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"My First Hunt" - Scott J. Knight

            “Wake up boy,” my grandpa said in a low raspy voice.  “We can’t let the sun beat us to the woods.”  I rolled over and rubbed my eyes and saw it was 4:25 AM.  Today was my ninth birthday, I thought, why can’t I sleep in.  I got up, got dressed and brushed my teeth.  I walked down the narrow hallway from the bathroom to the kitchen.  When I arrived at the dinner table, I saw a lever action 30/30, a gun I was sure my grandpa didn’t own. 

            “Where did this come from,” I asked.

            “Sit down boy and I’ll tell ya a story.”

            My grandpa loved telling stories, and I loved to listen.  My grandpa was a balding man but always wore a hat, unless he was at the dinner table.  He always wore some shade of brown slacks, a flannel shirt, and his Budweiser suspenders.  He also had a pair of NHRA suspenders he wore on special occasions, which he had on today.  “Well,” he said, “when your mother was your age she used to be real hard to talk to.  When my dad sat her down she looked like a deer in headlights as he told her his stories.  So for her ninth birthday he got her this gun and took her on her first hunt.  That’s what I plan to do with you today.”

            Living with my grandpa wasn’t easy.  He had high expectations of me being his only grandson, and the only boy in the family.  He always said, “You might not have my name but you will darn well have my morals and good sense of style,” and then he would laugh.  I would laugh also but only because I could never see myself in slacks and suspenders.  After breakfast he told me to load up the dogs and start the truck.  “Really,” I said as he jingled the keys in front of my face.

            “Of course,” he said, “today you become a man.”  I ran out back to let the dogs out of their pen then ran around front.  In one smooth motion, I opened the tailgate and spun around to call the dogs.

            Now later on in life I remember hearing my grandpa tell this story, he would say, “I was sitting at the table waiting for him to come back in and tell me he couldn’t start it.”  On my grandpas old truck you had to hold down the clutch then push a button above the keyhole before you could turn the key.  Now my grandpa didn’t know at the time, but I knew all that, I just didn’t know what a clutch did or what it was.  I had watched him do it so many times I just knew how.  I pushed in the pedal, the button, and turned the key.  The old Ford struggled to turn over, but as it did I couldn’t take my eyes off the gauges bouncing up and down.  Finally it turned over and as I let go of the key, “thump.”  My head hit the steering wheel and I looked up and saw a tree.  I couldn’t figure out how I ended up at the bottom of the driveway in the tree line.  My grandpa walked up to the door and opened it and said, “get out,” in a stern voice.

            Finally we got everything together and took off.  The sun had been up for a while now, which really ruined my grandpa’s day, which in turn ruined mine.  When we got there we both got out of the truck and he started to mumble under his breath.  He was checking things off his list in his head.  So he gave me the gun, helped me load it, and told me to stay on the trail.  He said, “When you get to where it forks then turn around and come back.”  As he made his way across the road to the other trail I started walking and thinking.  I knew this trail and all the deer were on the other side of the creek.  I also knew the creek ran parallel to the trail.  So I figured when I got down the trail about 200 yards or so, then I would walk over and jump the creek.  As I walked I noticed that all the trees had begun to drop their leaves, it made for a real beautiful background of orange and brown and red.  They also made a lot of noise when walking.  When I got down to where the trees weren’t as thickly grown, I started walking off the trail towards the creek.  Now the creek was only maybe two feet wide and two feet deep, but on the other side the bank was very steep and about five feet tall.  So I jumped over and climbed up.  I came to an opening about 20 yards in—it was a dried up march full of old cedar trees.

            I crept up to a tree and rested up against it and looked around.  I could hear a faint crunching sound.  As my senses went crazy, I ducked down and looked at where the crunching was coming from.  I saw a faint figure through the cedar brush, I checked where the wind was coming from just like I was taught and I was down wind.  Ok I thought time to make my grandpa proud so I started to move forward.  Crack…crunch, I couldn’t move without breaking a stick it seemed they were everywhere.  I decided to wait and see if he would come to me.  After about five minutes I saw him come to a clearing.  I pulled up my rifle, looked down the sights, and pulled the trigger…boom.  I opened my other eye just in time to see him run away.  Darn what a lousy shot, what a great looking buck, what am I going to tell grandpa?  I bet he didn’t hear I thought to myself.  As I made my way back to the trail I noticed a lot of trees that just looked strange.  I started thinking about how long I had been gone.

            I realized soon I had been walking for far too long, I should have been at the creek already.  Oh no, I thought, I must have gotten turned around.  I started to turn back, but then I heard running water.  I was so excited I jogged to the creek.  There it was, but not where I had crossed before.  Both banks were much steeper.  I was hesitant at first to jump but then I heard the dogs barking.  I knew it had been too long and my grandpa was trying to find me.  So in my nervousness I jumped, I made it I thought as I stood on the other tall bank with my hands on the bank and my feet almost in the water.  I started to crawl up the bank and then started to slide back down.  I struggled and struggled but couldn’t get up the steep bank.  I stopped to think, but now I could hear my grandpa calling.  I got to hurry now, I scraped and clawed my way almost to the top…and as I slid down again I tried to stop myself and caught my foot on a root… “splash.”  That water was as cold as a butcher’s workshop.  I panicked and crawled up the bank as fast as I could.  I got to the top and jogged toward the trail.  I finally got to where I had crossed before and I heard the dogs barking and ran down to see my grandpa standing on the creek bank.

            “What the heck boy I been waiting at the truck for nearly an hour.  Why are you all wet?” he said. 

            “Well I fell in the creek,” I said. 

            “What the heck boy, I told you to walk the trail, what was that gunshot I heard?”  I could feel my whole body shivering harder than ever before. 

            “Well,” I mumbled, “I seen a…”

            “Speak up boy,” he said. 

            “I saw a deer so I shot it.” 

            “Where is it?” he asked.

              “I missed,” I said, with a sad look on my face.  I told him the whole story as we walked back to the truck.  He proceeded to lecture me on listening to what he said and why he gives me rules and how I’m not ready to be a man; I felt horrible.  When we got to the truck he started to get louder as he talked about how I ruined his day and his truck.  He went on like this for about ten minutes.  I started to cry, I felt like I really let him down.  He stopped the truck and asked me what was wrong.  I started telling him how I felt like I let him down with whimpers and tears in my eyes. 

            “Quit blubbering boy and listen.  It ain’t all about the kill boy, it’s the hunt that makes the man.  Do you understand?” he asked.

              “No,” I whimpered. 

            “Look,” he said.  “You crashed my truck, fell in the creek, and missed your first buck.   That don’t mean as much to me as how you figured out how to start the truck on your own, tracked a deer all by yourself, and even though I said stay on the trail you had enough common sense to know the deer were on the other side of the creek.  You made me proud boy,” he said.  My face lit up, I felt good again, still cold but good.