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Life's Lessons on Opening Day

Life's Lessons on Opening Day

Michigan man remembers mentor and first hunt

By Cameron "Boots" McGregor

Back on a high ridge along an old cut trail stood a young man inside a makeshift hunting blind. Light filtered down through the trees, mixing with the mist that was rising from the earth. The smells, the quietness, the coolness - I can still picture moss growing on the tree trunks, dew dripping from leaves and water trickling through the little creek.

It was my first deer hunt.

I was dressed in a hand-me-down orange jacket and a pair of brand new wool pants my mom bought for me. Adorning the same basic attire, my friend Ron Wendt stood less than 100 yards away.

In the months leading up to deer season in Blanchard, Michigan, we trimmed trees, read sign and took long walks in the woods. But they were more than just walks. With every step, my friend was teaching me not only about deer hunting, but also about life.

I remember how excited I was for that first deer hunt. Ron had a knack for storytelling, and I had listened to many of his great stories. Just when I thought he was done talking, he would yell out, "WHAM! PLOW!" and would begin another one.

On the eve of my first deer hunt, time seemed to drag. As the minutes turned into hours, I grew fidgety with excitement. Of course I couldn't sleep, so I lay in my tent, listening to the rain and dreaming of bagging my first big buck. I don't think I ever did drift off.

Finally, it was time to get ready. I could hardly stand the anticipation. The morning was very cold and wet, but at least the rain had stopped. I gathered my gear and wished my fellow hunters luck as Ron and I headed down the trail. I could tell he was excited, too. He loved opening day and was pleased to see my enthusiasm.

As the trail broke, he stopped and said, "This is as far as I go." He pointed to the west and said, "Your hunting blind is straight across this open grassy field and up on the ridge." He put his arms around me, wished me good luck and said, "And don't shoot me!"

I smiled, even though Ron couldn't see my face. "Yes, sir!" I replied, and off I went.

It took me what seemed like forever to get to my hunting spot. My heart was beating fast and I was starting to shake with excitement. Finally, at 7 a.m. on my first opening day, I caught a glimpse of a deer!

Two does and a fawn were nibbling on a bait pile Ron and I placed there a week before. I shouldered my rifle and tried to remember everything he taught me about deer hunting, practicing in case a buck showed up. I watched them feed for a while before they finally moved on.

Life's Lessons on Opening DayI waited for what seemed like hours, but nothing else showed up. I was beginning to think hunting wasn't as fun as I thought it would be. Finally, I saw another deer. I forgot about being cold and bored!

I heard the snap of a twig and light footfalls, and then, there it was in all its glory; a buck with antlers that seemed to glow! Its trotting motion was graceful as it appeared to float effortlessly through the tall grass.

Then the serenity was shattered by the sound of my gun: BAM! I had just shot my first buck!

It dropped right where it was standing, and although it was only a spike, I was thrilled. In fact, I was hooked - a deer hunter for life!

I couldn't wait for Ron to arrive, and I was sure he would be coming quickly.

As I turned around, I saw him making his way toward me. I wore a big, cheesy smile and probably looked like a dork, but I couldn't help myself.

As he got closer, Ron asked, "Did you shoot? How big is it?"

"Yep!" I yelled out. "The buck fell just over there. But he's not very big."

Ron put his arm around me and said, "Son, that's a great buck, and I'm very proud of you! Let's load him up and show him off."

Years have passed since that day. The old .30-30 Winchester I used on that opening day has been replaced by a Remington .30-06.

I still look forward to opening days, despite experiencing many more since that first one. But sadly, I will never again experience the good company of my old friend, nor hear him tell his exciting stories.

Ron is no longer with us. He passed away in 2011, but I think of him often, especially on opening day. I loved him very much.

I'm lucky to now have a son of my own. One day soon, I will take him deer hunting. Before our morning coffee, before the sun comes up and before we head out to hunt, I will share with my son the special story of my friend and my first opening day.

I didn't know it at the time, but hunting deer was only a small part of what made opening day so special.

It's not about bagging the biggest buck and driving around the countryside showing it off - although we are guilty of doing just that. Opening day is about getting together with family and friends. It's about the memories you share from season to season. And sometimes, if you're lucky and have a great teacher, it's about learning life's lessons.

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