One of my earliest memories has me around the age of four-years-old, if that old, and it began in the pre-dawn hours of an October Saturday morning.
Dressed in camouflage and holding a b.b. gun that probably wasn’t strong enough to back down a charging mosquito, I found my tiny legs matching my father’s long strides on the “back side” of our Black Angus farm. Dad was carrying a shotgun and together, we were setting out to kill squirrels.
I can still vividly recall the cold autumn air as it chilled my face.
“Shhhh…,” dad patiently whispered. “I think I see one,” he added, gazing hard into an oak tree on the horizon.
Suddenly, my childish heart was racing as my legs too were racing, attempting to keep up with the man that stood larger than life in my eyes.
“Aim your gun at him, and we’ll shoot the squirrel together,” he quietly whispered, as the two of us found ourselves standing at the base of the tree staring the fox squirrel in the eyes.
In an instant, what was a quiet and seemingly lifeless forest clamored to life while the sound of his shotgun echoed through the Blue Ridge mountains of Southwest Virginia.
Birds began chirping, spooked deer began running and my young ears felt a sensation I would come to love in the years ahead. I was alive… the squirrel, not so much!
Checking to make sure the massive orange squirrel was “good and dead”, my father whittled a stick and plugged it through his paws, then handing it to me, saying, “Congratulations! That’s the first squirrel you ever killed!”
Pointing to a small pellet mark where his shotgun had undoubtedly grazed the animal, he lied and said, “This is where your b.b. hit him.”
I became a man at that moment, if only in my mind!
That evening we fried up the squirrel and ate him. At the age of only four, I felt an indescribable sense of accomplishment. We had gone out in search of food and came back successful — a confidence was instilled in me that day that has yet to escape me.
In the years ahead, some of my most cherished memories with my father were spent leaned against the truck bed of a Dodge Ram on the edge of a woods and many of my clearest moments of thinking were experienced sitting at the foot of a large locust tree.
Whether it’s hunting for deer, turnkey, squirrel or rabbit, hunting has become a part of me and has developed in me a sense of great respect for nature and the natural course of life.
Sadly, a recent report published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems to indicate that in this day and age fewer people than ever are experiencing the blessings of this once common way of life.
In 2016, only 5% of the U.S. population 16 years old and older went hunting.
In 2011, approximately 13.7 million Americans were hunters, however in only five years time, that number has dropped by 2.2 million to only 11.5 million. That’s a decrease of 16% in only five years.
The numbers of big game hunters fell 20%, and hunters seeking “other animals” decreased by 39%.
This is troubling news for a number of reasons.
First, it seems to indicate that as a nation we are becoming even more removed from the understanding or ability to “live off the land.” God forbid the unthinkable occur and we are left with a breakdown in our transportation system or the electrical grid (something that is hardly unthinkable), only 5% of the American population may have the skills to survive.
As a father and a son, I also find it heartbreaking that so many children are missing out on quality time with their fathers, as well as enjoying the sense of accomplishment that can only accompany preying on one’s next meal and then successfully bringing it home for supper.
If you haven’t been hunting in a long time… try it!
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