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Friday, October 28, 2011

Memories of the Hunt

    Hunting has always been a large part of Stanley and my life. We both started hunting when we were very young although for a lot of years that meant following someone else around and fetching and carrying for them. Neither of us really minded that because any excuse to be out in the woods was a good one of course neither of us could wait until we were able to go hunting by ourselves which we again both started at a young age. Most country kids did the same thing so we were by no means an exception to the rule and most country kids did it for the same reason we did, the thrill of the hunt and to put meat on the table. I don’t want any of you think that we were totally blood thirsty little savages out killing everything that was big enough to die. Yes, we hunted for food but that was only part of the reason. If we didn’t find anything it wasn’t like our families were going to go hungry we just liked wild game and it was a nice extra but it was the hunt that was important. We used to hunt deer in the summer time with no intention of shooting them, for one thing it was against the law but the main reason we were out there was as an excuse to be out in the woods and to see if we could sneak upon them. I’ve been out in the woods many a day before daylight, sitting up in a tree watching a trail just for the enjoyment of watching them.
   The fact that I could enjoy hunting without actually shooting anything really came home to me the year I was sixteen. I was spending a little time in Arizona that year and I got the chance to go hunting with my Grandpa. He was going to go deer hunting that year and since I was out there he told me I could tag along with him. We went to the store to get out licenses and while we were there he entered a lottery. No it wasn’t the kind where you win money it was for a tag to hunt desert bighorn sheep. He told me he’d been entering it for over twenty years and had never won. He also explained that it was a once in a lifetime chance. If you were drawn that was it weather you got a sheep or not you couldn’t put in for it again. It only cost five dollars so I decided to enter myself even though Grandpa thought it was a waste of money because he figured I’d only be there during hunting season that one time. Needless to say, Grandpa lost for the twenty first time and I got drawn.
   I was the only one that would be able to hunt the sheep but I could take him along to help me and he could hunt deer while we were out so I thought that would work out. For the next couple of weeks I wasn’t sure he was going to go along with it though. Every time I saw him during those two weeks he was always mumbling something about dumb luck and people not deserving what they got and general ignoring me, but the day before I was set to leave he finally came around and agreed to go with me.
   Hunting those things was a lot harder than I thought it would be. You would think that anything living out in the Arizona desert would be pretty easy to find but if you think that you’d be just as wrong as I was. Finding deer in the woods back home was a cake walk compared to this. We left camp before daylight and didn’t get back until after dark every day and didn’t even see a track until the third day. Plus, I loved my Grandpa dearly but for someone that had never actually hunted seep the only time he quit giving me advice was when he was asleep!
   We only had seven days to fill the tag and if you didn’t get one during that season then you were done forever and we were starting to get a little nervous. Our luck turned on the fourth day. About mid morning we spotted a small flock of ewes in the distance. We crawled to the top of ridge and got the binoculars so we could check them out. You couldn’t shoot a ewe but luck was with us because lying above them on the hill was a group of at least three rams. We were still too far away to really get a good look at their horns so we had to crawl back down the ridge and work our way through the brush to the next hill. By the time we had made to the top of that one and got in a position to check out the rams they were all standing and we got a good look at the horns. Now most of the time when I was deer hunting down home horns didn’t mean a whole lot to me. We had a buck only season there but I never really cared about how big they were, I was hunting for meat and you can’t cook horns. This time, however, the horns were really important. I wasn’t real fond of sheep meat but since this was going to be my one and only chance to ever hunt these bighorns I was planning on eating whatever we got but I really had my heart set on a full curl (that just means that their horns curl all the way around, the best ones will have horns where the points are past their jaw line). If you’re going to hunt what is mainly a trophy animal it might as well be a good one. Right there is where my first real argument with my Grandpa happened.
   Of the three rams we were looking at, two of them had about a half curl and the other had, maybe. a three quarter curl. We were only a couple of hundred yards from the biggest one and Grandpa was telling me all about how to take the shot. He was sure I’d be able to get the big one and it was tempting. I kept looking at him through the scope and I will admit he was a nice healthy looking ram but the longer I looked the more I kept think that this would be my only chance and did I really want to settle for something that I didn’t really want? No I didn’t. When I lowered my rifle and told Grandpa I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a full curl he just stared at me like I had lost my mind. He never said a word right then he just lay there and watched all three rams walk of the hill and disappear. It was just barley noon by then but as soon as the sheep were gone he stood up and headed back to camp. I continued to hunt until dark, not because I was really expecting to find anything I was staying away from camp and hoping he would have time to calm down. He didn’t yell or anything when he was mad, he just gave you these looks that let you know he was really disappointed in you. Have you ever had “The Look” from a parent or grandparent? If so then you know what I mean. They can hurt a lot worse than any spanking you could ever get. He seemed to be a little calmer by the time I got back to camp and I tried to explain why I had passed on the shot that day and why I really wanted to wait and see if we could find the right animal. I’m not sure he really understood. I think part of the problem was that he had been trying for so long just to be able to hunt sheep and he just couldn’t understand why I would be willing to pass up what he considered a sure thing and take a chance on what he considered to waste my only chance. I tried to tell him how beautiful the sheep were to me and how good it made you feel just to be able to see them wondering across the desert. I even told him that I wished I had a camera instead os a rifle when we had seen the herd. I know he really understood all of that but it was still hard for him to take the disappointment of not being able to hunt himself.
   I didn’t get any ram the hunt. We saw the same herd a few more times, even got within shooting range a few times. I enjoyed every time we got close to them. Doing nothing but laying in the sun and watching them. I know Grandpa and a lot of other people would think I was crazy for passing up a chance like that but I just couldn’t see any reason to take the life of something just to be able to say I had. Grandpa never did really forgive me though. He continued to enter the lottery the rest of his life and never did get selected. He also spent the rest of his life telling everyone about his dumb grandson who had been selected and just “threw it away” Once a few years later he was telling one of his friends the story and I was sitting there embarrassed as usual but that time when he was finished with the story and got up to go back in the house, he patted me on the shoulder and smiled.