Wildfowl's Favorite Fall Memory
August 16, 2013
As I am entering the autumn of my life (growing older but not necessarily wiser), I have realized something wonderful: There is simply no way on earth to pick a single, favorite, best fall moment as a friend requested for this essay.
For the lifelong hunter, fall brings the very earliest of all memories. Cold, clear days and a canoe being pushed into the water to bust thin skim ice, shooting squirrels and wood ducks from it on an old cypress swamp, daydreaming about the big, white-horned buck or sounder of wild hogs just around every corner of the creek as a boy's imagination runs wild. Old butane handwarmers, and deer stands made from actual two-by-four wood and plywood. Turkeys walking right up to me in blaze orange if I did not blink, toes numbing below a live oak tree. Huge, southern fox squirrels hitting the forest floor with a whump. A giant blacktail with 9-inch drop tines skidding to a stop in the black timber and heavy snow on Mount Rainier from a running neck shot, my first deer at age 15 with a .270. Tracking a tiny band of Roosevelt elk at age 18, bows in hand, with a close friend for seven hours, crossing a river five times and chasing bugles to see my friend make an 85-yard shot into the record books'¦ and the way that giant bull made my Toyota pickup sag, horns sprouting from the bed like tree roots. Bloody cougar tracks in the snow swinging down into the trail of the huge buck I was tracking in Idaho, giant whitetails and muleys on the Canada border in Washington too smart to let me catch more than a glimpse, circling back in my tracks. Snowstorms at 10,000 feet in Utah in August, giant velvet muleys always just out of reach.
Fall is a giant Texas whitetail that fled when, as a five-year old, I yelled, "Look, daddy, there's a buck," as my father was trying to switch from birdshot to slugs in his old Fox double (and he almost made it). Smoking hot Eastern Washington duck shoots with dad and friends, with the first cool mornings of the year. And, of course, doves. Doves all over, in many states, their small feathers sticky with their blood on your fingers. And that one lucky bird that made the strafing run down the line of guns in September and lived to tell about it. Their breasts wrapped in bacon and kids running through the feathers all over the ground when the plucking was done.
Fall is giant black bears appearing like huge black cows in huckleberry patches in the Northwest while we were looking for mule deer in September, and the blistering foot pain from packing them out on foot because you could not resist making that shot. Grouse in the trail, fool's hens, killable with rocks and their berry-flavored breasts over the fire.
My fall memories are too many to list. And you can always find more. Most exciting of all, the best memories of fall are the ones coming up, and also learning there are really two fall seasons on this earth.
Down in Argentina this April, fall was settling across the land, cool nights squeezing the last greens from the lower grasslands, pushing to blonde and just starting to do the same to the trees. I'd waited my whole life to witness fall here, and hear the great red stag roar. And yes, it's true, they make our beautiful iconic wapiti whistle sound like feminine weaklings. Chasing screaming stags in the Andes while guys back home were calling turkeys is a bucket list memory no one can ever take away.
That trip blew my mind, the booming dragon roar in the black timber from stags that fight so hard entire beams are snapped off. Then we shot limits of ducks, and hooked trout in cold, clear autumn waters. The other hemisphere will be an unfortunately expensive new addiction to the best season, but it's sure amazing to really experience why fall is so wonderful God saw fit to make two of them.