I pulled into the parking lot at the Lamine River Conservation Area in Cooper County on a Saturday morning in mid-January. My three sons—ages 9 to 14—were with me. In the trailer behind the truck were eight dogs: six beagles, a Labrador and a viszla.
We were all going rabbit hunting.
The dogs knew it and were announcing their eagerness by barking their heads off. The weather was perfect for rabbit hunting with dogs. The temperature was in the high 30s, it was misting rain and there was no wind. The dogs would have no trouble trailing rabbits. From the noise they were making in the trailer, I suspected they knew we were in for a good hunt.
A few minutes after we let the dogs out, they were chasing the first rabbit. My sons knew what to do because they had been rabbit hunting with me for years. We spread out and walked slowly behind the dogs. The secret to success was anticipating where the rabbit would run and getting in position to make a shot. My sons knew that watching the dogs was the wrong thing to do because the rabbit is usually way ahead and will run right by a hunter who is too intent on the dogs.
Although they would rather be running with the other dogs, I made the Labrador and viszla sit next to me while the beagles were chasing rabbits. I knew that the two bigger dogs were much better than me at sensing a rabbit creeping through the grass and brush. When their ears went up, I knew the rabbit was close.
As the morning progressed, the mist turned to rain. The rabbit hunting continued to be excellent, and I knew that there was a very good chance we would each get a limit despite the weather. I was absorbed in the hunt. My boys didn’t need much direction. They knew what to do.
The dogs were working a particularly sneaky rabbit, and I was thinking of where I needed to move when I felt a tap on my shoulder. This broke my train of thought. Who would disturb me at such a critical time?
I turned around and there was my oldest son with his two brothers standing behind him. Evidently he was chosen as the spokesperson. He said, “Dad, I think we’ve had all the fun we can stand for today.”
They wanted to go home. What a disappointment. We were on the verge of a limit for all four of us.
I looked more closely at my sons. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before but they looked like they had just swum across the Missouri River. They were wet to the bone, especially their feet.
They were miserable, and even an active, robust rabbit hunt with plenty of shooting was not enough excitement to overcome the cold and wet.
Then I looked at myself. I wore an oil cloth coat and pants with waterproof boots—the best money could buy. I was pretty chintzy with my sons’ clothing because they outgrow it so quickly. I realized that unless they were only going to be fair-weather hunters I needed to provide them with some better gear.
We didn’t go rabbit hunting the next weekend. We went to the shoe store. I asked for the manager because I knew if I was going to buy high-end hunting boots in bulk, I could get a decent discount. An hour later, I left a check at the counter that would have made a nice monthly house payment. I knew that I would be back next year when those feet required bigger boots.
Next, we dealt with the issue of hunting pants. Rabbit hunting involves walking through some pretty thick and thorny brush. My sons usually wore two pairs of jeans with sweat pants underneath as protection from the thorns. Unfortunately, if it was hot or rainy these multiple layers could be miserable.
We tried all kinds of hunting pants with nylon protective fronts but none would fit. All three of my sons were football players and weight lifters. Their thighs were as thick as tree trunks. Obviously, they had inherited their bulk from their mother. The only option was to have brush chaps custom-made to fit over their gigantic legs.
Gloves were a problem because it was almost impossible to have a weekend hunting trip without one or all three boys losing at least one glove. I had dealt with this predicament by buying large quantities of cheap cloth gloves, but they were not suited for intense cold and did not repel water. I finally just bit the bullet and ordered a healthy supply of insulated gloves, hoping that they would lose left and right gloves on an alternating basis.
Hunting coats, especially coats that were water resistant, were just as much of a quandary as pants because of the size of my sons’ chests. Finding ones that fit and were hunter orange was impossible. We tried plastic blaze-orange vests, but these would tear off in minutes. Our solution was to purchase some nice oil cloth coats, hang them from a tree in the backyard and spray paint them orange. It seemed a shame to do this to nice new coats, but it worked.
Sharing a shotgun on a weekend hunt was a big downer for the boys, so my biggest expense in outfitting the three young hunters was guns, both shotguns and rifles.
I decided that all of my sons would need good shotguns, which was, of course, a pretty expensive decision. My wife, Jen, viewed this level of family expenditure, on top of the boots and everything else, with doubt and suspicion. But, I assured her it was for “her babies.”
Actually, this was the best part of gearing up three young hunters. After all, what hunter doesn’t like to go shopping for more guns?
The first gun for my oldest son was easy. I bought a $5 raffle ticket at a fundraising banquet and won a nice 20-gauge double-barrel shotgun. Unfortunately, I was never able to duplicate this very cost-effective method of acquiring shotguns, and I had to turn to the family checkbook for further purchases.
I was quail hunting with a friend on the J.N. Turkey Kearn Conservation Area in Johnson County and having a wonderful time. My friend, on the other hand, couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn all day. Late in the afternoon, the final covey erupted in front of my hunting buddy. He fired three times, missing each time. In frustration, he threw his gun down in the snow and yelled out, “This gun is for sale.”
I was able to negotiate a very favorable purchase price, and my youngest son had his first gun. I was sure my son could work out all those misses with some practice.
I spent almost 20 years buying boots, hunting clothing, guns, ammo and hunting licenses for my sons. They are grown now and have moved away, but the outfitting continues. I bought my oldest son a nice, expensive pair of hunting boots last Christmas, and we usually send our sons a gift certificate to one of the major outdoor hunting equipment suppliers on their birthdays.
I don’t know how much it has cost me over the years, but it was worth it. Hunting is still a tradition for us, and the memories of our hunting trips are priceless.
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