This is the time of year everyone looks at their checklist of things to be thankful for. If you are a fisherman or a hunter, somewhere on that list is going to be partners that are just as much into fishing and hunting as you are.
Others just don’t get that distant glare that pops up in a hunter’s eye about Sept. 1 or how silent a fisherman can get after finding a secret hole of five-pound bass. Your partner gets it.
They also understand how much sense it makes to plop down more money for a new reel or a case of shotgun shells than your other friends do on a week’s worth of groceries.
Everyone who fishes or hunts has their whys and they are as different as each of us. You cannot explain it to others because there is so much going on behind the scene mentally that makes hunting and fishing satisfying. Your partner understands.
I started hunting because it was something my father and uncles did. They were my youthful role models, so that made it the right thing to do. They were dove hunters, hunting on farms near the land they grew up and learned to shoot a shotgun as kids. It was strictly from the field-to-the-fire hunting, with a lot of fun thrown in. They were my first partners.
My dad was a pretty good athlete in his day, having gotten both a minor league baseball and college scholarship offer out of high school. Those days were long before me, but in hunting I saw my dad make shots I could not fathom and it made me proud.
As I got older, the hunts took on a different meaning. They became a challenge. I wanted my limit just like everyone else no matter how many shells I had to shoot. My partner, my dad, understood and underwrote the cost probably without my mom knowing the exact cost.
Then came the desire to expand to different types of hunting like quail, turkey, deer and - later - ducks, antelope and anything else that became possible.
It was the challenge of bringing home the meat, the adventure of the hunt, the travel and of course the friendship. New partners.
I have hunted and fished with hundreds of people, but like most everyone else there has been a core group that I have hunted with because I enjoyed their company and felt safe hunting around them.
In the 1990s, that core began to include my sons, Tristan and Thomas. They traveled the state hunting and fishing with me. Sometimes it would require a detour to a soccer tournament or maybe an early release from school on a Friday or a late return on Monday, but we went.
They learned woodsmanship, gun safety, what it meant to gather their meals, conservation and management.
They also must have had fun because they never stopped going, but as they got older it was with their friends more than with the old man. That was OK because they were creating their own hunting traditions and seeing how others did it. They were seeing new places and hunting new things like sandhill cranes and alligators.
Now that they are both settled again in Tyler, we get our chances to go together again. That was the case recently at Camp Verde Ranch in Kerr County where we were invited to help landowner Robert Parker with an ongoing management task of moving a deer population from about one per acre to one to six acres.
But this year the hunt had a twist as grandson Connor joined the crowd. At just a year and a half, he is way too young to get the nuances of hunting, or care. He’s just as excited to see birds as deer and to walk around the wide-open spaces.
This is my second hunt with Connor. The first came in September when he came along on a one-day dove hunt. He was impressed with the bobos, his name for dogs, running around as with anything.
This trip his mom, Mary, and I took him to the deer stand the first afternoon. It was a box blind set on the far north end of the ranch. With the little man dressed in his camo overalls and rubber boots, our expectations for a shot were low. We read books, played with toys, ate crackers, spilled crackers, kicked walls, stomped on floors, looked out the window for “a deer” and blew out diapers.
It sounded like a heard of buffalo in the 6X8 wooden box.
Surprisingly, deer started to filter past, including at one point two doe and two young bucks. Mary was in the process of getting in position for a shot at one of the doe when Connor bumped his head and it sounded like a siren going off.
Maybe in another life I would have been upset. At this moment, all I could do was laugh and try to help calm him down.
For the next couple of days, he rode with us looking around the ranch, hung out at the skinning shed and doing everything we did. It was fun.
He may be years from handling a gun or casting a reel, but I think I found a new partner. And maybe the best one yet.