My childhood home, like many, was painted to match the patchwork like pattern of beige colors found throughout suburbia, homes peppered with smiling families, neighborhood children filling the air with laughter, flooding the cul-de-sac with BMX bicycles and Big Wheels. Our home was built in time to enjoy the 1985 World Series. Dad would drink from his lucky Royals cup, the smell of mom’s popcorn perfumed through the house. Shawn, my oldest brother, cheered loudly like the rest of Kansas City, after Dan Lorg produced the game six winning hit. I was more concerned with my race cars and wearing my Super Man cape, I was three.
I have little memories of my father hunting when I was a child. Only one memory comes to mind. The day I saw antlers resting against the tailgate of his brown truck. Dad called me out to the driveway, yelling for me as if it were Christmas morning. For my father, it was. For me, it was the memory of his smile that burned into my subconscious. Why would you smile at something dead? Maybe we ate venison that night, I could not tell you. Months later I recall seeing the buck, shoulder mounted, and displayed on a wall in the family room. Dad would wink at me and say, “With a mother like yours son, I am a blessed man.” The buck was displayed on the wall for a few years, before quietly being retired to the garage, living out the remainder of its days having been replaced with a carousel of rotating pictures. I was twelve when the buck found its new home.
Around the time of the buck being relegated to the garage my grandfather, J.B. passed along his collection of his firearms to my dad. Grandpa must have believed it was high time for me to know about the important aspects of life. Being twelve was a melancholic time. Days of youthful play slipping through my fingers like water, while the urge to “fit in” and be “cool”, pushed to replace the innocence of G.I. Joe, and Nintendo. I remember seeing the motley collection of shotguns and rifles laid across the kitchen table. One firearm in particular found a home inside my heart, the Remington model 700 .30-06. I would not hold the Remington in my hands for another eighteen years. When I did pick up the Remington again, sitting next to me in the tree stand would be my father, below us would be my first deer.
The first time I held the wood stock in my arms I noticed the weight. The cold sting of the barrel awaiting final instructions. Fine checkered dimples rubbing along my palms. The bolt action sliding into place. Quietly we waited. Snapping branches echoing through the darkness. My thready breaths of air would slowly wisp away into the cold morning air. It was the first time I ever climbed into a tree stand. My father, sitting alongside pointed out the first deer I would shoot. His quiet voice giving me instructions to breath slowly, focus my scope behind the shoulder, and to slowly pull the trigger. The uproarious rifle broke the morning silence. A striking bullet penetrating my new relationship with nature. The impact on me became permanent.
We, I should say, I, gutted my first deer, along with the deer that have since followed. My father and Uncle Dave helping to guide my knife placements. My crimson hands stained with the warmed blood of innocence. I had become a hunter. One month and four hundred miles east, somewhere between Kansas City and Illinois, my wife and I enjoyed the luxury of venison jerky for the first time. My wife looked over to me smiling, and said, “I hope you plan hunting again, this jerky is fantastic.” I thought of my dad. I too was a blessed man.
I continue to experience the blessings of a wife who encourages me to engage in the pursuit of wild game. My delight in the surrounding beauty of nature has transformed into a bond we have created in our family. From a walk picking wild blackberries, to hunting for morel mushrooms, we have engaged our young family to put down the remote and become tuned into the wilds of nature. Jennifer was there the day I shot my only buck. Thumbing through a parenting magazine she softly proclaimed, “Why don’t you shoot that deer? He looks big.” I was being led by my stomach to think of lunch, and was not glassing for deer. I shot. Again, the permanence of the rifle concluded with the deer resting before my feet.
From my first deer hunt, to this very day, fall and winter have introduced me to a welcoming quiet. The annual fall conclave between the whitetail deer and me continues to unfurl a fashionable silence, opening the chapters of my life into a book. A husband, father, son, brother, etc… . These aspects of my life are greater than the rifle I carry into the woods. My Remington carries with it an association to a families past, present, and future. A past knowing little of my grandfather. A present for a dad who continues to regale me with the finer points of hunting in the woods. A future where I dream of my children and the passions they will help bring to life.
The rifle I carry into the woods is one full of memories. Memories of my family, of a place and time that is yet to come for my children. Now, as a father I watch as my young son crashes his races cars into a city of toy blocks. I laugh while he flies around our home in a Super Man cape, saving his sisters from perilous doom. I too see the kids watch me as I lay out my Remington onto the table after my hunts. My boots spattered with dry mud. Red and yellow foliage clinging to the rifle stock. The kids gather around our kitchen table. They ask me to tell them of my “hunting stories”, as they call them. While sharing my stories of the woods, I take a cleaning rag to wipe away debris and any moisture that my be on the barrel. Quietly I think of my dad, watching as he cleaned the rifle on the day he brought home his buck. Out the corner of my eye I see my son, his face looking to daddies red truck, he turns to me with his brown eyes locking on mine and says, “Look daddy, antlers.” We both smile.
~ Erin Woodward