We all have that one piece of land from our youth that's more special than the rest
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 met as a child, 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've always received 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 made me treasure the opportunities I’d been bestowed by my father and grandfather. They gave me a gift that meant more than they’d ever know. And I decided right then and there I’d do the same when my time come.
That 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.
I hope it cultivates a love for the outdoors in other youth hunters as it did for me so many years ago. While I can’t walk the ridges, and the meadows, and the river bottom, I know others can. And that brings peace. It brings joy.
Most hunters share a common ground. One where we can all go back and remember the lands from our childhood 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. I give thanks to it for doing the same for others.
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.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.