Nowadays sportsmen don’t ask each other how we got started. There’s simply no need to bother, most of us already know the answer.
While society has reeled away from the outdoors, pushing toward the advancement of manufactured food and simplified entertainment, the Father (in the parental sense, not the biblical) has stood his ground. I would argue that it is the Father alone that has allowed the advancement of hunting, fishing and shooting over the past two decades. He passes down to his children the strength and knowledge that comes with pursuing wild things. He teaches and pushes his sons and daughters and gives them the tools they need to carry on the tradition.
It’s a rather sappy premise, though, that sometimes flies in the face of how we view our parents. I don’t do everything my father does, and I certainly didn’t follow in his footsteps in every aspect of my life. My dad’s a florist, and as you can probably gather by reading this article, I am not. I like hard rock, my dad can’t stand it. But for some reason I just always knew I would be outdoors with dad.
I remember the first time I realized I was a sportsman. I remember the first time I realized my dad was my best friendâŠand both would remain constant. Both were in my nature.
To celebrate our dads and all they’ve done for us, the editors of Intermedia Outdoors have joined forces to pay tribute to the men that made us sportsmen.
Before my first hunt, Jay bought me a classic Buck Folding Hunter knife and a deer drag. Lo and behold, on the very first deer hunt of my life, I took a borrowed Winchester Model 12 afield and killed a small buck with a Remington slug. From that moment on, I was hooked on hunting, and I guess you could say itâs been âin my natureâ ever since. It wasnât long before I was totally immersed in all kinds of hunting, from small game and waterfowling to upland birds and bowhunting. And over the course of the next two decades, my love of the outdoors transformed my journalism career from the mainstream news media to the editorâs desk at Petersenâs Bowhunting.
Looking back, I sure am grateful for the encouragement Jay offered in those early days. In more recent years, Iâve had a few opportunities to do the same for him. For example, I helped introduce Jayâa lifelong rifle hunterâto archery season via the crossbow, and was with him when he killed his first crossbow deer. A couple of years back, I took him to Quebec where he shot a nice black bear. That week of catching northern pike, eating too much food and going two-for-two on bruins will always rank among my fondest memories in the field. Seeing his excitement over his bear kill was priceless, and I can only imagine he felt the same way when he helped light my hunting fire many years ago. Thanks Dad!
Dad was in town from Alabama to visit for a few days. One of those nights there was a full moon and an eclipse. We figured weâd have a great show, and probably some good fishing. What we didnât figure on was a big school of tarpon, which had snuck inside the bay to feed on the shrimp that usually run that time of year.
In about two hours, we released four tarpon to 120 pounds, broke off one monster and jumped six more. The action was at its most frenzied during the eclipse, with a blood-red moon hanging over the city lights. All around our boat there were big tarpon busting shrimp. And there was no one else fishing but the two of us.
Dad got me started so early it seems a little crazy, looking backâa six-year-old shooting at coots and geese. I followed the heels of his hip boots through marsh grass I could not see over, him taller than the sky, his old Fox side-by-side in one hand and nine or so pintails bouncing over his shoulder. He watched for cottonmouths as I jabbered about the crabs we should catch to go with the pending duck feast. He made sure I was a hunter safety expert long before required, and I still cringe when someone is careless with their muzzle. And he made sure I read Ruark, to confirm those deep feelings that were stirring. That was in the â70s. He was kind-natured, a gentleman, firm, fit and handsome. Now he is in his seventies, and is still all of those things. He always made room in the boat for my friends, whose own fathers were not like him. He trusted me to walk behind him with a loaded gun, and knowing it was a huge responsibility gave me an easy confidence that carried on to adulthood.
âI wonder what the poor folks are doing,â he would say, as we settled into the old leaky boat, slipping chicken necks on strings over the gunwales to lure blue crabs from the muddy water. We were rich in the ways that mattered. People are always asking how I got into this business of being a traveling hunting magazine editor and host of âWorld of Berettaâ TV, half-expecting to hear I lucked into it somehow. What I lucked into was Dad.
Truth is, I decided I was going to be an outdoor writer at age eight, because my father, an office executive, explained, âPlay your cards right and people will pay you to do what youâd rather be doing anyways for a living.â Weâve all seen crazy little league coaches and nut-job pageant moms trying to live through their kids. Iâm happy to say my father does actually live a bit through his son. My adventurous trips overseas and across North America validate the huge investment he made in me: his time.
And itâs time for payback. Glamorous trips be damned, my favorite hunt of last year was a failed Thanksgiving deer and duck hunt on our Arkansas farm. Boredom prompted Dad and me to try my new e-caller out on crows near the house. Minutes passed with nothing, and we felt silly. Then here they came. We cleaned the sky, burning 100 rounds in an hour, blasting the black devils and doing right by the ducks. It was the most fun Iâve had outside Argentina, and mom said Pops was two inches taller when we walked back to the house. You could see his teeth, he was grinning so hard. Heâd hit a rhythm and shot like a pro. Heâd loved to hunt crows as a kid in Virginia but had not done it for 50 years. Iâd never shot them. It was a reminder. That Iâd rather he lived with me than through me. This year, no excuses, I will hunt with him more, so we can ask ourselves, as always: âWhat the poor folks are doing?â
When my brother, Tom, and I were old enough to hold a fishing rod, heâd take us to one of the regionâs many lakes and row us around while we fished, or heâd drop us off by a trout stream to pass the afternoon. We couldnât wait for our next fishing expedition. Dad was never eager to catch a fish, but he enjoyed watching us learn the sport.
Tom and I were fascinated by the natural world, so different from life in the âBig Apple.â We grew to love aquatic environments and the fish that lived there. When it came time for us boys to find a job, the fish business beckoned. Tom took the scholarly road, becoming a fisheries professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, as well as an avid fly fisherman for the many salmonid species of that region. I eventually found work as a fishery biologist in Georgia before moving to Minnesota to become editor of In-Fisherman.
Along the way, my son, Dan, grew up an avid angler as well. He found his career in a different role within the fishing industry, as Field Promotions Coordinator for Rapala, the worldâs largest lure company. With busy schedules, we cherish opportunities to wet a line together. Grandson, Mac, is only seven months old, so heâll have to wait a bit to continue our family tradition.
Photo: On a spring excursion to the San Juan Islands in Washington, the Quinn boys (Tom, left; Dan, center; Steve, right) display a trio of fine ling cod.
My dad is a focused personâespecially when he fishes. When the bass are hitting, you need to be chucking a plug, and if the trout suddenly turn on, youâd best be getting that fly back in the water. And since we were largely catch-and-release fishermen as far back as the 1960s, usually there were no specimens to photograph when the action tapered off anyway. We donât get to fish together much anymore because we live on different coasts, but every visit home means fishingâand his focus and dedication havenât wavered a bit, even though heâs 75 now.
Hunting is different, of course. Killing a game animal means the chase has ended, and you'd think there wouldâve been time for photographs over all those years. Nope. It wouldn't have occurred to him to take pictures of us with the rabbits weâd taken. For one thing, our beagles were already off looking for the next one. Other game? When you hunt with my dad, you stick with it until the very last legal minute, which means more often than not you donât get back to the truck until well after darkâsuccess or not. I think, too, that my dad never placed much importance on the end result of a hunt: It is the scouting and preparation you do, the decisions you make and the execution of a good shot that really matter.
Plus I don't think he's ever needed photographic evidence of our hunting and fishing adventures. He can tell you in detail about nearly every outingâwhat the weather was like and where we went, right down to what kind of mast crops were in a specific hollow where we'd found turkeys or the clarity of the water on a particular stretch of river that produced fish (and the colors of the lures we caught 'em on).
I didn't inherit his photographic memory, alas. But thanks to him I can shoot a rifle, chuck a baitcasting reel, double-haul a fly rod, set a trap, run a boat, call a turkey, navigate with map and compass, find a good buck trail and more. I will also cross one last ridge, make one last cast, brave the worst weatherâbasically do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal. My dad taught me all thatâeven if I don't have the photos to prove it.
Probably gleaned from the pages of Popular Mechanics and made by my fatherâs hands well before we were born, this red-painted plywood camp box contained the world: a stove, lantern, food, first aid kit, toilet paper, snake bite kit, cooking utensils, propane and bottles. It was essentially a wilderness Walmart. If we ever needed anything, Dad would say, âDid you look in the camp box?â Invariably it would be in there. If we heard âlook in the camp boxâ once, we heard it a thousand times, and it became an inside running joke between my brother and I.
After college, my brother and I moved awayâGreg went Idaho and I went all over. We still hunt frequently, but seldom do we get to hunt together. Dadâs hunting days have passed and he has long-since oiled up his guns and put them away. He fishes instead.
This past fall, however, my brother and I decided to set aside time from our busy schedules for a deer trip to our old stomping grounds on the Washington/Idaho border. Greg got there early and set up the wall tent; I showed up in time for dinner. Dad drove the several hours from his homeânot to hunt, but to share camp with his sons. We told him âJust show up, donât bring anything. We have it handled. We are adults, and we will take care of all the gear, food and supplies.â
Greg and I were out scouting, and when we returned we found Dad waiting for us. Greg looked at the open back of his SUV and saw the old wooden camp box.
Greg, with a huge grin on his face, said, âHow long do you think it will be before he mentions he brought the camp box?â
âIt will be in the first five minutes,â I said, with a laugh of my own.
Looking at me sideways, Greg replied, âOh, it wonât take that long.â
We stopped Gregâs pickup and got out. Dad looked at us and didnât say âHiâ or âI made itâ or âHave you seen anything?â Nope, the first words out of his mouth were, âI brought the camp box.â We exchanged a sideways glance and a secretive smile. Even though we told him not to bring anything, he couldnât help himself. The old man was set in his ways.
Over the next couple of days Greg and I both shot deer and tried to show dad a good time. We cooked the meals, built the fires, did the dishes and butchered deer. I think subconsciously this trip was as much about paying the old man back for the many trips he took us on as it was proving how his boys had grown into menâmen with wilderness experience who knew how to hunt deer, run a camp and be prepared.
Dad liked the camping. He enjoyed seeing us kill deer. But I know what he enjoyed the most were the moments we realized weâd forgotten several items like salt, garlic powder, toilet paper and plastic forks.
He didnât say much, he just sat back, poked the fire and said smugly, âDid you look in the camp box?â
I donât remember if we got any squirrels. In fact, I kind of doubt it, as I was a pretty active, noisy kid, far too impatient for still- or stand-hunting. But I do remember walking through the woods with Dad and being amazed at how easily he carried his J.C. Higgins 12-gauge pump gun, which back then seemed to me to be so heavy I could hardly lift it.
I also remember Dad showing me how to cross a barbed wire fence and explaining that whenever possible, it was better to crawl through or under the fence rather than climb over it. Although I didnât realize it at the time, that was my first lesson in hunter-landowner relations.
I have a photo of Dad and myself taken many years later when I was in college. Weâd just returned from another squirrel hunt, and judging from the number of squirrels weâre both holding, it was a very successful morning.
Another cherished photo of my father is a faded and cracked black-and-white snapshot taken a few years before I was born. In this one Dad looks like he stepped right out of an old ammunition advertisement. Heâs smoking a pipe and wearing a billed cap with earflaps. He has a long-barreled, double-barrel over his shoulderâthat old rabbit-eared double still resides in my gun cabinet, next to his J.C. Higgins pumpâand his trousers are tucked into striped socks visible above his tall boots.
Thereâs snow on the ground and a farmhouse in the background, so Iâm guessing this was a rabbit hunt. Dadâs first love was squirrel and rabbit hunting. Unfortunately, we never had many opportunities to pursue my first loveâhunting upland gamebirds over pointing dogsâas he died just a few years after I graduated from college.
Regardless, Iâm certain I owe my love of hunting and the outdoors to him, and thatâs something for which Iâm profoundly gratefulâalong with showing me how to handle the barbed wire fences.
Sitting there, I knew there was no doubt this was the fishing trip that simply couldnât have been put off any longer. Dad was aging quickly and I was determined to take him on a fly-in adventure in the Canadian wilderness. No more delays. No more excuses. Dad wasnât so sure about climbing into a floatplane, but he got it done and we had a great time.
I felt I owed Dad that trip, but as he slipped that big northern back into the water, I realized I owed him so much more. Since I was old enough to hold a fishing rod, Dad took me fishing. I can remember only one time he went fishing without me and my brother, David. Through all those years, Dad showed me the value of the outdoors and all its treasures. He taught me the wisdom of conservation, and although the philosophy of catch-and-release fishing didnât come easy to a young angler, Dad made sure that lesson stuck.
Little did we know, as the big northern tailed into the depths, my father would soon be diagnosed with Parkinsonâs disease. His days as an angler would slowly dwindle away until a merciful brain tumor took him to a place he could fish once again.
To this day, I still do a lot of fishing and have passed that influence on to my sons and grandsons. My father did not hunt, but itâs clear to me that had he not introduced me to the outdoors and fishing, I would not be the manâor the outdoorsmanâI am today.
Itâs in my nature. And my father put it there.
It wasn't long ago their favorite summer activity was threading a worm on a hook and casting into a bluegill pond. Interestingly, with my girls, the big fish wasn't what they were after. Often the smallest fish got the most squeals, oohs and ahhs. To that end, I found myself using small fly-fishing hooks with a worm and bobber, all in an effort to catch the smallest sunfish possible. In their worldâwhere they had tiny dollhouses, matching miniature cars, clothes and furnitureâit made a lot of sense that a small fish was better than a big one. After all, who doesn't like kittens more than grown cats?
Even traveling farther afield with Dad, the smaller fish got the most attention. On one memorable trip we camped in the Canadian Rockies on the banks of the Kootenay River and took the 4X4 deep into the backcountry to fish a tributary rumored to hold big, native cutthroat trout.
On our way to the river we hiked through a clear-cut and saw a large herd of elk grazing on the greenery sprouting up from the traumatized ground. We crawled upwind from stump to stump so as not to disturb their feeding. I had my eye on the larger animalsânot because I'm much of a hunter, but because I don't like getting stomped, and I wanted to maintain a safe minimum distance. The girls, of course, picked out the smallest animal they could see and told their mother all about the "baby elk" when we returned.
The creek had impassable falls near its confluence with the main stem, and upriver there were indeed untarnished Westslope cutthroat trout up to 18 or 19 inchesânot bad up in these mountains. We had one fly rod between the three of usâintentional because with kids this age, you need to leave plenty of time to pick flowers, build rock weirs and collect pretty stones along the shoreline. In some pools, the fish were close enough the girls could make a cast and catch a trout on their own. In other spots, where it was more of a reach, I made the cast and quickly passed the rod off to one of them. (They were already to the age where they realized that there was more to the fishing than just reeling in a fish after I'd hooked it.)
The "trophy" of the day was a 9-inch cutthroat that was dull-colored compared to the large, golden-yellow adult fish in the river. And because its mouth was so small it had a hard time even drowning the #10 Royal Wulff, let alone getting the hook into its mouth. I made the cast up into some deeper water along a logjam. Big fish water, I thoughtâand passed the rod to Ashley. The little trout poked at the fly one, twice (she shrieked with delight), and on the third time the little cutthroat finally got ahold of the fly and hooked itself.
Of all the trout we caught that day, the "baby" was the one they wanted a picture of, and it's a photo thatâs sat on my desk every summer since then.Those girls might not fish right now, but they'll come back to it. Maybe we'll even go back to that little creek with my granddaughters.
Dad only received two weeks of vacation time in those days, but he always spent it with us, camping at Lake George in upstate New York. Weâd fish and hike and look at the stars. He was a decorated pilot in WWII and the night sky was an old friend to him. We slept in a battered old Army tent that smelled like creosote and was hot as a steam bath on those humid August nights, but that didnât matter. We were together as a family; thatâs what counted. Years later, when I moved to Colorado, we hunted deer and elk and waterfowl together.
The morning this photo was taken it was -20F. All of the local water had frozen over, but there was one warm-water slough my good friend, Brad, knew about. Watching it from far off, it seemed like every goose in the county had pitched in there overnight. We loaded up then crept up through the reeds, slow and easy, our Sorels making squeaking sounds in the powdery snow.
Brad was in the lead, holding tight to Daisy, his black lab. Just as we reached the edge of the pond he turned to us and winked. The birds were right in front of us.
Brad silently counted to three then yelled, âtake âem.â We jumped up like three frozen jack-in-the-boxes and drew down on the startled geese, which were already off the water and scratching for altitude in a honking jumble of wings. Brad and I shot fastâtypical of 20-somethingsâbut we each dropped a bird before our guns were empty. Then we turned to dad. His gun was at his shoulder and his face squeezed down hard on the stock. I watched him track the birds, the 30-inch barrels of the pretty Browning double moving smooth and easy as he swung. âButt, beat, bang,â I thoughtâwords dad had taught me to remember when swinging through a bird to get your lead.
His gun barked once and a great, gray hulk of a goose folded and arced into the open water; dadâs gun still swinging as he followed through his shot. A moment later Dad broke his gun, unloaded the spent shell and the unfired round and popped them both in his pocket. âNice shootinâ, boys,â he said, trying to act casual. Then a wide grin spread across his windblown face and we all began to laugh as Daisy fetched the first goose back to our feet.
Dadâs 92 now. He doesnât hunt anymore, but I know he looks back on our days afield together with fondness. In the years that followed, I became an outdoor writer and editor. Iâve been lucky enough to shoot francolin in Africa, driven partridge in Spain, pheasants in England and doves in Argentina. But as fun as those adventures have been, any day in the field with my father was always better. Thanks, Dad.
As the years slip by, itâs important for us to take a step back, take a deep breath and remember those people who nurtured our interest in guns, shooting and hunting when we were young.
In the hectic world we live in, itâs unfortunate that we donât take the time to stop to say thank you to those who were instrumental in opening the door for us to the shooting sports and the outdoors in general.
Take my dad, who was raised on a small farm in southeastern Missouri. While growing up, he bagged plenty of rabbits, squirrels and the occasional opossum for the pot, honing his shooting skills with a .22 rifle. My dad served in the Army as an infantryman, gaining the rank of Tech Sergeant and qualifying Expert with the rifle, carbine and machine gun. He perfectly typified the Greatest Generation while serving in World War II.
Following the war, as time and money allowed, Dad would go hunting or shooting. Getting married and starting a family of three didnât afford much time for either activity, but he always had a few rifles and shotguns in the rack at home, including a Springfield bolt-action .22 and a single-shot Winchester shotgun. Most important, he instilled in me a strong interest in hunting and shooting at a youngâand impressionableâage.
That interest was strongly reinforced by my dadâs father and brother. A visit with them always resulted in Grandpa Jules or Uncle Harold talking guns, hunting and shooting. And what always triggered the discussion was stepping into Grandpaâs house, where there were antlers nailed above just about every doorway, plus old deer camp pictures hanging in the enclosed porch in the back. What greeted you upon entering Uncle Haroldâs home were two massive whitetail mounts. I spent hours gazing at those deer, and to this day I remain a passionate whitetail hunter. Grandpaâs guns were few, as he barely made ends meet working the hardscrabble family farm. Game was hunted to feed his wife and family of three sons and one daughter, and to say times were tough during the Great Depression is the understatement of the century.
Nevertheless, he found a way to buy a double-barreled 10-gauge L.C. Smith that was, in its day, an ideal waterfowl gun. I have pictures of Grandpa with a string of ducks around his neck after a successful morning on the Mississippi River, which was almost within rock-throwing distance of the front door of his farmhouse. Guns were simply working tools for Harold, and he knew his firearms. He acquired two that spoke volumes about his interest in them, and they stayed in his gun closet until the end of his 88 years. Both were lever guns, one a Marlin Model 39 .22, the other a Savage Model 99 in .300 Savage. Without question, Uncle Harold dented the deer herd with that Savage, and I heard from my dad and several of Haroldâs friends that while Harold was an outstanding instinctive shot, he used to head-shoot quail (when it was legal) with that Marlin after busting a covey. The reason for using the .22 instead of a shotgun? The cost of rimfire ammo was a lot less than shotshells in those days when everyone really did count his penniesâŠ
But I digress. The point here is that I want to say thank you to these three family members who mean so much to me and my family. Iâve lost my grandpa and uncle, but my dad is getting ready to celebrate his 88th birthday. And yes, he still asks me what Iâm going to use when I go on a big-game hunt.
Growing up in the 1950s and â60s with so many distractions was no easy task. My father, grandfather and uncle kept me focused and out of trouble. They helped me understand at an early age the importance of our countryâs hunting and shooting heritageâand gun ownership. They also understood the importance of owning a few good guns to keep in the family for future generations. Let us hear from youâby email or letterâabout the special people in your lives.
My parents owned a meat-processing plant in Central Texas. Most of their business consisted of slaughtering and processing livestock for area residents. But for more than two months each year, the abundant local whitetails gave them something else to do as well. From early November to beyond yearâs end, everyone at the plant worked at least 90 hours a week, trying to keep up with the 700 to 1,000 deer dropped off for processing.
None of that left a man much time for anything else. And so, despite his love of whitetail hunting, for a span of over 40 years Daddy hardly ever went. But in 1998, I finally got a chance to help him experience some of the greatest hunting moments of his lifeâand some of the best of mine.
In December, my friend Jack Brittingham invited me to hunt his Rancho Encantado in South Texas. I eagerly accepted, but in so doing threw out a humble request: âMight my dad be the hunter?â Jack graciously consented. And so, I asked Daddy to take off his white apron and head south with me for a few days.
Rancho Encantado translates into English as âenchanted ranch.â And it definitely is. Our first afternoon there, Daddy, Jack and I sat in one of the ranchâs box blinds overlooking the thornbrush. As we talked quietly, a big 9-pointer suddenly strolled out. Jack and I whistled to stop the deer before he could vanish again, but he kept walking.
Daddy was a bit more direct. âHey!â he yelled. The buck instantly stopped, and the .25/06 Rem. barked.
That dark-antlered 135-incher was the largest my dad ever shot, and he later told the story countless times. But that wasnât the only highlight of the hunt. To me, in fact, the best was yet to come.
The next morning we headed out on foot to try rattling. Jack was manning the video camera, I carried the antlers and Daddy was again the gunner. Soon we encountered a breeding party. Bucks were darting through the brush, focused on a doe in heat. Jack got the camera rolling as I began rattling and Daddy scanned for movement.
Within seconds, we saw antlers coming our way. And when Jack told Daddy to take the 8-pointer, he was all too happy to comply. Old D.J. had shot another fine buck, this one by way of the most famous Texas hunting technique.
Cancer claimed Daddy at the age of 71, on a somber Labor Day in 2004. Since then, Iâve often thought of how we should have hunted together way more often, in many more places. But at least I know how much that magical hunt in South Texas meant to him. Iâm honored to have been part of it.
Photo: Gordon (left) and D.J. Whittington celebrate a weekend in the field when D.J. took two nice deer on consecutive days.
But thatâs not because he didnât care, or he didnât want to go, or I didnât want to go. Heâs got a tremendous amount to do with why I am where I am today.
I donât have kids, but I know this little tidbit about being a father, based primarily on what my Dad proved to me: You canât âbuildâ a child into what you hope and pray he or she will become. But you can plant seeds inside them, and you can provide the nourishment and environment for those seeds to thrive. My Dad did that for me, and while Iâm sure I havenât turned out exactly like the prototype, I like to think I at least resemble what Dad was after.
My Dad made it a point to make sure I was around and involved when he was working hard. And now I have a solid work ethic. He made sure I was in church on Sunday morning, even if it meant I had to show up in my baseball cleats. And now I keep my priorities straight. If he said he was going to coach my team or help me build my Pine Wood Derby car or take me fishing, he did. And now I stand by my word.
A number of years ago, on a canoe fishing trip in a remote section of Ontarioâs Quetico Provincial Park, with me in the bow and my Dad in the stern, I grabbed the net as he brought the biggest pike of his life to the gunwale. I was probably 14 or 15 at the time, and the fish was twice as long as the net was wide.
I tried to slip the net around the pikeâs body, and I failed. The fish slipped out. The line snapped. The disappointment hung in the air like the cloud of mosquitos around us. Later that night, my dad regaled the crowd around the campfire with the story of the giant pike. He never once mentioned my failure to net the fish.
Last December, I invited my Dad on a South Texas whitetail hunt. It was the first time in a few years that we had chased whitetails together. On the first morning out, we watched in disbelief as a dark-horned 10-pointer eased out of the cover just after shooting light. My Dad raised the rifle, eased the safety forward and put the buck down in his tracks.
It didnât occur to me until a few moments after the shot, as we ribbed each other about what had just happened and admired a majestic whitetail, that, although we were still most certainly father and son, we were, at least equally, friends.
Iâm still waiting on him to miss a shot or lose one of my fish, but if it means we get to continue fishing, hunting and spending time together, Iâll gladly bide my time. In the end, what matters most is neither the beginning of the journey nor the end of it, neither the fish weâve caught nor the ones that got away, but the depth of the experience in between.
You might think the most vivid memories of those days â now 30 yearâs past â would be the report of my 20-gauge L.C. Smith shotgun, or a folded bird flushed after a perfect point by our English shorthair. But when I look back on my years hunting with Dad, I think of fried eggs and Johnny Walker Red.
Weâd often hunt all morning with our pointer, Mike, and bag a combination of bobwhites, ringnecks and woodcock. After four or five hours trudging through cornfields, hedgerows and swamps, weâd circle back to the Jeep Wagoneer and sit for awhile against an old barn or spreading oak. Dad would go into the back of the truck and take out a cedar box that contained all we needed for lunch. Heâd light a fire, heat up some butter and crack a few eggs. The old stainless pan was dented and black with carbon. It was probably stolen from momâs kitchen well before I was born.
We drank water out of an old Johnny Walker bottle. Apparently, to my dad, it tasted like water. But to a 12-year-old kid, it still had a sharp bite of scotch. Those smoky, overcooked fried eggs made up for any aftertaste. Dad wasnât known to be a good cook, so the eggs didnât look that good. They almost never had intact yolks, and the butter often burned over the uneven cook fire. Inevitably, bugs or sticks would find their way into the pan somehow. The in-the-field lunch was delightful and always hard-earned.
Looking back, I bet the tastes and smells of those midday feasts only appeal to me so profoundly because they remind me of the times spent lazing with dad. It was time away from the world. Time for us to catch up and plan future hunts.
Thanks be to God, Jack Geiger is still with us. Heâs 90 years old and full of life. He doesnât hunt anymore, but if his knees were in better shape, he wouldâover the protests of his wife.
I donât see my father much nowadays. I live in the South and hunt deer, a pursuit the old bird hunter never understood. But when we do visit, we always talk about the old days: a pointer on a nervous covey, sunrises over a salt marsh or waves of snow geese just out of range. That, plus those rotten-looking, great-tasting eggs and whiskey water.