A Look In The Closet
A Father's Day tribute to those dads who raised their kids hunting and fishing.
Every season seems to begin the same for me. Around mid-summer, I find myself standing in my closet staring at my camo remembering the previous season. This year is different for me. The memories of days gone by seem to be flooding my mind. There are memories of moments in time that I will never forget. They are some of my fondest memories that have triumphed through years spent in the outdoors. I’m sure most of you have memories of family, friends or a darn good hunting and fishing buddy.
I take a long look to take it all in. Down to the far right hangs an old weathered tan coat breasted in blaze orange. That one holds a special meaning to me. I remember as a young boy lugging an unloaded single-barrel shotgun through miles of broomsedge and briars chasing a pack of rabbit dogs. The Ol’ Man told me that when I learned to handle an empty shotgun, I could get in on the action. Watching the love my father had for his well-trained pack of beagles instilled a love for the outdoors in me at an early age. I can still see the Ol’ Man looking out over a thicket in that tattered field jacket.
On the opposite end of the closet sat a fishing rod propped up in the corner. There was still a Texas-rig tied on, as there usually was. It reminds me of that first year we went in together and bought a boat and fished far more than any one marriage should have had to endure. It was my birthday when I heard the truck pull up in the yard. I went outside, and we propped up on the boat just as we always did, talking about previous trips or the ones we wanted to take. I’d love to say we figured out where the fish always were, but that seldom happened.
One particular morning, the Ol’ Man handed me a McDonald’s bag and told me it wasn’t much, but it was a little something. I was delighted. I hadn’t eaten yet, so a couple of biscuits sounded pretty good at that moment. I opened the bag only to find a Shimano reel down in the bottom covered up with a couple of napkins. My face must have been priceless. He got a pretty good kick out of it. Then he walked over to the truck and pulled out a new G-Loomis worm rod. I saw it only fitting to pass it on down to my son after my father passed. It sure has caught some good ones. With each fish, I think he remembers an afternoon on the lake with his Papa.
I must have stood for what seemed like an hour looking into that closet.
Down on the bottom row in the middle sat an old camouflage backpack. This one brought me to my knees. Every hunter has a little piece of his soul stuffed down in his hunting pack. There were a few good-luck acorns and a flashlight down in the bottom mixed in with a couple of old peanut wrappers. In the side pocket, I found a grunt call. Man, it took me back. This was a Father’s Day present I gave him after a rather tense weekend at the deer lease the season before. I still remember it like it was yesterday.
We got to the club one evening right as the pre-rut was in full swing. Bucks were chasing, and the heat was on. The Ol’ Man made a plan as we stood at the check-in board, and he felt pretty good about it. Then, I made a different plan and felt really good about it, as well. The two plans were similar but had one minor detail between them. My plan would involve us switching stands. I had a set of horns in my bag and had no doubt that if I could rattle in the new location, that this particular deer we’d been hunting would come out below me and right into the Ol’ Man’s lap.
We got set up that afternoon with me knowing the Ol’ Man had his doubts about my plan. I pulled out a set of horns and a Darrel Gibson grunt call that I bought back at the trade show a few years back. The evening was perfect. We were set up right. I crashed those horns together, and they sounded like they never had before. The grunts rolled down through the hollow toward the Ol’ Man like thunder. I waited anxiously to hear the shot. I had my rifle propped up in the corner of a two-man buddy stand because I knew I wouldn’t be needing it. The evening progressed without a sound. I went through one last sequence and laid the horns back in my bag and sent a long, bawl-like grunt down the hollow again. Then it happened.
As I looked up the old logging road I was sitting on, I caught a glimpse of movement. My heart immediately sank as the deer stepped out in full view. I knew I was going to have to shoot this buck. I also knew that the current setup we were in was a direct reflection of my suggestion. I was in a tight spot. I picked up my gun from the corner of the stand and found a good prop. The buck just stepped right into the crosshairs and stopped. I distinctly remember as I let out my last breath to fire that my father would not be quite as happy about this one as some of the others. As the shot continued to echo across our hunting lease in Baldwin County, the text message had already come through on my phone. It simply read: “Guess that was you that shot?”
I thought for a minute on how I would respond. I just said yes. I gave it a minute and asked if he would bring the truck, seeing that he let me out to go on down. I received another text that just said, “I’m hunting. You can go get the truck yourself.” I’ve never wanted time to slow down so much in my life. I loaded my deer and went back to pick him up at dark. He got in the truck without taking a look or saying a word. I didn’t say a word either. As he started the engine, he looked over at me and grinned and just shook his head.
That next Father’s Day, I ordered him a Darrel Gibson custom grunt call as if to try to make amends. That was the last buck we killed together. There is a compartment in my oldest son’s backpack that holds that grunt call. It sure does have a reminiscing sound when sent down a quiet, still hollow.
Four seasons have come and gone since I lost my hunting and fishing buddy. For four years, I stood in this same closet and remembered. It ended with me closing the door as I walked out.
This year is different. I can’t explain it. This year I can’t help but think about the time that I’ll never get back. It’s time to return doing the things we loved to do together. As I was packing my hunting bag for the upcoming season, I packed that old set of rattling horns. I packed an old flashlight and a couple of lucky acorns. Somehow, it makes me feel like we are going hunting one more time.
Here’s to one more time, Ol’ Man.
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