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Hunting. Fishing. Outdoors.
What makes a hunter, a fisherman or an outdoorsman? Practically anyone can take an afternoon drive to the local sporting goods store and purchase a license and equipment needed to pursue any of the activities previously mentioned. God and soldiers of this great country through the years have given us the freedom to enjoy just such experiences. However, no amount of equipment or any type of license purchased can truly make a hunter, a fisherman or an outdoorsman.
A true hunter prepares for his next hunt out of respect for the game he’ll pursue. A true hunter abides by rules and regulations because he knows it’s in the best interest of the sport and conservation as a whole. A true hunter can hardly sleep the night before opening day due to the sheer excitement and anticipation of what lay ahead with the breaking of the next day. A true hunter, whether he feels bad or not, is up and gone before dawn in order to be in the woods before daylight comes. A true hunter can actually get lost in the emotions of watching, listening and feeling the sights, sounds and smells of a brand new morning as God’s creatures come to life for another day. A true hunter relishes the moments like this and the hunt itself much more than the actual harvest. A true hunter knows that a day in the woods, harvest or not, can be one of the most rewarding days of his life.
A true fisherman respects the water. A true fisherman only catches and keeps what he’ll eat. A true fisherman abides by set creel limits because he too knows it’s best for the sport and conservation. A true fisherman can fish all day in the hot sun and never catch a thing and still consider it a good day on the water and much better than any day at work.
A true fisherman turns more fish back into the water so they can grow a little bigger for next time because it’s the right thing to do and betters the sport.
A true outdoorsman respects the woods and water. A true outdoorsman is happy to hunt, fish, trap, camp or do just about anything that gets him outdoors. A true outdoorsman loves just being outdoors. A true outdoorsman picks up that candy bar wrapper or pop can he finds that was left by someone before him who obviously was not a true outdoorsman.
I consider myself a true hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman and I’ll tell you why. I come from a long line of what I consider “true outdoorsmen.” I was lucky enough to be able to hunt with Grandpa Lilly for a couple of years before the emphysema took over his lungs so bad he could only walk a short distance even with an oxygen tank.
I can remember leaving out from the West Virginia deer camp before daylight so we could make it to Spice’s Run and “the chestnut log” which was his favorite stand in that neck of the woods. If we hunted directly behind camp up Cole’s Run he would usually spend all day at “the sinkhole” at the head of Brown’s Hollow.
We used to go coon hunting with him whenever we went to West Virginia. Miles and miles we’d walk listening to those old hounds making midnight music as they tried to tree the slick little ring tailed varmints. I don’t remember a night out that we ever came back to the house empty handed.
Without a doubt, the most memorable moment I have of my Grandpa Lilly was the time he caught the rabbit. Barehanded. We were rabbit hunting behind the house in West Virginia and the hounds jumped and rabbit and the race was on. The hounds were slinging leaves and howling as they ran through a patch of woods for a short distance but suddenly stopped in one location like they had treed a coon.
Grandpa and I caught up with them to find the dogs fighting to get their noses into a huge narrow crack in between to large boulders.
Now this part of West Virginia’s mountains has huge rock outcrops and boulders. I’m talking 5 feet to 15 feet high boulders that seem like God just dropped them there on the seventh day as if to say, “OK, I’m done.” This rabbit has run into the crack between two large boulders that stood about 8 feet tall. It was like a tiny dark hallway that ended some fifteen feet in toward the center of the boulders. We stood there watching the dogs alternate sticking their snouts in the crevice as I was thinking the game was over.
Rabbit 1, Lillys 0. Wrong.
Grandpa started looking around calmly, pulled out his pocket knife and started whittling on a stick about 8 feet long. As I watched he trimmed on the stick and whittled the end to a sharp point. He handed me the stick and said to climb up on the rocks above the crack and all the way to the end, take the stick and when he told me to, poke the pointy end of my stick down in to that dark crevice. He then tied the dogs to a tree a little ways off so as not to be in the way.
I thought we were just going to run the rabbit out, turn the dogs loose again and listen to them run it until we could get a shot. As I started back towards my point of attack from above I couldn’t help but peek over the edge to see what Grandpa was going to do while I poked at this dark hole.
As I peeked over the edge there he sat squatted down like a baseball catcher at the entrance to the crack. About that time he hollered, “OK, use your stick”.
I never wanted to be in two places at one time more than at that very moment. I wanted to do my part and force this rabbit out but I sure wanted to see what would happen on Grandpa’s end of things too. I commenced to gouging my pointy stick into what appeared to be the end of the dark crevice. Within a few pokes I heard a rabbit squealing louder than a baby pig at Grandpa’s end. I jumped up and ran to the edge of the big rock and there he stood with a big grin on his face and a squealin’ rabbit in his outstretched hand. He had caught that rabbit like a baseball catcher scoops up a fast ball in the dirt.
Lillys 1, Rabbit 0.
I learned a lot in a short amount of time from Grandpa Lilly but nowhere near as much as I’ve learned from his sons, Darrell (Dad), Uncle Damon and Uncle Gary (God rest his soul) as they will always be “true hunters, fishermen and outdoorsmen” to me.
The last year has brought two of my proudest moments with my two youngins. My lovely daughter Suzanne harvested her first gobbler turkey this past spring and she gave me the privilege to call it in for her. I watched as she made as good a harvesting shot as ever was made in the turkey woods.
My favorite son Hunter harvested his first West Virginia buck last November on his first trip to deer camp in the mountains.
The most special part is that he harvested the buck with the Remington .30-06 rifle that belonged to his Great-Grandpa Lilly. Both hunts made me so proud my head swelled bigger than my hat and my heart felt as big as a tractor tire in my chest.
Everyday life and the people we deal with day to day can try and will sometimes take things away from us and those that mean the most to us. No matter what they try to take away they can never take away the memories shared with family and friends. There’s just something about the great outdoors that make it a natural place to make memories so get outside and enjoy God’s creations. All this didn’t happen by accident.
My kids are the main reason that for six years now I’ve ended my column the same way.
Take a kid huntin’ and fishin’ soon!
See ya outside!
Jeff Lilly is an outdoors columnist for The Anderson News. Comment at www.theandersonnews.com.