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Remembering My Dad's Last Pheasant Hunting Trip

By: Randy Tucker

You never know when it will be your last hunt. For that matter, we don’t know when a lot of things we enjoy will never happen again.

My dad passed away at 87 in February 2017. We were blessed that he stayed bright, vibrant, and self-sufficient with the help of our mom until his final days.

He taught me to hunt a long time ago in the woods of eastern Arkansas, a full generation later, he helped me teach my son, and his grandson, Brian, the basics of hunting, fishing, respecting, and loving the outdoors.

As should be the case in the natural progression of life, the student often becomes the teacher.

As dad moved into his 60s, then 70s and finally early 80s, I began to drive us to hunting and fishing areas. Brian and his cousins, Adam and Jake, my dad’s other grandsons, often went with us, especially on my 24-foot pontoon boat that we converted to a mobile bass fishing dock.

But this story is about the last time my dad trekked into the wild after pheasants.

It was on a bird hunt in Arkansas back in 1964 with my grandpa and great-uncle that I first experienced that atavistic rush you get when you stalk a wild animal. That afternoon it was quail – “Bob White” as my grandpa called them.

I hunted with my dad after pheasants as well and worked the tomato fields west of Sacramento a few years later as a two-legged bird dog. Pheasants in the 1960s and early 70s were abundant in those endless acres of Romas and Big Boys.

When we moved to Wyoming in 1971, dad was too busy building a productive farm out of the property they had purchased to hunt.

In the meanwhile, I took off on my own as a college kid, living on sage grouse, pheasant, deer, and a wide variety of waterfowl.

We started hunting together again when I took a teaching job in Lusk. Deer, antelope, and turkeys were the fare that had my dad and brother-in-law Matt driving the 220 miles from Riverton to Lusk for extended three-day weekend hunts.

Jump ahead another generation, and Brian emerged as the best hunter in the family. He ate, slept, and dreamed of hunting and fishing. Before he was married back in September of 2017, we referred to his house as “Cabelas West,” due to the incredible array of rods, lures, guns, and ammunition, along with decoys, trolling motors, and coolers filling it.

In 2015, we convinced my mom (my dad was in on it from the start) to go pheasant hunting.

We have a private, stocked game farm we often hunt after the Wyoming Game and Fish season has ended.

We loaded Samson, the wonder dog (actually a gifted German Shorthair), three blaze orange hunting vests, and our arsenal of a 12, 16, and 20-gauge shotgun. Dad had the 20-gauge Remington 870 pump he purchased in 1950 before going to war in Korea as a sailor on the USS Iowa. Brian had his much more modern Remington 870, in 12-gauge with a ventilated rib, and I have the only upland game gun I ever use these days, my over-under Stoeger 16-gauge.

We paid for 25 birds to be stocked that morning.

It was December, and the temperature in eastern Fremont County was a balmy 15 below zero. Samson did his magic and began locking on and flushing hens and roosters immediately.

The hunting was great that morning, but dad took most of my and Brian’s attention.

The old rancher refused to wear anything but slick, sharp-toed cowboy boots. These are great in a corral, or while running a tractor or a swather, but they’re horrible footwear on snow-covered ice cut through by open, flowing streams.

We took turns staying in arm’s reach of dad and both of us caught him a couple of times before he slipped and fell.

It didn’t worry him at all.

He might have slipped on those slick boots, but he was still an incredible shot with that 20-gauge.

He’d won squadron marksmanship awards many times in the US Air Force after he changed services from the Navy back in the 1950s, and while he was accomplished with an M-1 Garand, he was possibly even better with a shotgun.

As we worried about him slipping, he coolly nailed bird after bird with a single shot from his 870. Samson dutifully retrieved each hen and rooster, bringing them back to my dad.

He even joked that he was glad we came along so we could pack all those birds, since his vest was getting heavy.

It was a great day, 21 of 25 birds, but it was our last day with him, something we realized was on the horizon, but that came much too quickly.

Changing from a strong, agile, young man to a senior citizen comes in the blink of an eye. I’m on the cusp of that stage as well.

As Dr. Seuss famously said, “Don’t be sad that it’s over, be glad it happened.”

We are all very glad that it happened.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

 
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