Wow, can you believe this?
Even though Adam was a few feet away, I could clearly hear his breath. His breathing was uneven, ragged, and he was breathing very deeply. Adam was taking his first shots with a new gun and he was nervous. Adam is nine and his target was a White Flyer, clay target placed in a bank twenty yards away. His dad had brought him to me for his first shots with this gun and was standing back a few yards, not wanting to make him nervous.
We were preparing for his first turkey hunt as the shooter, so I got him into a good sitting position and reminded him to line up the front sight with the hammer on the little Topper shotgun and press the trigger. There were more, deep, ragged breaths, the gun boomed; the clay target disintegrated. Adam looked back at his dad with a look of deep satisfaction, smiling from ear to ear with a look of, “Wow, an you believe that?”
Later in the same week, my grandson, Charlie, was with me on South Core Banks, just northeast of the point of Cape Lookout. We’d looked at the rusting hulks of abandoned cars on the dunes during the 14 mile drive down the beach, we saw the pieces of old wooden ships, and visited the derelict, old cabins where squatters built their fishing camps in the 60s. Now we were fishing. Charlie caught several small blues and he was excited every time he caught one. When he missed one, he’d question me about technique and offer theories about why he missed the fish. Even though he’s caught much larger fish than these ten inch bluefish, he was serious about catching them, and every fish beached was a victory.
The next morning, we moved around the Cape to the southwest side to get away from the wind and Charlie continued to fish hard. He approached his lack of skills with both frustration and a scientific desire to do better. His first casts had been frustrating but, after some discussion of technique, he was now casting about 40 yards straight out on almost every cast. On each cast, I called out, “Good cast,” and I could see the satisfaction in his expression.
Charlie has a somewhat ambitious goal and he voices it every time we surf fish or talk about surf fishing. He wants to catch a citation red drum. On his first surf trip with me, we camped on the beach and I caught a 36” drum. I would have handed the rod off to him, but I had the fish on a really big rod and he simply couldn’t have handled the rod. After him taking photos and watching me release the fish, we talked about why I couldn’t hand the fish off to him. I resolved to fish with smaller rods as much as possible to increase the chances of him getting a big drum. Later, we got into some puppy drum, and he landed a bunch, including two at one time, I informed him that I’ve never caught two drum at one time, and that he has one up on me. For Christmas that year, he asked for a surf rod that would allow him to handle a citation drum. I gave him one.
Charlie fished hard this week in spite of a strong northeast wind, overcast skies, and temperatures in the high forties. It was tough, but he stuck with it for several hours and eventually hooked a large spiny dogfish, a member of the shark family, but without the rows of real teeth that sport the mouth of larger sharks. I coached him in handling the fish. It was large enough to make several runs and he was keeping his rod tip high and reeling down, keeping the drag from slipping while he reeled, something he’d been told would only twist his line and not help in getting the fish to the beach.
When the shark came into view in the wash, he was overjoyed and, once the shark was on the sand, he was brave enough to hold it by himself for a picture. As he held that shark with arm straining, keeping out of reach of its mouth, I noticed the same breathing I noticed with Adam, the same excitement and pleasure, and the same expression of “Wow, can you believe this?” At 35 inches, it was the biggest fish he’s landed so far and the trip was a success based on that alone. Later, I saw him running on the beach, arms outstretched, and remembered doing the same thing at the same age. Charlie is still a kid, but he’s working on developing skills and becoming a man.
Later his week, I called Eric, Adam’s dad, and we talked about our boys. I asked if Adam runs with his arms out and Eric laughed and said, “Sure and I remember doing the same thing. I was pretending to be a jet fighter.” I remembered that I pretended to be a jet fighter when I was that same age. I wondered why I hadn’t remembered it until this week and realized I didn’t see this behavior because my Julie is a girl and girls probably don’t pretend to be jet fighters, but they do enjoy their first shots, their first fish, learning to cast, and all the accomplishments that develop them into adults.
I remember my daughter, Julie, on the line at Camp Butner, shooting her first rifle match at fourteen years old. She was about 90 pounds, freckle faced, with curly, red hair and wielding an M14 High Power rifle. The nervous excitement affected her breath the same way; she had trouble talking to me while she was shooting the first shots and the smile and “Wow, can you believe that?” expression when the first ten came up on a target. At the end of the day, she had the same expression when we looked at the match bulletin and she saw how many boys and men she’d outshot.
During our phone conversation, Eric told me he breathed the same way when he shot his really big deer and his first turkeys. I thought of the way I felt when my first citation red drum was on the beach, when I realized I was the winner of a rifle match the first time and how if felt when I shot my first deer.
Yesterday was Youth Turkey Hunting day. All across the state, young men and women breathed those ragged excited breaths and their faces shone with that expression of “Wow, can you believe this?” They held their first turkeys, their parents and grandparents will be taken back to their first turkey or their first red drum, or whatever accomplishment brought this feeling to them. It’s why we love the outdoors; it’s why we pass the love to turkeys, and deer, and red drum, and wild rainbows, and shooting competitions on to the young people we love.
Someday, God willing, Adam will get his turkey, and Charlie will get his citation red drum, and their hearts will move on to another outdoor goal. The wonder of it all is how I’m 61 years old and I’m still capable of feeling that excitement, breathing those ragged breaths, and feeling the joy of an outdoor accomplishment that makes me feel the same way. I guess in the outdoors, we’re all kids in one way or another and that’s the wonder of it.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. Larry is a five year old Fox Red Labrador retriever. Dick’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. If you’d like to have him and Larry speak to your group, they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org