Dad read Outdoor Life, and learned about hunting from Jim Zumbo, about shooting from Jim Carmichel, and how to laugh at all the silly stuff we outdoorsmen do with Patrick McManus. So as soon I could read, I raided Dad’s stash of back issues of Outdoor Life, and learned and laughed right along with him. In fact, every now and then, one of us will quote a line from a McManus' story about building muzzleloaders from scratch (the one called "Poof! No Eyebrows), which we've we’ve both read more times than we can count, and we’ll laugh all over again.
When I was 8, dad taught me to shoot with a lever-action Daisy BB gun. That fall and several afterward, he took me squirrel hunting every weekend when the weather was decent and the season was in. I learned to move through the woods quietly by walking behind him, and to hunt safely with that BB gun before I was allowed to move up to his Winchester 42 .410 pump.
When I was around 10, Dad finally bowed to the reality that Indiana’s habitat had changed. What used to be grass fields full of rabbits had grown up into timber, the coyotes were coming on strong, and there just weren’t as many rabbits as there used to be. So the beagles all got sold, and he bought his first bird dogs, a German wirehair named Gretel and then later, an English pointer. Over the years, there’s also been a succession of Brittanies and more setters than I can count. I happily took up my role as bird boy and assistant dog trainer and followed Dad around the state doing training, and watching from the gallery at Shoot-to-Retrieve trials. I learned a lot about dog training and fell in love with bird hunting and bird dogs as I walked in Dad’s footsteps.
When I hit high school, I actually got to go on my first ever wild pheasant hunt, out in Creston, Iowa. That was back in the first years of the CRP program, and the birds were thick everywhere out there. In my memory, we all shot limits every day, but that may not have been reality. Also around that time, Dad helped me to shoot the first buck I ever killed with decent antlers, a weird non-typical that was standing in the middle of Big Walnut Creek. And when that deer went down in the creek, it was Dad who went swimming in that icy November water to retrieve him.
Dad still loves to hunt and I still love to hunt with him. When our relationship was rocky (as it was sometimes), we could always go hunting together, and so I treasure hunting partly for that reason. And I still walk in his footsteps in many ways.
I often think back to those early days in the woods, when we would wander around together hunting. I often had literally no idea where we were, yet somehow we always wound up back at the truck. I have realized over the years how much my life owes to him, because no matter how my life wandered, he was always there, pointing me the way back to the Lord. I don't think I would be a Christian, never mind a Christian pastor, were it not for my dad's example of faithful Christian manhood and leadership, nor do I think I would a good husband and father if not for his modeling it for me.
Thanks, Dad. You have always led me Home.