Keep hunting traditions alive

Sometime late in the afternoon on Veteran’s Day, the truck will make a sharp right turn onto a dirt road that divides two stands of pine trees.About two-thirds of the way to the next turn, which takes us to the old farm house, there is evidence on the left side of the road of a deer crossing, where the hooves of many, many whitetails have worn down the bank.

There may not have been a single deer on the family farm on the day after Christmas back in 1968. Those of us hunting that morning would have been shocked had the bird dogs flushed a big buck.

But just about where the deer crossing is today, 40 years ago, there was a mixture of broomstraw and briars that was being criss-crossed by Mike and Tim, the pointers, and Dan, the setter.

They were hunting singles from a covey of quail that one of the less-experienced dogs — I think it was Dixie, a young pointer — had run up in the edge of Mr. Floyd’s field. The birds had flown through the hedgerow, across the road and set down about 10 yards back in the pines.

I remember the dogs pointing, their tails rigid. their bodies shaking. I remember that Dad was on my far left, my uncle between us and my grandfather to my right. We walked in, and a handful of birds exploded almost beneath our feet. I can clearly remember Dad’s little 20-gauge barking three times before I had a chance to react. But one bird flew up a little late, and somehow, I shouldered my grandmother’s 20-gauge Fox, pointed it in the general direction of the quail, and pulled the front trigger, sending a load of No. 8 shot out of the improved-cylinder barrel.

Maybe there were angels out in front of me, guiding that ounce or so of lead in the right direction, because the quail exploded in a puff of feathers and fell in a heap about 50 feet away.

I think I immediately yelled, “I got him!” — not realizing that a couple of the grown-ups may have drawn a bead on the same bird. I’m sure they forgave me immediately.

It wasn’t a second or two before my grandfather was shouting, “Hunt dead! Dead in here!” to the dogs, but I hardly needed them. I was on the little cock bird in a hurry. I can’t remember ever being more proud — not of any good report card or touchdown catch or long putt I made. Maybe that first buck or first gobbler was close, but that first quail was a milestone.

There is something about hunting that inexorably draws us to the fields and woods. Sure, there is the thrill of the chase — the sight of bird dogs on point, seeing the flick of a buck’s tail as he steps carefully through a patch of white oaks, searching for food and female companionship. A turkey’s first gobble in the morning is always a thrill, perhaps matched by the far-away call of a Canada goose that has just seen the decoys.

But I think it’s more than that. Hunting is a way of connecting with those who paved the way for us, back when the land was wilder and less crowded, when the squirrels and rabbits and quail you put in your game bag made for a special meal or two for families who appreciated more what the Lord had provided.

Hunting deer with dogs is a tradition, as much about the dogs as the deer. It is a long-standing form of deer hunting that dates back to the first people who settled South Carolina. All along the coastline, from Virginia to Georgia, hunting deer with dogs is taking a beating, thanks to changing land-use and ownership patterns. The days are gone when the huntmaster could turn loose a dozen hounds or beagles and not worry about them crossing the property line of someone who resented their presence.

Hunters who thrill to the sound of a pack in full cry, trailing along behind a big buck, don’t want to lose that sound. Some people don’t want to hear it. For what it’s worth, I find it is a beautiful chorus.

Hopefully, meetings of stakeholders will be able to work out problems — which seem to stem from a few bad apples who don’t respect the rights of others. Because the right to hear a great chase on a cool, fall morning, should be protected. Generation after generation should be able to thrill in the hunt.

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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