Outdoors Column

When our existence comes to an end

By Bill Howard | Jun 17, 2014
Photo by: File Bill Howard

When our existence on this world comes to an end, our afterlife may be determined by our whole body of accomplishments, decisions, and actions. However, what is carried forward on this world will usually be determined by defining moments.
I never knew what my grandfather’s first hunting experience was. I am sure he knew though. He told me of his times when he would run a covey of quail from brush and I would have to believe that was one of those moments for him.
I am not sure what my dad’s first memorable hunt was either. It may have been chasing rabbits, shooting down dove or ducks, or even quail like my grandfather. I believe he could remember whatever the hunt was vividly, including going to the very spot within a couple of feet radius of where it may have been.
As for me, I remember long hot afternoons in the brutal summer sun waiting for dove to fly over. I remember beatles, dragonflies, and mosquitoes hovering nearby much more often than dove. My dad was nearby reminding me to keep scanning the skies for birds.
We would spot a bird a half mile away and would crouch down, keeping our head turned toward the ground with our eyes angled up. Then as the bird continued its path toward our place on the edge of the field, darting and weaving through shot fired from other hunters the whole way, my dad would quietly say “wait, wait, wait.”
With a burst he would throw his shotgun up on his shoulder with a quick determinant sound of “Now!” as he would pull the trigger. The bird would fold and land nearly on top of us and I would scurry off to grab the downed dove.
I would play games in my mind with the dove flying. Each one represented a Japanese fighter coming in to spray the field base. It was my job to protect the base and I had to take a true shot.
I measured time not by a watch or the sun’s position in the sky, instead, I measured time by how many times I sang a certain song in my head, sometimes resulting into humming the tune out loud. These are the things you do as a child. Yet, after several decades, I can still remember my dad’s accuracy in bringing down bird after bird.
I remember one winter when the lake froze solid, something unusual in this part of the country. A friend and I were skipping chunks of ice across the lake listening in amazement to the sound that would echo through the sheet covering the lake as the ice slid infinitely away. My dog happened upon us at one point, and before I could stop him, he was off across the ice.
A hundred yards from shore my dog was trying desperately to climb back out of the cracked ice to no avail. My dad heard us calling and took off his top shirt. I can’t remember whether it was a coat or a sweatshirt, but he pulled it off and wrapped around one arm.
He proceeded to stomp on the ice near the shore and continued to do so until he started bashing the ice with his arms. He marched out to where our dog was, slamming the ice all along until the dog could swim back to shore.
Kids that grew up in our neighborhood, now middle aged men after all the years, still mention that moment even though they were not there to witness it firsthand. It was a defining moment.
My oldest son, a recent high school graduate is sure to have those moments etched in his memories as well, whether it be the tundra swan hunt we went on over 10 years ago, or whether it was the first quail hunt we went on together. It is likely he can remember each shot vividly. I can.
It is these moments that make us who we are, who we were, and who we will be.