Posts Tagged ‘Ron Vergnolle’

The Old Hunting Road

The Old Hunting Road

On a balmy spring evening, my daughter and I walked down a red clay road, lined by underbrush and striped down the center with tall grass.  It was an old logging road during a time long passed.  Since its time in service to the forest industry in South Carolina, generations of hunters had worn in its grooves.  Traveling from the cabin to various stand locations and food plots by horse, truck, four-wheeler and foot, the road was defined by experiences.  As I walked its ragged tracks, I could not help but think about all the hunters trafficking the road before me.  Mostly, I thought about the fathers hunting with their children who had travelled this worn path before me.  I wondered if the traffic I thought about also thought about the hunters and their children that walked before them.  I knew they had.  Without those experiences there would have been no road.

It survived because of the traffic that impressed memories into the soul of its clay.  What had these hunters thought as they slowly moved to and from their favorite hunting spots?  Some dreamed of shooting does for food but they all dreamed of shooting bucks for trophies.  I knew.  I had travelled the road many times.

They travelled the road dreaming of a goal or remembering a success.  At some point along its path, imprinted memories of wild game crossed their paths and interrupted their thoughts.  I knew.  This old hunting path wore the memories of hundreds of hunters laying thousands of tracks to their dreams.  It did the same for the game that meandered across its path from time to time.  And, sometimes, the old road made its own memories.

Earlier that sweaty afternoon, my daughter and I had been hunting turkey.  Although we heard the reassuring clucks and putts of several hens and the aggressive gobble of a few Toms, we had no success bringing them to within range or even eyesight of our ground blind.  Sometimes, in turkey hunting just seeing a bird is rewarding success.

While we were scouting earlier in the week we decided to set up at a cross roads where the old dirt road came together with its brother road to form a V.  Rather than walk and stalk, we chose to sit and wait.  We knew turkeys were traveling this fork in the road.  There were tracks everywhere.  Dozens of birds were coming together at this spot, and in the afternoon on this land, the birds are skittish. Their anxiety builds throughout the day and pushes them to roam quietly in open spaces where they cannot be ambushed.  They rarely call or respond to calls.

The old dirt road and its brother came together between a stand of tall hardwoods where turkeys tend to roost and a food plot where they tend to feed in the evenings.  The old road spoke to us silently, “watch my path from the hardwoods come together with my brother’s path form the food plot.  Look down.  See the turkey tracks?  Now, sit and wait patiently.”

My daughter’s eyes followed mine as they traveled from the hardwoods to where we stood and back to the food plot to where we stood.  We both scattered our vision across the scattered tracks surrounding our boots.  We didn’t need to speak.  We knew it would be just a matter of time when these birds would come back down their well-travelled path and bring themselves into our range.  We didn’t need to call them.  The road told us they would come.

After a couple of hours sitting patiently, we whispered convincingly to one another, “they will come.  They’ve been using the road.  They will come.”

“I know, daddy.  They will come.  There are tracks every where,” she said quietly and confidently.

After a time when patience starts fading into uncertainty, our conversation drifted into uncertainty as well.  “I am pretty sure we are in the right spot,” I whispered.

“I think we are too daddy,” my daughter replied in a voice that belied her confidence in what the old road had told us.

“Daddy. Look,” my daughter whispered.

“Finally, a turkey,” I thought as I turned my head slowly in her direction.

As she darted her eyes back and forth from my eyes to her hand, I was too mentally focused on seeing a turkey to notice the black and purple winged butterfly that was resting on her camouflaged glove.

“Do you see a turkey?  I don’t see it,” I whispered as quietly as audible would allow.

“Look,” she whispered just as meekly as she pointed her eyes to her glove.

Then I saw it.  The butterfly was moving its wings slowly up and down like a gymnast adjusting her outstretched arms on a balance beam.  I forgot all about turkeys as I watched with her.  Its wings slowed to a rest vertically as the butterfly settled in on what it must have thought was a leafy branch.  Its incandescent wings glimmered erratically between the hues of every color, shimmering like the thinnest film of oil resting on the calm surface of water.

The hyper instability of its color was the butterfly’s beauty.  With synaptic speed, the slightest shift in the environment altered the silky sheen of its color.  Even the rush of air from our breath brushed its wings through hundreds of shades.  As we watched, I realized the butterfly was not black and purple. It was every color.  I hoped my daughter could hear my thoughts.

“Do you think she can see us,” she asked in an almost inaudible whisper trying desperately not to alarm our guest.

“I don’t think so.  She must think you are a bush.  You look like a bush,” I replied in an equally cautious but more playful hush.

“Look.” She whispered anxiously her eyes darting toward mine seeking acknowledgement.

We both stared at the butterfly as it rolled its tongue out slowly down from its mouth to her fingers and grasped dust-sized yellow pine pollen spores from off her glove.  We watched timelessly, not saying a word, just occasionally looking at one another’s eyes and smiling through our camouflaged meshed masks as the butterfly consumed the pollen one spore at a time.

When the butterfly was full, it stroked its wings downward and then back up slowly as if it were stretching after a big meal.  Then, it flew off.  Flittering, darting and bobbing through the air like an immature oak leaf caught in the wind, we watched it disappear.

“That was so cool,” I said to my daughter as I stood up to leave.  We had seen enough.  Our hunt was over.  Night was drawing near and I knew the turkeys had taken another route to their roosts that night.

“That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” she said as she stood up beside me.

“What an experience,” I thought to myself.  Our hunt was successful.  We started walking back to the truck.  It was the time of the evening when the sun was waiting just above the horizon baiting the woods to go to sleep.  As if the woods had not gotten the message, the sky brightened in a pulse for a few seconds with the red edge of it’s spectrum.  The day was exhaling its last breaths and the night was warning the woods of its impending reassuring, peaceful presence.

My daughter was walking next to me scuffing her semi-asleep feet through the dew-thickened grass along the middle of its rutted path.  I was walking along the edge of the matching muddy groove two feet away.  Our camouflage hid us from everything but us.  The anticipation of the night quieted everything in the woods.  Even the crickets and the owls respect the divinity of this brief moment when everyday takes its last sleep filled breaths.  Silently, the old hunting road reliably guided our path home.

It is at these times that life stirs deep thoughts.  On that calm, crisp spring evening, I was not thinking of the owls that serenaded the turkeys to their slumber on their roost or past hunts.  I was not thinking about the day’s hunt or even about our radiant butterfly experience.  I thought of nothing but my daughter walking beside me through the woods along this beaten down old path that so many fathers had walked before with their children.  She was my thoughts.

I was overwhelmed by her presence.  Without looking, I reached down.  She grasped my hand, also without looking, as if she had been waiting for it.  We walked for several more minutes, not saying a word, not looking at one another.  The tall grass of the road between us tickled our locked hands in the quiet darkness of the day’s last breaths, comforting us that it was there beneath our feet carrying us home.

“I love you.”

“I love you too, daddy.”

The old hunting road made another memory.

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Son’s First Buck

My Son’s First Buck

My son is four, but he is going on ten or so.  If you ask him, he is a ninja wearing Superman’s cape and Batman’s mask.  He’s a droid that has travelled through space and conquered most of the “bad guys” with his laser-beam eyes.  He can hold his breath as long as Aquaman, but he “a’int wearing no orange suit,” he’ll remind you.  He beats me up every day when I come home from work with karate moves he calls “the ham and cheese,” “the macaroni special,” and the well known “knuckle sandwich.”

I love him as much as you can love anything, and he loves me so much he will do anything I do.  So, when I take him hunting, he wants to do it all.  He climbs twenty-foot ladder stands without fear, because I do.  He walks beside me for hours in the woods because I do.  He picks up snakes, because I do.  And, he wants to shoot a buck more than anything in the world because I do.  There’s only one problem, he is way too young to shoot anything.  But, don’t tell him that.  He would be very hurt.  As far as he is concerned, “if daddy can do it, I can do it.”

About three weeks ago, I picked him up from his church school to take him hunting.  I had the afternoon off, and I thought it would be fun to spend a little time with him in the woods.  I wasn’t expecting to have much luck.  It’s hard to hunt with a four year old.  But I was expecting to have a great time with my son enjoying the woods, talking about hunting and wildlife.  Although I really wanted him to see some wildlife, I didn’t expect much on the hunting front, but I hoped for a lot on the father-son front.

When we arrived at the hunting camp, we went inside the cabin to change our clothes.  It was like dressing in a miniature mirror.  I would slide one leg into my camo long-johns and he would slide his leg into his.  I would slide my arm into my shirt and he would slide his arm into his.  I slipped on my rubber boots.  He slipped on his.  He never took his eyes off me and he put on each article of clothing exactly as I did and at the same pace I did.  I was already having fun just watching a little version of me dress himself in the chair across from me.  It made me wonder if I was ever a reflection of my dad as he got ready to hunt.  I imagine so, but I could not remember.

After we were dressed, I pulled out my pack to take inventory.  He stared at me intently watching every move as I checked off my list.  I held up each item in my pack one by one.  “Never go in the woods without water,” I said as I held up a bottle of water.

“Check.” He said matter-of-factly.  I almost laughed, “Check?”

“Yessir. Check.  We got water,” he said with a smile.

“Yea boy, we got water.  Knife,” I followed.

“Check.  Never go in the woods without a knife,” he said.  He was catching on.

“Apple,” I kept going, getting a huge kick out of how serious he was taking the whole process.

“Apple.  Check.  Never go in the woods without an apple.  Hey daddy, why don’t you never go in the woods without an apple,” he asked un-assuredly after having checked it off so assuredly.

“You have to take food in the woods and apples freshen your breath better than toothpaste.  Deer can smell toothpaste and apples, but they love apples and hate toothpaste,” I explained with a smile.

“Apple.  Check.” He got it.

We went through the rest of the stuff in my pack and I explained why we needed it all, “we need this compass in case we get lost.”

He looked up at me quizzically, “if we get lost why don’t we just follow the trail back to the cabin,” he said simply.  I laughed to myself.  He had a point. Kids see things with simple glasses that look straight through the complexities of adulthood.

Loading the pack afforded me some quality time to kill before we began our long sit in the stand.  One of the hardest things do when hunting with a kid is keep them from getting bored while sitting in the stand.  The Red power Ranger who rides a Transformer to crush all the Pokemon is only going to sit still so long.  So, I wait as long as possible preparing and teaching before I take my kids up in the stand.

Nevertheless, hunting is about patience and hunting with children is about developing their patience.  My son has taught me that it takes patience to build patience.  Each time in the stand builds a little more patience.  I laugh when I hear other parents ordering their children to be patient.  Most of them are doing so because they have lost their own.  Patience is not something that can be commanded; it is something that must be experienced.

“Daddy, lets go kill us a buck,” he said about the time his patience was running thin with the preparation for the hunt.  The funny thing about my boy is that he knows that most of the deer I harvest are does and he has only seen does when he has been hunting with me, but all he talks about are bucks.  Boys love bucks.  Why?  Maybe its because we only have mounted bucks on our walls.  Maybe its because we talk about them a lot.  Maybe, its just because bucks are majestic.  They are regal.  For my son, its probably as simple as, “they have swords on their heads.”

Let’s go get us one then,” I said as matter-of-factly as if it were going to happen.  That is the attitude I want to teach my son.  Think positive.  Let the hunt come to you and eventually it will.  Every time you walk in the woods, if you are prepared you have a chance to get a buck.  One thing is certain, if you do not walk in the woods or you are not prepared, you have no chance at all.  I knew he believed this because the entire walk to the stand he was telling me about the big eight-point buck we were going to see and how he was going to shoot it.

“Now dad, when we see the buck, you gotta let me shoot it.  It’s my turn.  I have not shot a buck before and you have, so that means it’s my turn,” he was as convinced as a Luke Skywalker was that he was going to defeat Darth Vader in return of the Jedi that he was going to see a buck.  He was even more convinced that he was going to shoot it.

“Got it.  You can shoot if it’s a good one,” I told him knowing full well that our chances of seeing a buck were limited, not because we were hunting in a bad place or because it was a bad time of year.  It’s just hard to bring a buck into a field with a four year old that thinks he is Incredible Hulk wearing Spiderman’s suit armed with death laser eyes and a Luke Skywalker’s light saber.

We headed out for the stand.  I had my 264 win mag., which is about six inches longer than he is tall, slung over my shoulder and he had his single shot .22, which is just shorter that he is, slung over his.  Even though he has never shot his gun, he wanted to carry it, just like I carried mine.  What a pair, my boy and I walking through the woods.  I looked down at him and it took me back in time to when I was his age.

“Well, then, let’s go shoot one,” I said to him with a chuckle.

“We’ll get ‘em,” he replied confidently.

Sure enough, we had been sitting in the stand for about a half an hour when Spiderman, Hulk and the rest of the League of Justice had to pee.  “You gotta what,” I asked him having made him pee at least three times while we were dressing and loading our pack?

“Yessir daddy, I gotta go,” he said sheepishly.

“Can you wait,” I asked in vain knowing that his bladder only has about five minutes of capacity but hoping he may somehow have developed in the last five minutes a fraternity boy tolerance to urination.

“No sir, gotta go,” he emphasized with an inspired “not gonna have any accidents today daddy.”

“Well, that’s good,” I thought to myself. “I can’t wait to tell his mom that the key to avoiding potty accidents is to put the boy in a deer stand.”

As I helped him use the bathroom through the metal grates of the stand, I was a bit disappointed.  There was a part of me that believed him when he said we were going to see a big buck that day. He seemed to truly believe it.  There is something so pure about the hope in a boy’s eyes that it is contagious and it had stricken me like the Swine Flu.  I really thought we were going to see a buck, but now that my son had just marked its territory, I knew there was no way.  Using the bathroom anywhere near a deer stand (ever) is the kiss of death.  Anyone who has ever hunted whitetail will say as much.

But, the boy had to go, so I let him go.  What can you do?  After two years of telling him over and over not to go in his pants, I could not go back now.  Besides there is no difference whether you go in your pants or through the grates of the stand.  Once the scent is released, the deer will smell it for days and the hunt is over.  So, he went.

After he was finished, I helped him get his pants up and he sat back down next to me, “Dad, we are gonna see a big buck today,” he looked up at me and through his cammo face-mask all I could see were two big blue eyes of hope.  He had a look of hope that I had long forgotten.  It was pure hope, a look that had not yet been jaded by any of life’s disappointment.  It inspired me.

“You never know, son,” I said with a smile feeling a part of that hopeful look fill my thoughts.  “You never know.  You never know.”

My thoughts drifted into daydreams of “you never know’s.”  I was thinking about all the times when I was around his age that I dreamed things would happen so hard they seemed to happen.  I felt feelings I hadn’t had for many years.  I remembered times that I had been wading in the Ocean with a baited hook with an old Pen reel for what seemed like hours.  I waited through the rise and fall of a high tide with my dad telling me to check the bait.  I just knew I shouldn’t.  You never know.  I thought if I reeled in that line to check, it would be at that very moment that a Whiting or a Spot-tail would cruise by the place where my bait had been sitting and I would miss him.  That’s what teaches you patience – hope – you never know.

I was startled out of my memories like a fish slamming my bait in the surf after that long wait by the sound of the bushes rustling 10 yards in front of our stand.

“Did you hear that,” I asked my boy as I shifted my body to look.  “That’s not a squirrel.  I think it’s a deer,” I whispered to him as he looked up.  “SHHHH.”  I looked back at him as he stared intently into the woods.

“It’s a buck,” he said, not in a whisper.

“SHHH,” I paused.  “Maybe,” I paused again listening intently.  “We need to be as quiet as possible,” I hushed almost inaudibly.

“Got it,” he whispered back as quietly as I did.

I saw its front legs first.  An overhanging tree branch hid its head, which quickly emerged from the woods, adorned with antlers.

“Daddy.”

“I know.”  It stood there ten yards from us on an old logging road.  I was shocked.  It stood ten yards from where my son had not ten minutes ago used the bathroom.  Broadside, eight points, wide but not tall, it stood staring right up at us.

“It’s a buck daddy, shoot it,” my son whispered as if he were a seasoned hunting guide.  He was so excited he had forgotten about the fact that it was his turn to shoot a buck.

It was a nice buck by any measure.  Its antlers were outside of the ears.  It had eight, nice symmetric points, but it was young, maybe 2 and half years old.  It still had a lot of growing to do.  It was not yet a shooter.

“Shoot ‘em daddy,” my boy exclaimed in a whisper so loud I could not believe the buck did not bolt for cover.  It just stood there.  It was a bow-hunter’s dream shot.  He was giving my son the best look he may ever have at a buck at such close range.  He was burning himself into my son’s memory.  I could see it in my son’s wide-eyes.

“I can’t shoot him, son.  He’s too young,” I whispered.

“What do you mean he’s too young.  It’s a buck.  Shoot ‘em,” all he knew about hunting was that we were out there for bucks and we were staring at a buck ten yards away. It was close.  It had eight points.  It had a good spread. To him this buck was huge, the biggest buck he had ever seen – his first buck.

In a voice that I can only describe as a “letting him down voice,” I whispered back, “I can’t.”  I knew we shouldn’t take this buck.  He had many better years ahead of him.  “Son, I can’t shoot him,” I whispered one more time in a voice that hoped he would understand.

I turned to look at him hoping I wouldn’t see what I knew I would, the face of dejection.

By this time he was standing up in the stand next to me, looking over the rail at the buck.  There was no dejection in his face and there was no dejection in his voice when he said,

“Well then, give me the gun.  I am the man for this job.”

I laughed so hard it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know what that buck did.

My son’s first buck was a great buck for him and for me.

“I am the man for this job.”