For those sportsmen fortunate enough to be introduced to the joys of the quest at a young age, the Christmas season likely yields warm and winsome memories.
That’s especially true the years that what might be called sporting apprenticeship, that magical time of learning, savoring special experiences, growing in ability as a woodsman, and developing an ever-increasing oneness with the natural world.
Over time those special recollections find a place in the mind’s storehouse alongside memorable moments such as a first turkey, massive buck, trophy bass or trout, nifty left and right on a covey of quail, or perhaps that “trip of a lifetime.”
At this season it is a privilege to look back fondly – and in my case with no small degree of longing – to gifts or unforgettable moments.
▪ First gun – A single-shot 20-gauge Savage Model 220A choked tighter than Dick’s hatband. Ideal for squirrels, the scattergun was highly problematic for moving targets such as rabbits and especially quail and grouse. The inexpensive, but well made, little gun still resides in my safe and strictly for nostalgic reasons I try to use it at least once a year.
▪ First outdoor book—From an early age I was – and remain – an avid reader. Mom, knowing that I was quickly exhausting the meager supply of outdoor-related books in the local library, began, Christmas by Christmas, book by book, rectifying that situation. Her first gift was an inexpensive edition of Zane Grey’s “Spirit of the Border.” More than six decades and thousands of volumes later, it still holds a special place in my library.
▪ A box of shotgun shells – Each Christmas from the time I was first allowed to hunt, initially under my father’s stern but loving tutelage, my gifts would include a box of shotgun shells. Until I was in my 20s that would be the only time I actually possessed 25 or more shells at once. My supply of cash money was mighty small then and a full box lay beyond my means – especially when shells could be bought individually for eight cents or a baker’s dozen for a dollar.
▪ Hunting socks from Grandpa Joe – My paternal grandfather was a poor man, so fiercely independent he could never work for anyone else, and there was precious little in the way of spendable funds to be had from small-scale farming. Still, at Christmas he always managed to get something for each of hisgrandchildren. It was usually socks, not exactly the most exciting gift for a youngster. However, the heartfelt intentions underlying those gifts, together with the fact that he occasionally got me hunting socks, still warms my heart.
▪ Duxbak clothing – Duxbak attire was the clothing of choice for sportsmen in the 1950s and 1960s, and never a Christmas passed that I didn’t receive a new pair of pants, hat, vest, or hunting jacket.
▪ Pocket knives – My father had a sad, traumatic experience when he was a young boy and desperately wanted a pocket knife for Christmas. He got one, but it was just a piece of hard candy in the shape of a knife. It moved him so deeply that throughout his adult years – he lived to the age of 101 – he saw to it that his sons and later his grandsons and granddaughters had a pocket knife.
▪ Holiday hunts – The Christmas holiday meant two full weeks and three weekends of freedom. As a boy I hunted every day but Sunday, sometimes with our dogs on alternating days. Daddy didn’t want me to wear the beagles out although it was fine for me to come dragging home at dusk bone tired. It was a time of glorious freedom. If at day’s end there was some heft in the game pouch of my Duxbak jacket – a couple of rabbits or a brace of squirrels – so much the better.
▪ Field lunches from Christmas leftovers – If I had a meaningful explanation for why food tastes far better when eaten by a hastily built fire on a really cold day, or while using a moss-covered log for a dinner table, chances are I’d have the key to a fortune. All I know is that a sandwich with thick slices of cold ham or turkey, big chunks of Mom’s applesauce cake, a couple of Grandma Minnie’s fried pies, or something as simple as cold cracklin’ cornbread and a raw onion became a feast afield. When fruit of the season – oranges and tangerines – were thrown inI had something no five-star restaurant could match.
There are other recollections, many of them, but that’s a sampling of what I savor each Christmas as I draw from the glowing vaults of memory’s storehouse.