I'm a writer. Even before I focused on my craft and gave it the time and energy it deserved, I was a story teller. When I was a child, I was a liar. I told lies to escape punishment like many kids do, but I also told lies to get attention. They were stories that I made up and not meant to cause trouble. I realize all kids do this to some extent, but I probably did it just a bit too long before I realized it was wrong.
I tell you this as a preamble, because as I relate things that have happened in my life, there are times when I am obviously exaggerating for comedic effect. In one post I described my balls as being made of brass and being as big as church bells. In another, I claimed I sprinted faster than a car in a quarter mile. I know most readers will either like or dislike these exaggerations, but few will believe I'm claiming them to be true. I'm spending two paragraphs to make this point, because when I tell you this next story about my dad, people will undoubtedly believe I am exaggerating or stretching the truth for effect. I'm not.
These blog posts are to help me with my writing while hopefully entertaining my friends and fan (I know I have one somewhere). But they are also to help keep my memories alive. Some are funny, some are tragic. Most of the stories dealing with my father I will tell so that I don’t forget. Like all father son relationship, ours was complicated, but never doubt that I loved him.
I'm going to tell you two examples of his shooting ability. He loved to hunt. His life revolved around hunting season. He loved to hunt anything and everything, but his main passion was deer hunting. Over the years I saw him demonstrate his skill as a hunter and shooter. You need to have both to consistently take down the game you want, but there are times when even he seemed to exceed his own legendary abilities.
The first occurred when I was too young to hunt. It was the mid 70's and we were all still a family and dad decided to take my sister (who was hunting age) and I along for a road hunt. It was the last day of the season, and he hadn’t seen jack shit on our property. The snow came early that year and it was already deep. On that day, we drove out in the morning and saw nothing. We went back out that afternoon. We were ordered to scan the fields for any movement. I don’t think he'd ever been skunked before, and he wasn't about to go a season without putting some meat in the freezer.
We'd been driving around since lunch, and it while there were still a couple hours before sunset, a bad storm had moved in and the snow was coming down in huge flakes. I was in the front seat scanning the right side, but visibility was down to less than a hundred yards. I prayed for a deer and just when I gave up, I saw the flash of horns out of the corner of my left eye. I was so surprised I couldn’t speak. Dad saw the movement and turned just as the buck bounded across the country road less than fifty feet in front of the car and leapt into the field to our left.
We were going about 35 miles an hour. Dad slammed on the brakes and the station wagon went into a sideways slide. With one hand, he pulled out his still loaded rifle and with the other, he shoved open his door. He held it open with his left foot and used the door frame for a rest. I'd already lost sight of the deer, but he must have still had sight picture with his 3x9 scope, because he squeezed the trigger once and smiled. It was a rare site, and I cherished it.
The car came to a stop and he told us to stay put. We strained to see him, but he disappeared into the storm. Fifteen minutes later, he came back, dragging the field dressed buck through the hip deep snow.
A year later, my parents got divorced and two years after that, my dad moved to Thief River to be the manager of a compressor station for Great Lakes Gas. He purchased 80 acres of land 50 miles north of Thief River near a preserve. He was right between state land and farmers fields. The deer were corn fed and plentiful. It was a freakishly warm November and there was no snow. I left my stand around noon to grab some lunch and met my dad and his girlfriend by the cars. The entrance road to the land ran along a ditch bank and the next to the farmer's field that usually had corn. Behind us was all forest, but in front of us were fields for miles.
After lunch, we headed back toward our stands. When we got past the trees that ran like a wind break along the ditch bank, my dad grabbed my arm so hard I almost screamed. I stopped and followed his gaze. There was something out there, but even with my glasses, I couldn’t tell for sure what it was. My dad had 20/10 and he whispered that it was a buck. He crouched down and moved up about twenty yards to a small mound of dirt and told me to lie down. I did what I was told, but I still had no idea what he was thinking. I lay down on my back and he looked at me like I was high.
"Roll the fuck over."
I did and he lay down and used me as a shooting rest. After a few minutes, he whispered, "Four point."
For those of you not raised by my father, you would likely call it an eight-point buck. But he only called one side for reasons that were never fully explained. I tried to turn my head to get a look, but he growled at me not to move. After a couple of minutes of adjusting, he told me to take a breath and not to move. His actual words were, "Don’t you some much as fucking twitch until I after I take my shot." I took a breath and held it. I have no idea how much time passed, but I was starting to see spots when his 300 Weatherby Magnum boomed. He got up and I followed, sure he'd missed. But he was smiling.
"Let's go get him."
We got in his station wagon and he set the trip meter to zero. We rolled down the ditch bank toward the main road that was a mile away. When we the trip meter said ¾ of a mile, we stopped. I walked behind him into the field. We'd passed the deer by about a hundred yard and we walked back to it. The bullet had taken the buck in the spine, breaking its back and killing it instantly. We were one hundred yard shy of three quarters of a mile. I realize that a car odometer is not an accurate judge of distance, but even if it was a ways off, he shot at least 1,000 yards and likely closer to 1,100. I'd seen the ballistics, and I know that the round would do it. The rifle was stock and even though it is a beautiful limited edition Colt/Sauer bolt actions rifle, it had not been modified and was not what snipers call a "One Minute of Angle" weapon, which guarantees a high rate of accuracy.
I've seen him accurately shoot a lever action from the hip like the character on the TV show The Rifleman, snap a rifle to his shoulder and take a deer mid jumped while on a drive and I'd witnessed him make many long shots from a rest. Standing still, jumping away or at a full run at 500 yards, there wasn't a deer he couldn't take with a rifle. Come to think of it, he was a fair hand with a shotgun (best in Bemidji at Trap and Skeet two years in a row), and was spooky good with a pistol too. I'm a fair shot. I'm sure I inherited some of his natural skill, but I'm thousands of rounds behind him. He took his skills and sharpened them all the years of his life.
He passed away in 2008. I haven't been able to hunt since. It just doesn’t feel right to do it without him. It was the one thing we did together as father and son.