A Common Ground: The Lands We Love

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

We All Have That One Piece of Land in Our Lives More Special Than the Rest

Oftentimes, the land itself has (almost) as much meaning as the animals we hunt. (Honeycutt photo)

As I sat there on that spring morning, I was reminded of my earlier childhood and all of the fond memories I had of this place. As I reminisced, I laid back on the bank and listened to the water rush by. The steady breeze was hitting my face and slowing not for the next obstacle in its path; which happened to be a tall, gnarly oak that stood rooted a few yards to my left.

I slowly came back from the daydream I had been in, which had kept me mesmerized for the better half of an hour. I glanced down, as I felt my hand brush against something. The shotgun lying there reminded me that it would not kill a longbeard on its own. As I started to rise back up, I noticed that same big oak tree that had been there for so many years.

Although I was still a child at the time, earlier childhood memories came rushing into my head as I took in and observed its valiance and immaculate prestige. The river had obviously fed it kindly over the years. I as a half-grown man could not reach halfway around it.

As I sat and stared at it, a certain thought came across my mind. What if it had not been for this river, for this mighty oak, and for the river bottoms my grandfather and I had been trekking through all morning? This was where I had gotten my start, my introduction to the great outdoors.

While setting there, I thought to myself, where would I be if not for this winding river that shaped me as it had the land around? I sat and pondered on it for a few minutes before finally dismissing it to the back of my mind. Concluding alone, that if not for this place I would not be the person I am today. The thought of not knowing this land made me cringe as I finally rose to my feet. For this place had been my playground, my work shop, and ultimately, my life. I still believe that to this day, many years later.

The sun had sped through some of its ascent by the time my grandfather and I started back up the hunt. Each time I passed a familiar spot or landmark; I would stop and think back to a past memory. Sometimes it was of a boy and his father and grandfather trying to swindle a lone tom into range. At others, it was of them waiting on a rut-crazed buck to come crashing through the timber. No matter what it was, though, each time it brought a smile to my face, and I gave thanks to this beautiful land for allowing me such a wonderful start to life. Even if only a fleeting portion of it was spent there years ago.

At one particular spot I spent a little extra time. It was a small woodlot with two big ash trees that grew right next to each other. Here my family and I often sat in wait for a longbeard to come struttin’ around the bend. I remembered each hunt in my head and each one tugged a little harder at the corner of my mouth until eventually; I was smiling like a clown.

As luck would have it, a distant gobble was heard in the bottom. I quickly ended my lackadaisical mind wonderings and subconsciously plopped down up against that very tree. My grandfather did the same a few yards back. He and I both sent a soft yelp the tom’s way to see if he would respond. He answered with a clatter of thunder that echoed throughout the river bottom.

My limbs started trembling as they always had when calling to birds along this river. I have always gotten a rush from the wild turkey no matter where I was hunting. But there was always something about that piece of ground, that river. Something serene and charismatic made the land stand above the rest and made the hunt that much more exciting. Maybe it was due to the newness and allure of hunting and my young relationship with nature. But maybe there was more to it.

We fell silent in our calling. Playing hard to get seemed to turn the gobbler on. Eventually he came, but it was drumming, not a gobble, that gave him away. He came strutting down a roadbed — but behind us. He walked past my grandfather, then past me as the bird slow-stepped toward the decoys — a sight I had seen several times before. Then, he crested a little rise on the edge of the meadow. He popped right back into strut and took a few more stiff-legged steps.

By this time, my adrenaline was peaking, and my finger was seconds away from pulling the trigger. Just before the gobbler took his last step, memories similar to the present one flooded my brain. With confidence, I regained my focus and lined the bead up on his neck. With the sound of gunfire, the big tom fell.

Looking back on that spring hunt with my grandfather, it made me appreciate the world around me: our country, this land, and the river there that still flows. It was one of the last times I ever hunted that farm. As the years passed, it gradually sold. Luckily, today the land still remains; untouched by our ever-industrializing world. The wildlife there still thrives, and the forest still flourishes. The gobbler still sounds his thunder each spring and the whitetail still runs the timber with his nose to the ground each fall. Other people enjoy it now. And I hope they appreciate it as much as I always will.

Most hunters share a common ground. One where we can all go back and remember the lands that molded us and allowed for our passion of the outdoors to grow. For me it was that river that flowed so smoothly and the rich crop lands that it winded through — something only God himself could create. I gave thanks to this beautiful land for allowing me such a wonderful place to start life as a hunter — even if only a fleeting portion of it was spent there during my youth.

As hunters, we should remember and appreciate not only the people, but the places that we learned our trade upon. We should remember the places that instilled in us our culture, traditions and heritage. We should remember, respect, and protect the land. Without it, we would not have the memories that we so fondly cherish. We would not share this common ground.

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Editor’s Note: Yes, this is the deer blog. But with recent warm days and gobbling birds at sunrise, the mood has been set. We reminisce and drift back to memories of hunts long past such as the story from my childhood above. And we prepare to make a flurry of new ones. We await spring.

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