Where I am from and where I live are two very different places and although I have just said that, I am already disagreeing with myself. It was a little subdivision within a small town where I didn’t know the covies of quail or spot deer from the deck, but we did have a good bird dog who was a natural talent and had to be, I should add, because although my brother and I had made promises it was my dad who kept her alive.
Children need their fathers to be a little dangerous. My dad is a kind man and a practical man, for certain. He is steady and you could say gentle, even. But he is not all safe.
I was seven when we built that deer stand out of 2x4s and nails out on Charley Rogers’ place. It was big enough for two and high enough to see clear across the bottoms. When dad shook me to rise so early my stomach hurt, we loaded the truck and and got coffee and hot chocolate at the Pantry. Soon enough were in Hanson, walking in the dark, and it was dark when we reached the tree and dark when I went up first and made that last enormous step in the dark and he reached me an unloaded rifle.
We sat there, fighting off the doze and me tracing the grey corn in binoculars until I could recite it from memory and then finally a deer came strolling across. My father’s shot nearly startled me out of the stand, for I had forgotten what we were doing and was puzzled to have seen a deer in the first place. Now it had been knocked to the ground and I was probably second as much froze as he was.
We ran down from the tree, out of the woods and into the corn. We grabbed cold wet legs and pulled towards the truck and I’ll never forget such pulling. To first my horror and second my fascination, we dressed the steaming deer as daybreak light broke over the rise. We put it in the truck and drove back to the subdivision and I have a picture sitting proudly in the bed with the legs sticking up and the neighborhood kids looking all very grossed out, but not me whatsoever because they were mostly girls and this what men did.
My dad had told his hunting stories. His pride was now in my telling it, which I did over and over. I live in the city now, although not a big one, and go hunting less. We are conscious about our food, grow a garden, buy organics, shop for free range, do what city people do and feel the way city people feel.
This is not the same demographic that finds itself knocking down their own food to the ground from the wild, and I find that interesting. After all, bullets are cheap as my uncle would say. I have yet to see a hipster hauling a deer back into town strapped onto the hood of a Volvo. But it seems the suggestion would come up in a discussion on efficiencies.
No, I don’t think something has to die for adventure to be had. I’ve taken 1500 pictures and shot two birds. I’m a much more gentle man than my father. When I’ve shot deer I’ve not stood by to let them die, I’ve walked up quickly and executed to the head with my sidearm .357. I’m a gentle man. But I need to feel strongly. Mountains, oceans, and stage fright.
My brother and I would stalk the ducks in the pond behind my grandfather’s barn. We have a grandmother that always threw a squirrel or a rabbit in a stew. You don’t shoot what you don’t intend to eat, unless it would steal what you were trying to eat, like the coons in her corn. So we shot those too.
My dad made me stick my hand up the chest cavity of a duck when I was small and it was then that I knew he was a dangerous man and only a dangerous man could do that, and dangerous men are the only ones capable of finishing such things. If I were brave enough to put that old Winchester 12 gauge to my shoulder and fire, then I had better be ready to put a duck on the table.
I wish I could say I finish more things. I guess I’m as much inclined to let them take me. But I finish a lot more than I would have, and I’m grateful to have 44 clean birds in the cooler.