End of a hunting era?
Hunting season was a bit more difficult than in years past all the way around. For the regular Southern Zone big game season opener, our traditional trip to Steuben County saw limited participation from our group of hunters. Life seemed to get in the way this year as illness, school and work impacted a brother, my daughter, two nephews and a couple friends from hunting the kickoff weekend.
When we arrived on Friday to set up our hunting spots and plan for the opener, it was only my brother Rick and my dad, set to turn 88 years young in December. He thought he still had another year in him as we prepared our base camp for shelter and setting up a camp stove to warm up some soup at noon. Dear old dad can’t get around like he used to, but he can still hunt from a chair under some protection from the elements.
Opening morning, it was cold. Too cold for dad to be able to sit out for any length of time. He chose to stay in the car until it warmed up. Rick and I headed out to our spots.
This is an area that dad was introduced to by the area ranger nearly six decades ago – Bob Bailey. I remember him because I started my hunting experiences when I was only eight years old. I would come down with my grandfather and hunt opening day with my trusty Daisy BB gun. One time we went to the Bailey home to visit and I went off playing with his kids in the attic. I ended up not knowing where to step and came down crashing through the ceiling, ending up falling on a desk in the ranger’s office in a pile of papers.
Through the years, Bill, Sr. hunted from a favorite hemlock tree, encountering a variety of wildlife along the way. He took his biggest buck from that tree and helped each of the boys take their first bucks. For me, it was my first two bucks, but only one counted.
My first year hunting alone, I was caught off guard as a six-point buck approached from the opposite direction. I was out of position. As I slowly worked my gun around as the buck stepped behind trees, I finally got a shot off at close range. It ran downhill a short distance before a series of shots filled the woods. There was another hunter at the base of the hill, and I saw the buck do a somersault in the air. I walked down to see what had happened and the other hunter was already field dressing the deer. My shot was perfectly placed; his shot hit a leg. He ended up with the deer.
The next day, in a slightly different spot, another six-point buck came through and I was ready. I dropped it in its tracks.
I tell that story because this year I went to my first spot that I had cleared away and within five minutes I spotted a hunter. He saw me, but still sat down 75 yards from me. I decided to move to an area very close to the spot where I shot that very first buck. Within 10 minutes, a doe came through. One shot, but it wasn’t perfect. I had miscalculated the distance. I contacted my brother and we started to follow the blood trail.
Several hours later, we found the deer, unable to move any further. We chose to have me drag the deer down to the main road rather than haul it uphill for over a mile. I have been hunting this hill for over 50 years myself and I’ve been up and down and over more times than I can remember. I know the terrain. However, Rick is more of a stay-at-home kind of hunter who sticks to a certain area. He would go back and grab the car to meet me down at the main road.
As I arrived at the main road, my phone rang. It was Rick. “Billy, I fell and hit my head. I am disoriented and not sure where I am.”
I told him to stay put and I would call some friends at a nearby camp. If you are thinking why we didn’t call dad, he’s one of those old school kind of guys. He doesn’t use a cell phone. I called Mike Fox, his son Jesse and Mike George to come and get me and then assist with the search. It wasn’t time to panic but I was a little worried.
Rick called again and he had run into another hunter. The hunter told him that he was in Erskin Hollow. Erskin Hollow? That was the complete opposite side of the hill! It led to further confusion. Where was he?
Fox and company arrived a short time later, picked me up and we motored back to the top of the hill. We dropped the deer off and I stuck my head in my car to say to dad we were looking for Rick, not trying to alarm him at all. It was at that point I discovered that my dad had drained the battery and never turned the car on. We would have to take care of that when we returned. He was cold.
We drove down the truck trail and I communicated with my brother to see if he could hear the horn of Fox’s truck. No luck. Finally, we asked Rick to shoot his gun and we might be able to pinpoint him. When he pulled the trigger, the echo of the shot was close. We entered the woods at my car and found him within five minutes. It was a huge relief. And he wasn’t in Erskin Hollow!
We had to go back to the car and jump the battery, getting the heat going for dad. We heated up some soup and made a sandwich for him as he recharged his own battery. On the trip off the hill, he said that this was not enjoyable for him anymore. He would stay in the room on Sunday as Rick and I went back up for the Sunday hunt and pack everything back up. Is it the end of an era?
From a physical standpoint, he might not be able to sit in the woods like he used to. However, he will probably go along to share in the social aspect of it. He will go to breakfast and dinner with us. He will continue to share his stories with whoever will be hunting with us to continue to pass on the tradition through words. These hunts aren’t getting any easier.