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Head-turning times while hunting, fishing

In the gathering darkness last Sunday as I was driving past our farm I looked up on a hillside and saw two survivors of the 2009 Firearms Deer Hunting Season standing in a picked soybean field. I cheered.

These were not strangers. Thanks to a wildlife camera and regular trips to the farm I have seen them grow up. I have baby pictures of them and I have seen them feeding at that spot in the soybeans many times. Their ears were straight up and they were looking around as if asking, "is it safe to come out now?"

To the credit, perhaps, of the party that hunted the woods where they live, the fawns stand a pretty good chance now of having a future. There are plenty of other perils ahead but they will not be felled by a shotgun slug this year. The doe that raised them was not on the hill with them so I suspect they were orphans.

The nine-day firearms deer season was nothing to write home about for a lot of folks in the area where I hunt. Plenty of guys were still trying to fill their tag on the last day. A friend of mine who always shoots at least one deer told me early Sunday afternoon he had not fired a shot. I was not surprised to learn late Sunday afternoon that he had decided not to go out for the last couple hours of hunting. As he was giving me a lift to my truck he remarked that deer hunting did not mean as much as it once had. He has shot dozens of deer and planned to continue going out -- but mainly to be a part of a group and see the look on their faces in moments of triumph.

My dad was a big duck hunter and a crack wing shot who would tell my brother and I great stories of what duck hunting had been when he was a kid. He had grown up in the day when the skies were black with ducks and he had shot his share. That is why it used to make us so mad when he would leave the blind on a bluebird day and pick a bouquet of fall flowers for my mom. Was he demented? The ducks were coming! We were hunting! When we called him on his remarkably poor timing he would just smile and tell us the duck hunting "was not what it used to be." The funny thing is, I don't remember him ever purposely ruining a shot for us. What I remember is watching him knock down ducks.

The three of us were hunting on Saginaw Bay in Michigan once on a cold, windy and misty day. My dad had set the trip up with some of the local hunters and we were hunting in their blinds, which were built on stilts and sat out in the middle of the bay. Just be chance, the diving ducks were coming through that day and we shot a couple sack-fulls of birds. That was the kind of hunting my dad had known when he was growing up and he wanted us to enjoy it too.

It was the custom of these local guys was to let the ducks circle and land in the decoy set and then shoot at them. We could not believe it but we played along out of courtesy. We had big flocks come whizzing right past us and we were holding our fire. Finally, it got too much for the old flower-picker. As a flock of about 100 canvasbacks roared past our blind my dad stood up and dumped two of them with one shot. I don't think our guide had ever seen someone shoot a duck in the air. After that, we took them on the wing.

About 10 years ago I took my son to Canada with me. We were guests of some friends who camp on a farm in Manitoba where the snow geese are pretty thick.

We had driven for about 9 hours to reach the area we were going to hunt. I could tell my son was getting antsy. Where were all the geese I had been talking about? Were we too early? Were the geese still "up north?" There are some dark fears that run through a kid's mind at times like that.

When we were about five miles from the farm where we were going to stay, the lead truck in our party hung a right and we drove down a gravel road for a couple miles. I quickly realized that we were going to check out some spot that might be holding some birds. Suddenly, about a quarter mile ahead we saw a mixture of white and blue. In a picked wheat field were around 5,000 geese feeding on grain -- a moving mass of feathers.

It evoked a one-word exclamation from my son.


A couple minutes later I had him walk into that field and spook the birds. They got up right in front of him -- a cloud of geese -- and since it was Sunday and hunting was closed there were no casualties. I don't remember how many ducks and geese we shot on that trip but I do remember my son's eyes popping out of his head.

Another time it was ice fishing that did the trick. About six of us were lolling around in my pal's angling house visiting. The only guy who was actually fishing was my son. It had been dead for a long time but he kept prowling from hole-to-hole in the six-hole house like a tiger pacing back and forth in his cage. He had just reached the far side of the angling house when the rattle reel on the opposite end went off. His head whipped around like Billy the Kid going for his six-gun and he took two quick steps toward the reel. His hand was about six inches behind the guy who was manning the rattle reel when he casually set the hook. Another of my pals in the angling house who had seen the look in my son's eyes laughed so hard he almost choked. A day or so later when we were joking about the rattle reel incident and I asked him if he remembered "those days."

His laughter turned to a smile.

"Yeah," he grinned, "I remember."