The Best Black Friday Ever: A Day a Hunter was Born

The Best Black Friday Ever: A Day a Hunter was Born
(Howard Communications photo)

The busiest shopping day of the year isn't all about getting the best deals on gifts; it's also a time for the non-shoppers to gather and make some memories

If you're like me, on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, you will stumble down the stairs, make your way to the coffee pot and pour a cup of caffeine-laced morning brew.

While yawning and groggily reliving the previous day's feast, festivities and family gathering ... before promptly wolfing down the last piece of leftover pumpkin pie.

All while looking at the scattered remnants of the morning newspaper, not to mention the volumes of colorful advertisements that will proclaim what the rest of the world already knows.

That the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday.

You know, the start to the Christmas holiday season and the busiest single shopping day of the entire year.

By the way, anybody see the ads for Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops, Dick's Sporting Goods or Gander Mountain?

But I digress. Because every year, the last Friday in November brings plenty of money changing hands, dollars that move the ledgers of shopkeepers further into the black.

Not to mention a chance to watch a little more college football – a little Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – while polishing off whatever remains of this year's turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce.

As I find my way to the easy chair with the morning java in hand, the day will also bring to mind a day that helped to change my life forever so many, many years ago.

A day after Thanksgiving that I'll forever recall as the best Black Friday ever. Even if I never bought a single solitary thing.

To explain, please pardon the rewind to a family gathering some 30-plus years ago. If you'll allow me to do so, in my mind's eye at least, what you'll see is my dad, Bill, driving us all to see relatives for that particular year's Thanksgiving Day celebration.

After the turkey and dressing were polished off on Thursday, the next day, my aunt and two of my cousins joined my mom and my sister in a venture from the rural countryside into a nearby town to see what shopping bargains the day might hold.

Meanwhile, my uncle, my other cousin and my dad and I were all looking for something a little more exciting to do.

At some point that morning, the suggestion was made that our group go rabbit hunting that afternoon.

Fine by me, even if I had never been hunting a single day yet in my entire lifetime.

Fast forward to a couple of hours later and we were marching through the Great Plains countryside on a cool late autumn day.

When suddenly I began to catch a fever. Hunting fever, to be exact.

Because every so often on our hike through the brushy draws and uplands of a property that my uncle had permission to hunt, a cottontail would burst forth from the thick cover.

And when it did, the occasion would bring a shout from our group, followed by the report of a shotgun or two and then the smell of spent gunpowder riding on the mild breeze.

Slowly, our clan began to accumulate a few rabbits in the back of our game vests, wild protein that was destined for the post-Thanksgiving Day table.

Eventually, even my shot spread from a borrowed .410 shotgun would collide with a speeding cottontail.

Or so I was told by both my dad and my uncle, who may or may not have winked at each other in the aftermath.

But it didn't really matter because as the afternoon unfolded, the autumn chill strengthened its grip on the dazzling landscape, illuminated with soft sunshine from the November sun and a thin veil of cirrus clouds streaking by overhead.

It was a painting that I still see in my mind, a work of art that no sporting artist has ever successfully duplicated.

At some point during that afternoon afield, a white-tailed deer burst out of a brushy thicket. And then a sizable flock of mallards erupted noisily from a marshy slough. And the melodious cry of a few migrating geese could be heard overhead.

And finally, as the last of autumn's brilliantly colored leaves rattled off the trees to their annual demise, the sun began to set as the day's northerly breeze began to die away.

Through it all, by the time we gathered in the late afternoon glow to field dress our game – wild meat which would be made into the finest meal I think I have ever eaten even to this day – I was completely hooked on the idea of hunting.

And spending time afield – both then and now – with those family members and friends who are so special to me.

That night as I struggled to drift off to sleep on my uncle's couch, I didn't know it then, but a key part of my soul's DNA had been unlocked once and for all.

An unleashing that birthed what has become a lifelong love affair for wild places, wild waters and the game and fish that call them home.

On our family's trip home that Sunday afternoon, the sun was setting low as another portion of my wild DNA was unleashed, all as my dad stopped at a store to buy a few gallons of gasoline.

As he went into pay, he thought of the time that we had spent together that weekend... and allowed me to purchase the December issue of Outdoor Life magazine.

That outdoor hook-and-bullet journal – complete with its Terry Redlin painted cover art depicting a couple of white-tailed deer overlooking a warm hunting cabin as the sun set low on the wintry horizon – would help to spawn an insatiable love for the written word as it pertained to the out-of-doors world.

A love born that long ago afternoon that is fueling me even now as I pen these words and hope to inspire a young boy or girl somewhere in America's heartland, a youngster that will remember a day afield with their dad and go on to spend a lifetime chasing down outdoor dreams.

Dreams of adventures afield like the one I enjoyed more than three decades ago now, a combination of events that would conspire to quite literally change the course and direction of my life, family and career.

Those events would stay with me through my high school and college years, on into my marriage and parenting and eventually lead me to far flung places across the wilds of North America.

Where I continue to chase wild game including whitetails, ducks, spring turkeys, and yes, even a few more rabbits.

Along the way on those various journeys and adventures, those events both then and now, would eventually lead me to my life's work, the task of writing stories and columns about the outdoors.

Drivel that I hope will somehow inform, entertain, and perhaps even inspire a few others to get outdoors and discover this incredibly beautiful outdoors world that God has created.

So if you'll pardon me on this year's day after Thanksgiving, I'm going to look back in time and remember a simple rabbit hunt that took place.

On the best Black Friday ever, a day when one of my life's greatest gifts ever was given to me.

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