Is there a special mom to thank in your family of hunters? Be sure to take the time this Mother's Day
Maybe your mom taught you to hunt. Maybe she runs the tractor during food plot season, sights in the rifles, sets the decoys, or does all the cooking. Wherever she fits into your hunting family, chances are it's an important role. Remember to say "thanks" to her this Mother's Day. That's what we're doing, right here.
Opening Day Reprieve
By Will Brantley
Even as the crow flew, it was a long walk from our house to the Sullivan farm, and farther yet to the river bottom field at the back. But there was a point of cedars jutting from an overgrown fence row, where the hill spilled into the bottoms, and on the end of that point was a boulder, stuck in the ground. It’s not rocky country there, and the top of the boulder was flat for a rifle rest, as if it had been placed there by a hunter. Sitting behind that boulder, you could see hundreds of yards in three directions. I was 15 years old, and couldn’t think of a better spot to spend opening day of rifle season.
Trouble was, my dad and brother, Matt, were hunting another part of the county, and I didn’t have a driver’s license. So, I woke up extra early, laced up my boots, and started hiking through the November cold toward the river bottom.
Mom was sound asleep when I left, but she was accustomed to me coming and going in the predawn. That one was a world without cell phones, so there was no communication with me of any sort. She simply trusted that her young son would leave, in the dark, with a gun in his hand, and come home safely.
She simply trusted that her young son would leave, in the dark, with a gun in his hand, and come home safely.
Now that I’m a parent myself, that level of trust seems remarkable.
I settled in behind the boulder with stars still in sight. As the sunrise began softening the sky, I could see the forms of deer, and they were moving quickly and erratically. Bucks were chasing does out in that field, and I just hoped they’d stay there long enough for me to see them and get a shot. That was in the days before trail cameras, too.
I didn’t own a binocular but my .30-06 did have a scope, and on 9-power, I began to distinguish an antler frame on the largest deer in the field. There must’ve been a dozen animals out there. The light increased steadily, and I could see tines, and the white tips of main beams. I settled my crosshair and squeezed the trigger, and the buck crumpled where he stood.
He was a fine 9-pointer with a thick rut neck. He outweighed me by a good 80 pounds, too, and there I stood, two miles from home, with no pack frame (or even an inkling of what a pack frame was), no vehicle, and no driver’s license besides. Dad and Matt were in the woods elsewhere, hunting all day and unreachable.
There was only one thing to do: Hike home and wake up Mom. I field-dressed the buck, rinsed my hands in the creek, and started walking, which turned to a light jog. A half-hour later, I tracked mud to mom’s bedside.
“Mom,” I whispered, knowing at once I had to wake her up, but without upsetting the serenity of her Saturday morning, when she was looking forward to sleeping in. For a little while on opening day of deer season, she probably imagined, there’d be no boys in the house; a reprieve from the cussing and the farting and the cooking.
“Mom!” I said, louder.
She jolted from bed and looked around before settling narrowed eyes on me. “What? Why aren’t you hunting? What’s wrong?”
All told, it hadn’t been daylight much more than an hour.
“I killed a big buck, and I need your help getting him out!” I said with a smile.
And that was the thing about Mom. She didn’t grumble. Didn’t complain. Didn’t slump back under the covers. She just said, “Well, I’ve got to pee. Go get me a cup of coffee and the truck keys.”
Mom wore green sweat pants and rubber boots under a night gown, accented by a camo jacket, orange vest, and orange toboggan. As we drove the muddy road, toward the Sullivan bottoms, a giant whitetail stepped into view. Mom stopped the truck.
“You could shoot that buck, Mom!” I said. My .30-06 was in the seat next to me. But Mom just watched.
“I don’t care anything about killing a deer,” she said. “Besides, you already got one.” The giant deer twitched its tail and trotted away, forever burned into my memory.
We wrestled the 9-pointer into the bed of the truck, and Mom drove us home, a little blood on her nightgown.
We’d been rabbit hunting all day. Since my brother and I were the youngest hunters in the family group of our dad, grandfather, uncles and cousins, we’d been given the easiest paths to walk. While they busted briars and stomped brush piles with the beagles, we skirted the edges and waited for the hounds to circle the rabbits around and into range of our single-shot .410s. Even so, by the end of the hunt, I was dog tired. And I was hungry.
As we pulled back into our drive, I could smell the aroma of chicken fried rabbit before I even left the truck. I knew my mom had spent the day preparing a banquet from the previous weekend’s rabbits, along with scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits, fried potatoes, and probably some homemade jelly to finish it all off.
That’s how most of our weekends went, from mid-November through the end of rabbit season. We’d spend the day afield, and mom would cook a huge meal. Most of the hunting party would gather in our kitchen, eating and talking about the day’s hunt. That meal was always as much fun to me as the hunt itself.
While my mom didn’t hunt, she always made sure we got to enjoy the meat we supplied.
Those feasts, and many of our standard family weeknight dinners as well, often featured wild game. Besides the previously mentioned fried rabbit, mom would sometimes cook venison backstrap, steaks, or burger, the occasional quail, squirrel, doves, or just about anything else my father, brother, and I would bring home and clean. I loved it all. While my mom didn’t hunt, she always made sure we got to enjoy the meat we supplied. When it came time to process our game, she was right there beside us, trimming, wrapping in freezer paper, and labeling the finished product.
I credit those early meals, and the memories that go with them, for instilling my lifetime love affair with wild game. These days, I spend most of my time working on various easy-to-make wild game recipes that anyone can cook. My goal is for a new generation of hunters to grow up loving wild game as much as I did.
Today, I’m blessed to be married to a wonderful mother to our three kids. Our crew has grown up hunting, fishing, and living an outdoor lifestyle. I owe a great deal of that to my wife, who always made sure the kids had everything they needed for a day afield and never hesitated to devote her days off from work to outdoor pursuits with our family.
Even though she loves to hunt, and almost always kills more turkeys and bigger deer than me, Cheryl never hesitated to put her hunts aside and spend time in the turkey blind, deer stand, or fishing boat with one or more of the kids to make sure they filled their tags first.
From youth quota deer hunts, to countless mornings in the turkey woods, to lugging decoys and breakfast through knee-deep water for a morning in the duck blind, Cheryl has always supported our kids’ love of the outdoors. She’ll tell you to this day that some of her favorite memories are of conversations with the kids while hunting.
If you are lucky enough to have mothers in your life who support your love for the outdoors, give them a hug and say thanks. And maybe fix up one of their favorite wild game meals for dinner tonight.
What is the No. 1 thing you must have for a successful hunting trip? Is it your trusty bow or gun, a great hunting location, or perhaps perfect weather conditions? Those are all important to me, too, but above all-else, I need a grandma. Not just any grandma, of course. I need one of my children’s grandmothers. Without an available grandma to watch my four kids, I can’t go hunting, especially not on a multi-day trip out of town. My husband works long hours, and without someone to watch my kids and shuttle them to their various schools and activities, I’m out of luck.
So, this Mother’s Day I’d like to give both my mom, Celia (Cece), and mother-in-law, Clo (Coco), mad props for stepping up in a big way. Without them, there’d likely be no deer heads or turkey fans on my wall. Neither of them taught me to hunt — but they’re the ones that make it possible for me to go, and that counts for a lot.
17 years and three more grandkids later, both Cece and Coco have put in countless days and sleepless nights caring for my kids while I traipsed across country chasing critters.
I’m sure when I told them I was pregnant with my first son, Ethan, they envisioned something different. Perhaps they’d come over and spend the afternoon with him while I took some time for myself to shop or have lunch with friends. After all, every mama needs some me time, and every grandma loves that special one-on-one time with her grandchild. But, 17 years and three more grandkids later, both Cece and Coco have put in countless days and sleepless nights caring for my kids while I traipsed across country chasing critters.
And they’ve done it without ever complaining.
In the early days, watching one child for a few days wasn’t all that tough. And when my second son, Ransom, came along, they didn’t hesitate to step up and help with him as well. But when I became pregnant with twin girls, just over a year after I’d had Ransom, I thought, “Well, that’s it. My hunting and traveling days are over.” I mean, what grandparent is going to be willing to take on four little ones for days at a time while their mama goes hunting? Cece and Coco, that’s who. Neither hesitated to offer help while I continued my travels.
I’m grateful to Cece and Coco for the opportunities to go hunting. I’m also grateful that the kids have gotten to spend extended quality time with their grandparents. They’ve enjoyed time at the park and the pool. They’ve made countless trips to the Dollar Store and Walmart for goodies and spent many an hour at the dinner table listening to their grandparents’ childhood stories – all memories that will stick with them the rest of their lives, and all even more valuable now that one grandfather has passed.
The kids are older now and much easier to look after, but they still need car rides and warm meals. So, whenever I’m invited on a hunt, my first response is always, “Let me check with the grandmas.” They truly are the No. 1 thing I need for a successful trip.
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