By Jess Wickizer
Two, just two Christmas gifts in my 34 years of life do I clearly remember opening, they both gave me chills, a rush of excitement and a feeling of wonderment. Both of these I received before I was 10 years old and I still have them both to this day. Both of them after opening and looking at my dad gave him this look on his face that I would see a few more times in my life.
The first I was 6 years old about to be 7 as my birthday is 9 days after Christmas. My Daisy Red Ryder BB gun was that gift. It is the full size model with wood fore end and stock, adjustable rear ramp site and the loop with leather strap so I could tie it off to my saddle. Over the next few years I would shred cans, and take down a few birds out of the trees in the back yard. I made shooting galleries with
targets at different distances, stuck on tree branches and some even dangling by string blowing in the breeze. I would learn how to adjust for distance, elevation and the ever present Western Kansas wind. These skills I still use to this day to fill whitetail tags, take down upland birds and dove.
The most important things I learned with the Daisy were in the field alongside my dad, brother, uncles and cousins. I carried the Daisy in the field for three years beside dad on hunts with family and friends South of Hays, KS my home town or around Osborne, KS where my mother’s family is from. I learned the importance of not walking out ahead of a line of hunters, what each hunters zone of fire was, the importance of walking into the wind when possible, what it was like to hunt with a really good dog and on some days a really bad dog. I got to experience the difference in working fields with and without blockers and noticed how valuable they could be. I was also informed that it would be many years until I would earn the right to be a blocker on a regular basis. I remember dad not allowing me to walk next to a friend of the family that would not carry is gun on safety through the field, and I remember dad scolding me when he saw me with the Daisy not on safety. On hunts without dogs I also became a very good bird dog in my own right. Many a brush pile, tall weed patch or any place dad or family thought was harboring ring necks or quail I stomped out for them with my trusty Red Ryder in hand to flush out birds, or would go in after a downed bird.
If a bird was to flush up in front of me during those years I had the Daisy in hand my family would respect my zone of fire and let me have the first shot at it. I remember “getting” my first pheasant while hunting by Osborne, KS with dad, my Uncle Ace, cousins and their friends. The pheasant held tight and jumped up just a few yards dead in front of me and he flew straight away not quartering at all. I shouldered the Daisy and had a locked in bead on him. I pulled the trigger and HAMMERED him. The pheasant folded up like a rag doll falling from the sky and crashed down to the ground. One perfectly placed shot from my trusty old Red Ryder did the number on that ring neck, or it could have been dad next to me, ( who to this day is the best shotgun shooter I have ever walked a field with) I don’t really recall. Never the less the group let me claim it as my first kill which leads to the next great lesson I learned hunting with dad. You shot it. You clean it. Of course dad did most of the work on that bird, but I did get my hands dirty with him and from that day on I would clean my own birds.
The second gift was my Remington 870 Express youth model 20 gauge shotgun. This gun is my favorite shotgun I own still to this day over 25 years later. Though I personally have not used it in the field for 20 years it still comes out of the safe to break a few clays and last year my wife used it on her first bird hunt and was able to knock down a few quail with it. I got my first true pheasant, quail and dove with that gun and can still remember the location of each. Most importantly I can remember the look on dads face after doing so.
As any person who has grown up hunting can, I could fill pages with memories of hunting. All true stories at first, but some have maybe grown into something of a more legendary status. So here is my favorite memory. My father passed away last May, and during the last few years of his life he was not able to get out into the field with me. I would still walk him through my day out hunting to the last detail. I did not harvest my first Rio Grande turkey though I had tried before and had gone with my dad a few times as a kid until May 2013. Dad was very weak at that time from the chemotherapy. On the first evening of the hunt he did go out in the truck with me to scout for gobblers and his face lit up when we found them and we were able to get close enough to them to hear them gobble as we put them to roost for the night. The following morning I went out and was amazed at hearing such a large heard of turkeys calling from the roost. I was not quite in the right spot and my calling skills were not good at all then so I did not work them very hard but took notice of where the heard moved off to and just watched them for quite a while. When I got back to my parent’s house I pulled up my hunting location on Google Earth and went over the morning with dad and we made my plan for that evenings coming hunt. Based on what I saw that morning and what dad and I saw the night before I had the perfect spot picked out to get my bird. That evening with just a few moments of shooting light left I was able to get my bird, the plan worked perfectly. On the drive home I called ahead to let my family know I GOT ONE! Dad had already gone to bed for the night but when I turned into the drive a few moments later there he was, and when I pulled the gobbler out of the bed of the truck his face lit up and there it was, that look back on his face I can remember seeing as a kid 25 years before standing in a field with dad after getting my first pheasant, quail and especially when I got my first deer. We high fived, took pictures and had a few cold beers, and I shot it so I cleaned it with dad by my side. Dad and I stayed up late into the night as he now seemed filled with energy, with him telling story after story about hunting.
As my dad gave me the gift of hunting with those two Christmas presents so long ago, I was able to give something back to him that as a kid I did not understand. Being able to put that look on dads face and the feeling it must have gave him I only truly began to understand after I felt it too when my wife took her first whitetail buck while 5 months pregnant with our son a few years back. Although she had already got a doe that big buck put me over the moon with joy and I can only imagine that is how dad felt. In a few short years my son will be the age I was when all this began and you better believe he will be opening a gift on Christmas morning that I can only pray will give him that feeling he will never forget and lead him to a lifetime of memories for the both of us.