Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Night Lights

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XII)

     My nephew, my brother's son, does not visit much.  He is chained to the suburbs by parents unwilling to make the trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa.  My brother likes to forget about the outdoors and our family traditions.  His son only hears whispers of the stories of a young man afield.  But every once in awhile, on a rare occasion, I kidnap my nephew and allow him to explore a whole new world, free of mini-vans and soccer practice.  He gets to play freely amongst the trees.
     And so shortly after Christmas, my brother and his family visit a weekend or two after the holiday to celebrate.  I told my nephew I would drive him back to "civilization" so he could spend an extra night at Grandma's house.  Part of the deal, however, was that the night had to be spent coyote hunting.  This deal did not go over well with my daughters as they had not yet gone coyote hunting and desperately wanted to.  Grandpa jumped at the chance to hunt with his grandson and a sleepover quickly turned into an event.
     The night was cold and clear as we packed the side-by-side for the trip to our set-up.  Grandpa wanted to sit up in the two-man stand so Justyn wouldn't be so apprehensive (coyotes don't climb ladders, do they?).  We bumped along the woods trails, eerily looking like a dark-leaved tunnel in the UTV's headlights, not saying a word, Justyn shivering a little with cold and excitement.  We parked and trucked through the snow into the stand.  I hunkered down about 35 yards in front and off to the side with caller in hand.  Sitting in a lawn chair, back to a tree, as the caller wailed like a wounded rabbit, I tried to pierce the night's shroud with my stare.  A handful of times I thought I saw shadows move and I felt as if Justyn and Grandpa were using me for bait.  Several eternities passed in between scanning the field for glowing eyes.  The excitement and enjoyment were tangible, I couldn't tell if I were more excited because of the hunt or who was hunting.  The whole thing seemed so joyously surreal.
     Before the excitement wore off and turned into frigid boredom, Grandpa flipped on the spotlight and took a poke at an imaginary critter.  Justyn got to hold the spotlight, to hear a shot, to smell the gunpowder in the air.  We gathered our gear and walked out into the field.  Justyn led the way looking for the stealthy creature that was hiding amongst the pines, flitting in the shadows.  Not able to find a drop of blood or ounce of fur, we headed back to our rig and followed the drifting woodsmoke back home to a warm fire and hot chocolate.
     Forever turned out to be two hours of sitting and it was perfect.   

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Flights of Fall

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XI)

     The third time wasn't a charm, it was magical.  Our party of four was only three, Chris Hubert, Dad, and I.  I had tried all the old boys but age or whatever held them at home, more the better looking back now.  I asked Big Chris Simpson, who declined because of layoffs and the recession and such.  But I had never mentioned money and never really cared too much about it.  The money had already been taken out of the bank and the hunt was already paid for.  The two Chris's, Dad, and I got packed for a day afield, a rainy day as usual.
     The rain came down and the wind howled along the highway as we drove the lonely road from NJ to Starlight.  Hubert and I talked in spurts more to keep us awake than to discuss anything.  Our early morning arrival saw a brush of snow that didn't linger and a warm couch that quietly welcomed our work-weary bodies.  Big Chris, not knowing how hunting works, was right on time, 7:15 on the dot.  Dad was ready for all of us with guns, vests, and everything but ammo laid out on the floor.  A quick ATV ride to the cabin to retrieve a couple of boxes of ammo in the crisp morning air woke me up and readied me for the day's adventure.
     The day was the normal rainy day with the extra bonus of gusting winds thrown in for good measure.  We waited a bit for the wind to die and rain to subside to a sporadic drizzle and the birds were deployed.  A short walk up the hill and we were hunting with our guide and his dog.  The briars pricked as we plodded through the fields.  The wind stung our faces with little needles of rain.  The shotguns bit our shoulders with strong recoil as feathers and laughter filled the air.
     Ten out of twelve we shot.  A good result for a foursome that hadn't hunted together before and had never practiced.  Dad blew through boxes of 12 gauge as fast as his 1100 could spit them out.  I enjoyed lingering a little longer on target with my faithful single shot, the stovepipe.  We all downed birds and we all missed the two that got away.  The morning blew by, filled with the ribbing, the ball-busting, the gruff jabs at the lack of accuracy, hearty laughter that cleanses the soul.  It truly felt like "hunting camp".
     We have planned to meet like this every year.  It would be good to have that magic to look forward to, to hold on to, to believe in again.  Hopefully the magic won't die.  I have no doubt that the magic is there.  This time of year always proves it.  The faces and fields may change but the magic always reappears.  I am thankful for that.