Since it’s Father’s Day, and mine’s been gone for about 16 or so years, it’s only natural I’ve thought of my Dad.
What came to mind was our last hunt together, and probably the only time in my life I could honestly say, “Great shot, Dad!”
My Dad could do a lot of things very well. No matter what I broke he could fix it. Hallmark made millions off his ability to wade into one of their production machines and somehow find ways to make them safer, more productive and less costly.
Had it not been for the dyslexia that had many teachers calling him things like “stupid,” I have no doubt he could have been a world-class mechanical or electrical engineer. The cost also would have kept him from going to college, though. The Walton’s looked like the Koch’s compared to how my dad grew up. One of his favorite sayings, “What Depression, we never had anything to lose.” Dad had to leave home at about 16 so his family wouldn’t have to feed and care for him. When he had an extra few dollars, he gave it to his mom.
I think that’s why he was so good at stretching dollars out of dimes. (Boy, do I wish I had that ability!)
Anyway, one of the few things my dad could not do was shoot well. I remember averages of a dove per box of shells, and ending a day with a high of three quail, despite a dozen or so solid points by my Brittany, Rose. He was probably worse with rifles.
Upon his retirement, Hallmark gave dad a fine pension and other savings…really generous…and some kind of carved crystal bowl. That seemed an odd thing to give someone like my dad. So, I joking told him for a retirement present I would either get him an even bigger crystal bowl or take him on the best deer hunt in Kansas with a dear friend of mine.
Yes, you know what he selected.
We were in the rugged ranch country of Logan and Gove counties the opening day of rifle season, and saw a few nice bucks early. I’d already told my friend, Stacy Hoeme, that we’d need to get as close as possible for dad to have a chance of making a good hit on a buck.
Dad, far from a trophy hunter, liked every buck we saw and Stacy and I joked we wouldn’t give him any ammo until we saw a buck we thought was fitting the occasion. Eventually we saw a herd of mule deer with a very good buck head into some canyons. We started our stalk on the unseen deer, hoping we could stay high and crawl up to a ledge and get dad a slam-dunk shot.
We’d just entered the rough country when that very buck up from a canyon about 180 or so yards away. That’s not a long shot for a lot of people, including my children and me, but I never really considered it for dad. But in less time than it takes to explain, he dropped to one knee, fired and put a .280 bullet through the buck’s chest. Mortally hit, it staggered a few seconds as dad emptied the rifle. I have no idea where those other four shots went, but they didn’t look to be anywhere near that deer.
No matter, the buck fell, and Dad got to bask in the glory of making a really nice shot on a trophy buck that would make him the envy of all the hunters around Tonganoxie, and all his old friends at Hallmark in Leavenworth.
The cancer that killed Dad came within a few months of that hunt, and though he lived for about another two years I think that was the last time we hunted together.
The day meant enough to Dad that he kept a photo of the two of us, and his buck, handy most of the time. The mounted buck, and a framed enlargement of the photo, sat where he could see both from his deathbed at his home. The enlargement was placed by his casket, as my step-mom wanted people to see Dad when he may have been at his happiest.
There comes a time, I guess, when all sportsmen have their own last hunt. I’m hoping mine is still 20 or so years away, but you never know. I’m 56. I think Dad shot the buck when he was 65. That’s not much of a difference. We’ll see.
But a great hunt for a great animal, and being out with someone from my family wouldn’t be a bad way for me to go out, I guess.