Over the years, I've devoted numerous columns to thoughts for Father's Day, the occasional piece to Thanksgiving, and a world of words to Christmas. However, if an admittedly fickle memory serves, this is the first time I've ever addressed the matter of gifts for the sportsman on Valentine's Day.
I'll have to admit here and now that when it comes to something suitable for my lovely, long-suffering wife, I'm pretty well hopeless. Were it not for assistance from my daughter, every Yuletide would probably find me in the dog house, and I'll be darned if I knew how I managed before she was old enough to serve as Santa's assistant.
As for romantic gifts or gestures connected with Valentine's Day, honesty forces me to admit that I'm clueless as a crocodile. It's nice to think that my wife has a pressing need for a .223. Even more appealing is the thought of a nifty little 28 gauge over-and-under or maybe a nicely balanced five-weight fly rod, reel and line. Since confession is supposedly good for the soul, I'll confess that I actually bought her a gun one time. It was a lovely Remington Model 700 in .243 caliber, and at this point in time she's yet to squeeze the trigger on it.
I think that noble gesture cost me a pair of diamond earrings, an emerald necklace, and a pricey meal at a hoity-toity restaurant. It's a mistake I won't repeat -- at Christmas, on Valentine's Day, or at any season.
On the other hand, if perchance female readers happen upon today's column, I do have some meaningful suggestions for Valentine's. A couple of weeks back I spent a delightful day at River Bend Sportsman's Resort, just outside the little crossroads village on Fingerville on Highway 11. While enjoying varied types of wingshooting in the form of a trip around the 100 target sporting clays course, a round of skeet, and a morning-after quail, it occurred to me that the experience would make an ideal gift for the shotgunner.
The folks at River Bend (rvrbend.com) know how to do things right. You can enjoy three filling meals if so inclined and that is the package you choose, with pre-dinner cocktails and wine with the evening meal. The lodging is roomy and comfortable, there's a gun cleaning room for the use of guests, and after your hunt your birds are cleaned and frozen so you can savor the memories of the experience with a game feast at a future date.
All these features and amenities aside, from a personal perspective (and I've visited River Bend Sportsman's Resort a bunch of times over the years) what really stands out is the bird hunting the location offers. As anyone who has paid attention to the matter knows, the day of wild bobwhites in this part of the world has come and gone. You can spend all day and likely locate no more than a covey or two. Should that happen, chances are at least 50-50 the birds will flush wild.
That leaves those of us for whom whirring wings produce a stirring of the soul, for whom a staunch point or nifty retrieve translate to timeless joy, the option of preserve hunting. At River Bend the birds fly well, the dog work is impressive, and every guide with whom I have ever hunted has fine people skills. All this translates to a fine experience afield, and this might just make the ideal Valentine's Day gift for a hunting husband, boyfriend, or significant other. Another possibility might be combining a hunt with a shooting lesson, and there are top-rate instructors on the staff at the preserve.
Or, from a different perspective, the reading sportsman always enjoys a new book, and as someone who has written or edited a bunch of them it is in my self-interest for this particular ancillary to the sporting life to remain meaningful. Then there's always the option of equipment, but that's an area where you probably don't want to venture unless you have specific information in hand. However, a gift certificate to a favorite sporting goods store could be just the ticket, especially if it is presented with a nicely prepared game feast.
In fact, when I mentioned this subject to my wife, she said that an ideal Valentine's Day meal might be something like venison backstrap cooked with blueberries or raspberry sauce, or one of her favorites, quail fried to a golden turn and accompanied by cathead biscuits and milk gravy. Of course, that leaves the question of who cooks for whom on the day of romance, and that's a subject discretion suggests I'd best leave to someone else. As for yours truly, I'll probably settle for a swap-out -- a fine game feast at home in exchange for a nice evening out.
As today's column suggests, an outing to a shooting preserve is a good activity for this season of the year. If you are looking for more information in this regard, or maybe an outing of a lifetime to a fine fly fishing or wingshooting destination, make a trip to the final day (today) of the Fly Fishing and Wingshooting Show in Charlotte (see details below). Another option is the joy of a rabbit hunt involving a good pack of beagles. I hope to participate in one with a group of long-time cottontail chasers of my acquaintance in the next week or two.