Many childhood memories are often remembered throughout our lives, but one of my best childhood memories is the first time I got to go hunting with my new shotgun.
My dad did not do much hunting when I was a child, but my Uncle Steve was an avid outdoorsman and I owe this obsession of mine to him. He hunted, trapped and fished all the time, and I was fascinated with the idea of hunting ever since I can remember. However, it all started when Uncle Steve bought me my first shotgun, a Winchester 12 gauge pump shotgun.
My uncle was thorough, making me handle the shotgun without any shells at first, then taking me to a friends farm and letting me shoot my gun at a stationary target, loaded with two shotgun shells to be exact. I was so nervous about shooting my gun that I almost had my mother call him and tell him I wasn’t ready, but thankfully I did not. Finally, he planned a rabbit hunt on some railroad tracks that ran throughout the small town I grew up in, and exited town where we were allowed to hunt. I was very excited to go out on an actual hunt with my uncle and dad, but I also had a sense of calm because my uncle had prepared me for the responsibilities of hunting and handling a weapon.
The hunt started on a Saturday morning in early fall. The weather was perfect, chilly with clear skies. The leaves were just at the end of their fall colors, and were starting to fall from the limbs and branches of the trees and brush that blanketed both sides of the railroad tracks. We parked his 1978 Chevy truck along side of the road and proceeded to get our guns and hunter orange vests out of the back, and walked down the road towards the tracks.
As I walked along the edge of the road a lump developed in my throat. It was not a nervous feeling, but one of excitement and wonder, for I was about to have a chance to take my first rabbit alongside my best friend, my dad, and the man who always treated me as his own, my uncle.
As we approached the railroad crossing my dad looked at me and asked if I was ready, and I responded with a resounding, “Yes!” To this day I can see the smile on his face, as if he was so proud of me. Upon entering the railroad crossing, my uncle instructed me to put two shells in the gun and to place one in the chamber. That is one rule I had to follow, never place more than 2 shells in the gun. This was his way of making sure that I took my time and aimed properly, even though my gun held 5 shells. I slammed the action down then back up again to position the round into the chamber, and now I was ready to hunt.
My dad and my uncle went down off the side of the tracks into the brush to act as dog for me. They walked through the thickest briar patches they could find and kicked every brush pile the railroad company had made from trimming trees along the tracks. As we worked our way down the tracks, my uncle yelled at me, “Don’t worry Tone, we will get a shot”. He must have been reading my mind, because I was just thinking that today would not be my day, or so I thought. “There he goes” bellowed out across the tracks from my uncle.
The rabbit bound up the side of the tracks 10 feet in front of me, then abruptly turned and ran straight away from me. I shouldered my gun, lowered my head down and put the front bead of my shotgun in between the ears of the rabbit. I pulled the trigger, and I must have closed my eyes, because I had no idea if I had hit or missed the rabbit. Immediately I asked, “Did I get him”? My ears were still ringing when I heard my uncle say “Yep, you got him!” I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t see the rabbit, it had rolled down the bank along the side of the tracks.
I was so happy. My first shot at an animal and I got it. As we walked up on the rabbit, I remember looking at my dad and uncle, looking for approval. They both had the biggest smiles on their faces that any man could have. They were so proud of me. That was it, I was hooked for life.
The sport and tradition of hunting has filled me with memories that I dearly cherish, and hope to have many more happy memories in the future. Thank you for teaching me this great tradition we have the privilege of doing Uncle Steve.