I suppose it all started when I was about 10 years old and became absolutely enthralled with all the stories in the hunting magazines my uncles (actually my Dad's uncles) gave me. I poured for hours over all the Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, and Field and Stream magazines I could get my hands on. I would even purchase or grab any unwanted older issues, even several years old, to read.
As I look back on it now, it seems they were filled more with hunting stories then, not the "informational" and "how to" articles most magazine formats are now filled with. I find there are really only so many ways one can plan on how to get the big one, and I think I prefer the old fashioned stories about how someone got the big one, or any one for that matter and that is simply told as a hunting story.
Well it seems that after three or four years of driving my Dad crazy by asking him about any hunting he had done, he finally gave in to me. My Dad had somehow moved away from hunting as a hobby as our family and his responsibilities grew. I can still remember the first time he took me to the "cabin," a three room, one bath house built in the hills of eastern N.Y. in what was, and still is, a shotgun only hunting area for deer.
The stories and names finally had faces too, and I was amazed to finally meet the real people. We also got to take a short walk in the woods that day, and found that one of these old buddies, Rocky had just shot a nice doe that morning, and we helped him drag it out.
I think it was some 2 years later I convinced my Dad that I needed to hunt myself and got my first real gun, a 12 gauge shotgun. A Winchester Model 370 single shot. I actually feel to this day that single shot shotgun shooting slugs has given me at least some ability to withstand the effects of recoil, as there are few rifles that will give you a jolt like shooting a 12 gauge slug in a single shot shotgun.
Like everyone else on their first real deer hunt, I had visions of bagging a monster like Rocky's big 8-point buck hanging on the cabin wall. Of course, there was no such success to be had for this brand new deer hunter, but I can still recall now, some 40 years later, things that happened that season as my Dad and I hunted together.
I progressed to a Winchester Model 1200 pump gun the next year, and finally got my Dad hunting himself again by this, my second season. Another very important thing happened this year as well. My best friend Gary also decided to take up hunting, as I am sure it seemed easier than listening to me pester him about how much he needed to start.
No one in his family had ever been interested in hunting, so he had never given it a thought. To this day, we are both obsessive about deer hunting, having taken several trips together over the years; most recently a horseback hunt for mule deer in Idaho. We missed many years of hunting together during my first career as a military pilot, but since my retirement we have tried to make sure that we enjoy these "later" years hunting together every season possible.
I had missed many years of hunting with my Dad as well, as I spent several years away from the states during my military career. I made a trip back from Germany in 1990 to spend two weeks hunting deer in Maine with some friends and my Father. I had a great time, although no deer was collected by me.
And, I suppose it worked out well that I had been home visiting when the call came from my wife back in Germany that my unit was being deployed to Operation Desert Shield (later, Storm). I was in the process of lacing my boots for an early morning pheasant hunt behind my parents home when the call came, and I could think of no better way to spend the next few hours than to continue on with that hunt while awaiting the call ordering me back immediately to Germany to join the unit's deployment.
My Father and I made trips to Maine six different seasons, gosh knows how many to the little cabin in N.Y. state, and even more trips in both Connecticut and Tennessee together. There were lots of deer harvested, and many, many fine times. All were great, simply because we were there and hunting together.
It's a fact that the first buck I ever collected was a fine six point that had been hit already by my Dad, and following his shouted expletive, it ran in front of me and miraculously also my 12 gauge slug. My first buck was truly a family affair. We have both been lucky at times, collecting bucks large enough to get us both into the big bucks club in Maine. One dressed out at 225 pounds and the other at 217 pounds. My Dad was also there when I collected my buck with the largest rack to date. Thank goodness we finally rolled out of our beds in that camper on that very nasty November morning.
Upon my retirement in 1996 I didn't hunt with Dad for a few years. He seemed less interested, and I suppose I had more pressing things happening in my life with the start of a new career. In 2004, however, when I planned a trip back north to hunt with my friend, I also invited my Dad to hunt an afternoon with us. He was very eager to return to the woods for the first time in several years, and I found myself wondering about the hunt's effect on my Dad, now well into his 70s. I showed him the spot I had scouted for him to sit, and have to confess now that, as I turned to walk to my stand afterwards, my eyes began to moisten. Was this what he too had felt some 40 years ago when I walked to my first stand on my own?
I have two grown children now, both wonderful and beautiful women. They never seemed to have an interest in my hunting and that's always been fine with me. But, to my great and good fortune they brought into the family two outstanding sons-in-law that have both been kind enough to this old man to accompany him on several deer hunts. To make things better still, I was blessed to be present when each of these fine young men collected their first deer, both bucks. There are now three Grandsons who seem eager to join us. One insists on seeing Pops' deer heads the moment he walks through the door to visit. Well, actually he is still working on walking and I have to carry him up to the den as he points and tries to say deer.
To try to complete my reason for writing this piece, none of this would have been possible if not for my Dad. When I finally showed that my interest for hunting was sincere and passionate, he helped me get started with a new gun and made arrangements for me to take a safety course. That led to my friend's subsequent interest and now lifelong partnership in hunting, and all the wonderful memories of deer camps past, present, and those I hope to come. And now, finally, sons and Grandsons with whom to share this wonderful interest called hunting.
Thanks a million, Dad!
Final Note: There seems to be someone conspicuously and very unintentionally omitted from this story: my wonderful, loving wife. She has endured many nights alone and many bills and hardships, all to allow Ed to pursue his obsession with deer hunting. Suffice to say, my dear, you occupy much of my thoughts as I while away hour after hour alone on a cold deer stand. I thank you from the bottom of my loving heart.
Thumbnail for this story: Ed Sr(L) and I hunting Sebec Lake region of Maine back in the late '80s.
Friend Gary poses during a pheasant hunt with his dog, Morgan.
Ed Sr & Jr pose after a successful pheasant hunt
Ed Sr and his friend Skippy work on their boots night before the opener in Maine.
Ed Sr looks to hang up some wet clothes in our small cabin on our very first Maine trip.
10 minutes after this picture of Ed Sr and Gary was taken all three of us were aboard, motoring in a severe whiteout condition as we three and two dead deer crossed North Millinocket Lake in Aroostook County, Maine headed back to camp
Ed Sr poses with his heaviest whitetail ever, 217 lbs dressed. It made him eligible for the Big Bucks Club in Maine.
My bet is that I had a beer in the other hand as I snapped this picture of Ed Sr cleaning up!