I Wanted to be a Hunter

By Barr Soltis

I don't remember exactly how old I was when my parents decided that I was responsible enough to have own my first BB gun, but I do recollect that it was a grand day in my life. It was one of those milestones that we cross, an accomplishment, I suppose. From that day, much of my after school time or weekends were filled with untold hours in the woods hunting birds of opportunity in the wooded areas of my neighborhood. However, after a while my ability to snatch almost any sparrow perched on the twigs of the tall trees above me became routine and less than competitive. I needed more.

With the help and encouragement by my father, I became a member of the Fort Monmouth Junior Rifle Club and later the Red Bank (NJ) Rifle Club, where I honed my skills with rifles chambered in .22 Long Rifle. Shooting paper targets at 50 feet in the clubs indoor shooting facilities was a blast and the die was cast. I was point-on at the range winning patch after patch. Those days ended for unremembered reasons, but I knew that I needed to get out of the confines of a concrete building and enter the realm of real-life hunting.

Unfortunately, my father was not a hunter and made no bones about it. Maybe he had enough of guns and killing after flying 50 missions over the not so friendly skies of North Africa in a B-17, while serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a radio operator/machine-gunner. Or maybe he just felt bad about shooting an owl when he was just a kid, the last day that he ever shot the Winchester Model 1906 pump 22 caliber rifle that is now secured safely in my gun safe. His passion was salt water fishing, not hunting, and I respect him for his convictions.

It was either my 15th or 16th birthday when my father finally conceded and bought me my first firearm, a Western Field 12 gauge pump shotgun. Another milestone crossed, but I would soon learn that it would not be an easy task to become a hunter. Unfortunately, not even after reading article after article in The American Rifleman magazine would I be closer to achieving my desire to become a real hunter. I needed a mentor, someone who shared the same interests and was willing to take me under their wing (so to speak) to teach me the ropes.

I had the tool, but I still needed someone to take me hunting. That day finally arrived when my cousin (15 years my senior) took me small game hunting. There were three of us in the woods that day when we kicked up a rabbit. The bunny ran from my left to my right directly in front of me and less than 25 yards away. With the bead of the shotgun barrel I leaded it's path and squeezed the trigger. Still aiming at the downed rabbit and ready to pump in another shell, my cousin yelled, "Barr, don't shoot!"

As I quietly walked to claim my �trophy� the excitement of the moment turned sour very quickly as my cousin's friend took possession of the rabbit. I really did not know what was happening at that moment. When I told them that it was my rabbit they looked at me in disbelief not believing how I could possibly say that it was mine.

There was only the sound of one shot in the woods that day and I knew it was mine so I asked myself, why was this guy acting like it is his rabbit? We had a few words and a bit of a stand off. Then I had to prove to them that I had taken a shot at the rabbit by jacking a spent shell from my shotgun and then woods went silent.

Unknown to the three of us at that moment, there were actually two shots taken; we had shot at the same exact moment. Based on the location of the wound I feel as confident today as I did back then that I had been successful, but all I went home with was the spent shotgun shell and the memory; the rabbit went into his freezer. At the end of the day, I still find it mind-boggling that a grown man who had nothing much to lose and a whole lot to gain (respect, at the very least) did not do the right thing by letting me at least believe that the kill was legitimately mine, even if he thought differently.

Any trust that I may have had instantly evaporated that day and I knew that I was on my own. From that day forward it was not uncommon for my mother to drop me off at the state game lands near where we lived and then come back for me many hours later. Nor was it unusual for me to hitch-hike (with my shotgun) both to and from the game lands, but this was back in the day when life was much less complicated and the sight of a boy with his trusty shotgun did not result in a headline story in the local newspaper. I wanted to be a hunter, so I hunted even though I had no real idea what I was doing.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge of time since my youth and I must admit that until recently my opportunities to hunt were as few as my successes. However, my love for shooting continued and several years ago I returned to my roots and regained solid footing at the range, shooting a variety of target rifles. I had the skill-set and was confident that I could harvest any animal in my sights, but I needed a target in the field.

A few years ago I joined the Guns and Shooting Online forum, where I received valuable information about hunting, shooting and reloading ammunition. I also befriended a number of members (or vice versa), many of whom I have became close friends and one of them (out of the blue) invited me on a guided bear hunt in Maine.

It took a mere second to accept his generous offer and the plans for our September hunt moved forward. The days before the hunt were dotted with periods of both excitement and anxiety. I had never met him, nor had I never gone on a guided hunt or hunted black bear, so I was a bit out of my element, but that changed after we met in Connecticut and journeyed together to Maine. I just knew that I was going to have a great time and I did. Furthermore, I was successful! Since then we have also hunted white tails in West Virginia and wild boar in Georgia and these excursions remain as some of my fondest memories.

I have found is that there are few hunters who will allow newbies into the privacy of their established hunting group and now I have some understanding and appreciation. Hunters are not a fickle bunch. They carefully choose their partners, almost as if they are choosing a spouse. They need to respect and trust each other and of paramount importance is that everyone has the same agenda. This is especially true when it involves hunting for several days from a remote camp. A day trip with someone who hunts from a perspective different from yours is probably not going to do much harm. If things don't go well, its only one day.

That said, things can get a trifle bit dicey when spending several days together in a small camp, even with friends or family. Having a few hunting camp hunts under my belt now, I can say that compatibility is essential to a successful hunting experience. The hunting adventure is much more than harvesting a game animal. For me it is a time to gather with like-minded friends for a week or so each year and have a good time, even if you go home with only a memory. I suppose that this is why few hunters will risk inviting a newbie into their sanctum sanctorum. In hindsight, I can not blame them.

Almost one-half of a century later from those days as a boy who shot birds of opportunity, I can say that I have achieved what I had set out to accomplish. Do I consider myself a �real� hunter? No, this title goes to others. Do I consider myself successful? Absolutely. Do I consider myself blessed? Yes, because I met a stranger who took me into the field and taught me the ropes. I just wish that I had met Ed Turner forty years earlier.

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