I like to hunt. I really like to hunt. A lot. You could say it’s who I am. Why? The normal clichéd answers might be that I enjoy the recreation, exercise, spending time with friends and family, the taste of game meat, or even that I’m satisfying primordial urges. All of these are important, but what I enjoy most is that hunting melts the stress of everyday life from my body. When I hunt, whether I’m sitting in the whitetail woods or the goose blind, or following my dog through a CRP field in search of a rooster pheasant, I’m solely focused on the task at hand. I have no worries. That’s the only logical reason I sometimes subject myself to extreme wind chills and sore feet after long walks, knowing that in many cases the odds of success are stacked against me.
But in truth, that’s not why I hunt. The sole reason is simply that someone asked me to go. Actually I blame it on three different people who asked me, and another who taught me to shoot and let me borrow his shotguns until I had my own. You see, my dad, Dave, doesn’t hunt. I don’t fault him for that – he wasn’t exposed to it as a youth growing up in Indianapolis, and it didn’t stick with him after a few trips in Nebraska.
I, on the other hand, was surrounded by hunters while growing up in Ogallala. As a teen, I worked at a gas station/bait shop/sporting goods store, and listening to the hunters’ stories there, and from friends at school, sparked my interest. I knew I wanted to try it, and my eyes, if not my hands, were always on the used guns in the corner of the store. “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could own one of these?” I must have asked myself a thousand times. Eventually, I did: my first .22-caliber rifle and my first deer rifle.
I passed my hunter education course and learned to shoot thanks to Larry Einspahr, father of my stepsister and stepbrothers. But who would take me? I wasn’t old enough to go on my own.
Enter Larry Chandler, the husband of a woman who worked with my stepmother, Gloria. No one remembers for sure, but I would suspect that when Gloria and Sherry’s conversation at work one day turned to my interest in hunting, Sherry said she’d ask Larry if he’d take me.
Larry was somewhat like me in that his dad didn’t hunt. “My grandpa took me when I was about eight years old,” Larry said recently. “He took me duck hunting and pheasant hunting and all that stuff. And I don’t know, ever since then, I’ve just always wanted to help little kids go hunting.
“I thought, well heck, it doesn’t matter to me who goes just as long as I’ve got somebody to go with me. Because I still, if somebody comes and says ‘My boy wants to go hunting,’ I say, ‘Well, load up and let’s go.’”
Most of my memories from that first hunt in 1983 are seeing the frozen carcasses of pheasants protruding from snow drifts in southern Keith and northern Perkins counties. That winter was hard on pheasants, and losses were high. But I shot my first pheasant that year with a Remington 870 20-guage shotgun I borrowed from Einspahr, and was hooked.
The following fall, thanks to some friends who reached that all-important milestone of age 16 a year before I did, was spent hunting doves, pheasants and ducks. A year later, there were more dove hunts in September, but I had even bigger plans. My sister’s boyfriend, Tim Rowley, was a hunter from Imperial who had captivated me with his hunting tales. When he offered to take me deer hunting, likely to score brownie points with sis, I jumped at the chance.
I drove dad’s 1965 Ford pickup through the snow from Ogallala to Imperial on the eve of the opener. In my billfold was a driver’s license, hot off the presses, and in a case next to me was the Remington 740 pump action .270 rifle I had eyed in the corner of the bait shop for months before I saved enough money to buy it.
A serious case of buck fever cost me my first chance at a deer. I missed again on my second chance, too … sort of. My first deer was actually standing behind the one I was aiming at. But that hunt still added more fuel to the fire and was the first of many with Tim, who soon became my brother-in-law and took me along to hunt pheasants, ducks and geese, and was there when I bagged my first Nebraska pronghorn and my first elk in Colorado.
That following fall, one of my summer coworkers, Jamie Vasa, introduced me to what has become my true love: goose hunting. He was there, sitting in a pit we had dug in a cornfield south of Sutherland, when I shot my first goose. For the next few winters, whenever he came home from Chadron State College for the weekend, we would lay in a corn field between Oshkosh and Lewellen. When I, too, went to Chadron State, we often rode home together on weekends, if for no other reason than to hunt geese. Sometimes we took Shotgun Red, Jamie’s beat-up 1980 Chevy pickup that used as much oil as gas. Other times we would take my 1982 Ford Escort hatchback, which held an amazing number of decoys and had just enough ground clearance to deliver them to the middle of the field. We hunted geese the morning of his wedding and the morning after.
Most of my best friends today are the people I hunt with. In some cases, hunting trips actually sparked the friendship. Yet I often wonder where I would be today if Larry hadn’t offered to take me on that first hunt. I may have still caught the bug when someone else did, but maybe not. I doubt my parents would’ve let me hunt with my high school friends had I not already hunted with an adult. And I might have been pulled in a different direction and my interests in hunting would have faded. That’s what the experts say happens if kids don’t start early. Had that happened, I probably wouldn’t have my dream job working for this magazine, a job that allows me to pursue wildlife with a camera year-round, which is just as good as doing so with gun in hand.
I suppose I’d watch more football in the fall. Maybe I would have introduced my step-brother, Mike, to something else. But “guiding” him to his first deer a few years ago, and three more since, is something I’m proud of. I’ve introduced people who were already hunters to goose hunting, but Mike is one of the few greenhorns I’ve introduced to the sport. I need to do more of that. We all do. I can’t wait to take one of my six-year-old son Mace’s friends hunting, and return the favor Larry did for me.
This article first appeared in NEBRASKAland Magazine in 2009. Purchase an issue here.