“You did real good today, buddy roe. I’m proud of you. I believe that you’re ready to head to the woods by yourself, and that’s what I’m gonna recommend to your mama. You’ve passed the test.”
My granddad and I were taking a break during an early morning quail hunt. He was sitting on an ancient oak log, and I was leaning with my back to it. We were sharing a canteen full of cold water and a bag of venison jerky that I had brought along in my hunting coat.
My granddad’s English setters, Buck and Lady, were lying side by side watching us closely to make sure they also got a snack. It had been a good morning, and I was glad that I had passed the test, although I wasn’t sure what the test was.
“What test did I pass? It seems like all we did was shoot a few quail.”
“That’s what’s great about it, Tom. You did it without thinking. Remember the covey when you could have made a double, but you let me have it?”
“Sure, I do, but the bird was on your side, not mine.”
“You did it instinctively, without thinking. You’ve become a gentleman in the woods.”
He looked at my quizzical expression, smiled and said, “Let me give you an example. Remember when your uncle Tommy brought that friend from town to bird shoot with us?”
“Yessir, I also remember that Uncle Tom said that guy would never come back.”
“Why is that, you think?”
“Well sir, he was hogging all the shots and claiming birds that weren’t his. He even said he made a double when I know that you made it. He was nowhere near those birds. He also climbed over a fence with his gun still loaded. I thought Uncle Tom was gonna have a fit.”
“Yep, suffice it to say, that man wasn’t a gentleman. And you know what I’ve discovered in my many years in the outdoors? If a man isn’t a gentleman in the woods, he more than likely isn’t one in everyday life.
“Your daddy and mother did all the hard work teaching you good manners and how to be courteous to your fellow beings. Things like holding the door for a lady, saying yes ma’am and no ma’am, standing when a lady enters a room, taking your hat off at the dinner table. Little things that might seem unimportant, but they’re what separates gentlemen from the riffraff.
“I didn’t have that much to do training you in the woods. You were already a gentleman. My big chore was just teaching you gun safety. I’ve watched you like a hawk, and because of my good teaching about safety and your innate good sense, you’re ready to head to the woods on your own.
“Always remember the shotgun you’re toting takes no prisoners. It will kill you dead as a hammer, and mistakes with a gun can’t be recalled. Saying I’m sorry doesn’t help after you accidentally shoot a hunting partner.
“Well, enough of my lectures. I consider you a graduate of your granddad’s shooting and safety school, and I’m proud to recognize you as the hunting gentleman you are. Come on, the day’s young. Let’s get these dogs to working and see if we can find another covey.”
That memorable day in the woods bird hunting with my grandfather, took place over 65 years ago. I’ve hunted all over the world with all kinds of weapons and have never had a mishap. My son also went through my hunting safety school, modeled after my grandfather’s. He’s a pleasure to be in the field with, and I’m sure Granddaddy would be proud.
Contact Tom Bryant at firstname.lastname@example.org.