By Cory Dukehart | Mossy Oak ProStaff
I have always considered myself one of the lucky ones. Even when I was a little kid, I felt lucky that I was born to a family that hunted. I remember feeling bad for other kids who were not brought up around hunting. I just knew that they were missing out on something, and I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to have that void.
However, there was nothing missing from their life in their eyes. The old saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know,” comes to mind. These friends of mine didn’t have a clue of what they were missing out on. Some even teased me for hunting or were shocked that I would get up every Saturday morning with my Dad at 4 a.m. to go sit in a tree. They certainly were not jealous of me. They just couldn’t understand the appeal. But it didn’t stop me from feeling sorry for them. And while I don’t think hunting is for everyone, some of those kids who joked and teased may have had a different outlook if they were given the opportunity at my age.
Sometimes I will sit and think to myself, “what is my first memory of a hunting trip?” I am sure there were earlier trips to the woods and fields with my dad, but two events specifically have always stuck out in my mind.
The first being an evening bow hunt. When I was a child I would often get invited to tag along with my dad on his hunting trips. A major pain in the rear for him I am sure, but he would take me as often as he could. For that I am forever grateful.
On this particular trip he had set up a lock-on tree stand in a tree approximately 10 feet from the tree that he was going to use his climbing tree stand on. He helped me climb up the steps and made sure my safety harness was on and secure to both me and the tree. I then sat there and watched him get his own stand set up and climb up the tree nearby. We sat for what seemed like hours waiting for the sun to set, and I think I was watching him more than the woods around us. I knew that he was much better at finding game than I was, and I was paying attention to what direction he was looking and his movements to see if anything was around us.
I don’t recall seeing any deer on this particular trip, but what made this moment an everlasting memory in my mind is how the hunt ended. I was about 6 or 7 years old and it came to my realization rather suddenly that I had to pee. And I had to go immediately. I motioned to my father and let him know of the current predicament I was in and he, of course, asked if I could hold it. Explaining to him that I could not, I watched him gather his things and reluctantly end his hunt sooner than it should have been.
This took place in the early 90s, and at the time, my father was using an old Baker climbing stand. It was a kit he bought and put together, and you had to hug the tree to climb your way up and down. There was nothing fast or simple about the process of ascending or descending from the tree. But of course, he did it. As he was climbing up my tree to help me out of my safety harness, I could no longer contain my urge to relieve myself, so relieve myself I did. I am not talking about unzipping and letting it go off the side of the stand. I am talking about a full blown pants wetting session at about 15 feet in the air while strapped to a tree.
Embarrassed by what had happened I didn’t say a word to my dad. It was not until he reached the top and saw the puddle on the carpet floor of the plywood base, lock-on tree stand that he realized what had happened. But he wasn’t mad; I think he laughed a little. Not at me, but at the situation. Looking back on it, can you blame him?
The second oldest memory I can think of is that of a goose hunt that took place in my home state of Maryland. My dad was, and still is, one of the best deer hunters I know. But he was not a huge waterfowl hunter. Sure he enjoyed going, but it was not his passion. We were invited to attend a goose hunt and this was the first time I had ever been on one. Little did I know at the time, but I was getting to witness a famous Maryland Eastern Shore Goose hunt. At that age, I was not aware of the history and legacy of goose hunting in MD. Two separate things happened on this hunt that I will never forget.
We arrived at the pit and met two of my father’s friends and their two young boys about my age. The boys were all there as spectators and the fathers would be doing the shooting. It was cold, and we had about six inches of snow on the ground. As our dads started to put out the decoy spread, the three of us boys started doing what any young kid does in the snow. We started a snowball fight; we were wrestling and chasing each other. We were doing everything instead of watching and learning the ins and outs of setting decoys.
I vaguely remember one of our fathers telling us to be careful that we did not wrestle around the pit for fear that we would fall in. We heard them, but like little boys do, we didn’t pay much attention to it. And as soon as they told us it happened. I don’t remember how it happened, or any details of the fall, or even the impact of hitting the hard wooden floor. I just remember lying flat on my back in what seemed like the biggest hole I have ever seen in my life, and looking back up at everyone as they stood at the top looking down at me making sure I was ok. I wanted to cry, but I don’t think I did. All I could think of is that I wished I would have listened to my father.
Luckily for me, as soon as this happened, the geese started flying and everyone was in the pit and hunting. The pain and the embarrassment seemed to disappear, and I was ready to watch the action. And it was not long afterwards that the first group was being shot from the sky. They dropped a few on the first toll and told each of us boys to go and fetch them. We brought a dog with us, but we were young boys who could barely sit still as it was. We needed to get out and move around. Each of us climbed from the pit and raced towards the downed goose. Each of us wanted to be the one who brought it back, until we arrived and could see that unfortunately the goose was slightly still alive.
Anyone who has hunted any game knows that hunting is not a pretty thing. It never will be and it doesn’t have to be. Hunting will always have its ugly parts and a wounded animal is one of them. All good hunters try their best to make a swift kill of their animal, but it doesn’t always happen that way. This moment was probably the first I can remember of witnessing a wounded animal.
At that point, we all decided we wanted to let the other be the one to carry it, but none of us admitted to being afraid of it or not knowing how to handle it. Before we could come to a diplomatic solution, the very fast, and in our opinion very brave, black lab scooped up the bird right from under our feet and ran back to the pit. Our fathers all seemed to enjoy the show as they were cracking up the entire time watching the three of us boys chase the lab back to the pit, all arguing that each of us was just about to be the one to grab the goose. With a swift grab from one of the elder hunters, the goose was dispatched effectively and as humanely as possible.
As a new parent, I certainly hope my son takes to hunting as I did. Although I will not force it upon him, he will be given every opportunity to find out if he enjoys it. I have always considered myself a jack of all trades and master of none type of guy. I like to dabble in a lot of different types of hunting, and my son will get to experience a lot of different hunts. He can determine which suits him the best. A young boy or girl can learn a lot about life from hunting. Some of the greatest lessons in success and defeat I have had in my lifetime have come from the woods. I want him to be one of the lucky ones.
The great thing about hunting is that my oldest memories are not of some epic hunt of a 160-class whitetail deer or a limit of geese. I honestly don’t recall if another bird was shot that day. But I will always remember wetting my pants in a tree stand, falling into a goose pit and getting beat by a lab because I was too scared to grab a goose. Those types of memories are what make for the most unique stories, and those stories are a part of what make life in the outdoors so much fun. I am sure some of my hunting buddies and fellow Mossy Oak ProStaffers will use some these stories to tease me. But that’s OK. I’ll bet if you got them to tell the truth, they all have their fair share of embarrassingly funny stories from the woods as well.