My father was an amateur gunsmith, but there was absolutely nothing amateurish about anything he did. I think of him often, but especially when hunting season comes around each autumn. Year after year, Dad carefully carved and polished his own gunstocks. He often meticulously weighed and loaded his ammunition on winter evenings after supper. Dad deeply respected the weapons he crafted and owned. He was also constantly attentive to the safety of the family. I am convinced that he would be appalled by today’s casual American attitude toward assault weapons in our society. I also suspect that, though a life-long member, he would not have a kindly attitude toward the NRA’s current stubborn defense of such items.
It was always very clear that the thoroughbred family Labrador retriever was first of all his hunting companion and only secondarily a family pet. The animal was never allowed in the house lest its instincts be dulled by human association. As a kid in upper grade school, it was my assigned job to take the dog down to the shores of Lake Michigan (only a block away from our home, a mile south of Racine) every summer afternoon for exercise. For an hour or two each day, I would toss sticks into the waves for the dog, unimaginatively named “Blondie” or “Blackie,” depending on the color of the dog’s coat that generation. Those dogs were always of the highest pedigree, registered by the prestigious American Kennel Club.
The animals were well-trained and surprisingly affectionate, even to the point of actually caring for the live, wing-clipped mallard ducks which my father also kept as trainees for each successive hunting season. It was a happy family of mutual respect. Our family lore is replete with tales of all those noble animals.
Of course, autumn was the time for hunting — pheasants and mallard ducks in the fall, and then white-tailed deer in the northern woods as Thanksgiving approached each year. In his later years, Dad added an annual trip to Wyoming with friends, which he called his “holy days” when it was time to begin planning for the pilgrimage. The exercise was never wanton or thoughtless. My Dad’s hunting was an activity deeply entwined with respect for the creatures of the world. I’m sure that he brought a sense of prayerfulness to the tree stands where he patiently awaited the sight and arrival of the majestic animals of the northern Wisconsin woods.
I was probably 11- or 12-years-old when he took me out for my first experience of winter hunting. Unfortunately, as he often mused later, it was a poorly chosen bitterly cold Saturday morning. Even though I was well padded, I suffered enough from freezing ears and nose to shun ever repeating the experience — so he lost a life-time hunting pal. Fortunately, on the other hand, however, my brother was willing to fill the shoes and follow the traditions of his elders. I became content to help with the butchering and then enjoy my mother’s savory stews which Esau himself would have relished (Genesis 25).
Even though my gaze may be blurred by time, and certainly skewed by the fact of looking from the outside of that experience of Orion the great hunter of the sky or Esau, I have not lost my appreciation for those who combine a competent knowledge of guns and a deep respect for the natural world around us.
Autumn is the season of harvests and hunting, at least in our part of the world. It’s a time for deep and enduring gratitude for all the gifts of God’s creation around us and for the many creatures with whom we share life on this planet. It is a time when we pray for the hunters of our world.