An Unusual Opening Day
Outdoorsmen may claim that they don't consider the harvest of an opening-day trophy as an indication of how the season will unfold. After 23 years of opening-day hunts, I say Who are they kidding? On this weekend, every sportsman becomes superstitious. They try to hide it to the best of their ability, yet they cling to every minute detail that could possibly give them an edge or reveal a tidbit of information unbeknownst to their camp buddies.
Another common opening-day phenomenon occurs when just about every married outdoorsman's wife says, Is it already hunting season again? We know its coming, but we're still unprepared with a response when questioned about our desire to hunt. I've even resorted to the dumbfounded answer of huh when asked if I was taking a vacation day to spend it in the all so boring and pointless deer stand.
My wife just can't believe that I'd rather sit in 10-degree weather rather than take part in an exciting and eventful Friday afternoon of grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. To her I reply, Honey, sometimes we just have to give up something we enjoy to obtain something else.
Let's face it. The problem is that the baseball dads, grill masters, business professionals and all around manly husbands get as giddy as 9-year-old boys waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Actually, not even Santa could excite me more that the prospects of going on my first opening-day hunt when I was just 9 years old.
It was October of 1984, the fall of my ninth year and also what would be my first experience with opening day. I was too young to carry a gun, but luckily I had a father and grandfather that didn't leave me behind. Now this first opening day remains the most unusual opening day in my life.
According to my family, their secret society rules stated that when a boy reached a particular age, he was to be christened into the deer-hunting community by accompanying his grandfather on opening day. What I didn't realize at the time, but would soon learn, was that they allowed me to go on the hunt so I could watch after my grandfather who had had open heart surgery three months prior to hunting season.
The Big Day
I had only two short months to learn to fulfill my duties as co-pilot in the historical Flats Stand. I honed my woodsman skills by attempting to sneak up on birds. I worked on my cutlery skills once per week—a part of my training that depended on my body's ability to heal itself. I spent hours shooting cans with my Red Rider, and I looked through all of the magazines to find the perfect apparel for such a day.
October arrived and I felt ready. That opening day began at midnight for the co-pilot of the Flats Stand. Sleeping through the anxiety was impossible.
Before the alarm clock rang at 4 a.m., I had already dressed in my army-colored BDU's, camo sweatshirt and floppy boonie hat. The boonie hat was the only outcome of my magazine shopping spree. After I studied my dressing scheme and switched my Old Timer knife from pocket to pocket to find its perfect place of access, I felt ready.
We slowly and carefully walked through the mega-buck-filled Georgia woods. I saw the stand outlined against a foggy skyline, and it was all I had imagined. The stand featured a 6x6 platform with insulated walls and a roof to shelter us from the weather. Nothing could have been more beautiful.
The fog limited our sight that morning, but we both agreed that monster bucks were just on the other side of the haze. To my disappointment, the morning hunt ended with no luck. We didn't even see a squirrel. At approximately 10 a.m., we decided that the next time we could actually see the ground, we would get down. When the fog cleared, we carefully made our way down and headed to the road.
Now the Georgia underbrush in mid-October is extremely dense. I lead the way out with a death grip on my trusty Old Timer as if Sasquatch was lingering just over the next hill. All of a sudden, a stick cracked behind me, a bush shook and the leaves rustled. I turned to see not a Sasquatch, but my grandfather staggering and stumbling straight toward me. He zigged and zagged trying to regain his balance, but to no avail.
You've heard of tales of heroics from children, but this wasn't one of those cases. I froze. At that moment, I realized I wasn't at all prepared for being pummeled under his 6' 6 frame.
I saw his tangled feet in the brush, his still-slung rifle over his shoulder, and I even saw the expression of this is going to hurt on his face, but I never saw the tree that would prevent him from falling on me.
The rifle flew through the air. Next, I heard some clanking change and a few rifle shells. I saw his hat mash to his face, and then I heard the inevitable thud.
The crash left him dazed. All I could think to say was, Papa, Papa. Are you alright? Then I asked, Can you feel your legs?
I'd heard that phrase in a movie once, and I thought it sounded like a logical question for the situation. After a few moans and groans, he rolled over and snickered to let me know he was ok. Then at once I heard him sigh and say, Oh no.
What is it, I asked, fearing the worst and trying to hold back the tears as they welled up in my eyes.
Look, he said. My rifle landed upside down, and I bet it knocked my rifle scope off.
With that being said, we laughed and giggled for what must have been an hour trying to devise a no-fault story to tell the others so they would let us come back together the following weekend and try it again.