up to me.
As my father remained seated on the old log, I stalked my way through the woods in pursuit of the Armadillo. At about ten yards, I took steady aim and squeezed the trigger. BOOM!... the Armadillo kicked and seemed to jump three feet from the ground. He landed on his back and although the shot was fatal, he continued to kick his legs while lying on his back; his final reflexes in action as life expired before me. I recall being in awe as I put my foot against the animal's feet while his legs continued to kick. I could not believe how strong this small animal was as he pushed hard against my foot, becoming weaker and weaker as his life eventually faded. I immediately realized why my father had placed the choice to shoot in my hands, and that I had made the wrong decision this time.
Later, I carried the day's hunting events to my nightly prayers. I told the good Lord that I had made a terrible mistake that day, expressing to God how deeply sorry I was, and begged the Lord for forgiveness. I told God how I would never kill for the sake of killing again, and asked that he punish me so that things could be right again; like they were before I decided to shoot the innocent Armadillo. I prayed like I had never prayed before! My father died of a massive stroke in his sleep that same night, and suddenly my understanding of life became much clearer.
Fourteen years later, I am writing this story as I gaze at the woods in my own backyard, listening to the birds sing their morning melodies. I am looking forward to the upcoming hunting season and to spending time in the same woods I hunted as a child. I pray that this year will be another successful year, like last year, and the ones before. I have hunted each season since my dad's death, and although I have only taken a handful of deer and small game from the forest's bounty since, I have taken a lifetime of memories, happiness, and understanding of nature. Today crosshairs have replaced the iron bead sight of yesterday, and my aim seems to be truer than in the past. Where there was once only predatory instinct, now there is also an appreciation of the animals' lives that I pursue.
I have carried the values that my father taught me to the woods each fall, and also into everyday life. My most favorite hunts now are oftentimes the ones where the animal "gets away" as I become engrossed in just watching them in their beautiful, natural environments. In the event I do choose to kill, I spend a few seconds before each shot just listening to the silence. That is when I can hear my father in heaven putting the decision to shoot once again in my hands. When I do decide that the moment is right, I can still feel his arms loosen around me as the cross hairs find their place on my target. And finally, when I squeeze the trigger, I make sure that this time my aim is true, so that this one will not get away like the "trophy spike" of seventeen years ago. As I retrieve my trophy, I pause to thank the Lord for the life and lessons the animal has provided me, and in my mind I can see my father smile. I then can feel the warmth of my dad's arms around me once again, and I know that my aim was true.
In Beloved Memory of My Dad:
James Coleman "Bud" Grimmett
"King of the Woods"