By Tank Hoover
T’was the day before the opener and all through store, were dozens of hunters, in camouflage galore.
Beef jerky and candy bars were snug in their bags, along with doe urine, some hand warmers… what about my tag?
A man in a red suite, it’s old St. Nick, onto sporting goods we go, I sure hope it’s quick!
There they were, a long line of procrastinators, waiting till opening day eve to buy their hunting license. No one has a good excuse, except me. Every walk of life is represented in this line of “shilly-shallers” although, for some, it may just be tradition.
An old salt is proudly wearing his faded, hard-worn green work pants and long sleeved shirt, the uniform of so many retired miners, proudly telling the tale, “Yeah, I worked 1,000 feet under the earth with a pick and shovel you whiny wimp and I can still crush you into coal dust.”
On the other extreme, two young brothers in matching synthetic fiber hoodies, proud as punch to be getting their hunting license with dad, are beaming with pride and exuberant grins. One hasn’t grown into his teeth yet and I hear mention he was born in 2008. His whole future ahead of him, nothing matters, only the fact he is finally getting his first huntin’ license.
His older brother is playing coy, he got his first license two years ago and he’s an old pro at this huntin’ game. Dad is trying to keep a straight poker face, but a royal-flush grin makes its escape in his outwardly oozing delight.
Dad is a prime example of what a hunter should be. Having weeks worth of whiskers up to his eyeballs, he’s surely been bow hunting all fall. Being in the prime of life he looks as though he could climb uphill all day and never suck wind, or break a sweat.
Another fella, looking like life itself chewed him up and spit him out was dragging an oxygen bottle on wheels. Every time the line slowly moved forward, a piercing, high-pitched squeak stings our ears.
Decked out in “fashionable” wrinkled camper shorts held up by suspenders, loud Hawaiian shirt and sporting black knee socks with camouflage “crocks” he’s carrying a “sharp” looking cane in the other hand. He keeps muttering, “Gotta make the deadline” over and over again…poor fella. He kinda’ resembles our Magnificent Marvelness at FMG.
The man ahead of me is quietly waiting in line like me. Dressed in his Sunday best, he doesn’t say much. He’s with his wife and she does all the talking. She tells me he had a stroke five months ago and can’t talk yet, yet one thing’s certain, he’s going huntin’, by golly!
A young clerk asks, “Is everyone in line getting a hunting license? If not, get in my line.” Smugly, she asks the man ahead of me, “You’re getting a license?” It knocks the wind out of his sails as he drops his head.
I shoot a glance at the clerk scoring a direct hit with the ol’ stink eye, as I drape my arm around my new compadre in arms, and loudly respond, “Damn straight he’s getting his license, tomorrows the opener!”
His wife tells me her son-in-law is going to drive him to an over-looking field on the family property and hunt from the car, as people in his condition are allowed to in PA. This old warrior will be deer hunting, too. Maybe not on terms he likes, but he’ll be out there.
My own pap rode the field perimeters of the farm during his later years in his Jeep Wagoner after his by-pass surgery.
A Reunion and Goodbye
After obtaining my license, I buy a pack of Snickers and some beef jerky, a staple for hunters. While leaving the store, I see my new buddy and his wife buying an orange hat and vest.
Waiting for them to complete their purchase, I open my 6-pack of Snickers bars and give him two for good luck, saying they will be something for him to look forward to during the long days hunt. We smile, nodding good-bye, as I wish him good luck.
I see his eyes well-up by my simple gesture as I tell him, “Hope ya’ shoot the big one tomorrow!”
Turning, to walk away, I try to swallow the lump in my throat as my eyes slightly leak. The dang poinsettias by the door must be triggering my hay fever. His wife gives me a heart felt “Thank You” as I reply, “My pleasure, it’s what we hunters do … look out for each other.”
Walking in the parking lot as I get ready to hunt on the farm, it dawns on me just how much the old man resembles my pap.