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Fathers and Sons and the American Hunting Tradition

By: Randy Tucker

Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham has a conversation with Ray Kinsella in his office in Chisolm, Minnesota during my favorite scene in “Field of Dreams.”

“We just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening. Back then I thought, "Well, there'll be other days." I didn't realize that that was the only day.”

As a kid, you never think of it. The last time you and your friends all go on a bike ride in the summer between sixth and seventh grade. The final time you take off your shoulder pads with the guys you played with for four years is a more poignant moment, but 18-year-olds don’t have that sense of finality yet. They’re too busy being invincible and preparing to defeat the world.

When you’re older, those moments take on a special quality.

My dad passed away in February 2018, just after he celebrated his 87th birthday.

Luther Forest Tucker was an avid fisherman and bird hunter well into his 80s, but as a kid growing up in east-central Arkansas, deer hunting wasn’t a forte in his youth.

We have friends who own several sections of land along a few miles of the Sweetwater River in Central Wyoming.

In 2004 we took what proved to be the final deer hunt with my dad.

At 73 he still moved pretty well, but a couple of heart attacks, bypass surgery, and the wear and tear of a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy and then the Air Force, along with many decades raising alfalfa, barley, oats, and cattle had taken its toll.

We set out for the Sweetwater country early one October morning.

It was a generational hunt. My son Brian was an athletic kid. At 18, he could move fast, never got tired, and in the world of dads, grandpas, and grandsons, it was his job to do anything overly physical.

I was 47, still in those good years of middle-age, and able to stay out all day on a hunt.

Good gravel roads dot the area, along with venerable two-track roads that wind through the sagebrush and grass of the foothills east of the Wind River Range.

I packed my trusty Remington 788 .308, and my dad had a Remington 700 6mm borrowed from my brother-in-law Matt.

Dad originally owned the 6mm long ago, using it to hunt coyotes that sometimes raided piglets, lambs, and even young calves on his farm. In the intervening years, he traded Matt for an identical style of rifle, only in 30-06 caliber.

Dad took the 30-06 elk hunting a few times, but never bagged one of the big boys. In later years, the recoil was too much for his shoulder, and his cardiac surgeon suggested a little caliber weapon that wouldn’t rattle his implanted pacemaker.

So, there he was with the 6mm riding in the front seat of the pickup, bouncing across the Wyoming prairie.

We stopped on top of a high hill and glassed the area. Hundreds of mule deer dotted the landscape below, but only a handful had antlers.

We came up with a plan.

We put dad on a lower hill just above a 180-degree bend in the Sweetwater.

I drove about two miles up a draw above him where we had spotted a big herd of muleys and dropped Brian off.

I drove back a mile or so, parked the truck, and started walking down an adjoining ravine. This wasn’t the first day of the season, and the deer were wary of us.

As Brian approached, they kept a good quarter-mile distance ahead of him. I came down the ravine and set up on a small rise to watch the action, and take a shot if they came my way.

Over the next 20 minutes, the deer sailed over barbed wire fences with the unique grace that only mule deer have in vaulting over a barrier. The high school high hurdler trailing them cleared those fences pretty easy as well.

After the herd passed, I moved along the backside of the ridge, trying to get a vantage point for a shot. As I cleared a rise to take a look, I heard the sound of a single rifle shot.

I glassed the area ahead of me but didn’t see any game down. I moved the glasses to my dad, and he pointed across the River.

Brian and I met and walked back to dad’s location.

He had taken a 3x4 mule deer buck on the opposite side of the Sweetwater.

Age has its privileges, so Brian earned the right to wade across the river to the fallen buck. The water was well above his waist but wasn’t flowing that fast. He easily crossed the river, gutted the buck, dragged the carcass back to the water where he rinsed it out then put the 130-pound buck on his shoulders and crossed back over the Sweetwater to us.

Dad made a classic heart/lung shot from a little over 300 yards away from a sitting position. He signed his tag, and we gave the landowner portion to our friends, and headed back home.

None of us realized it was his last hunt.

Hunting, along with working on cars, building fences, barns, houses, and anything else made of wood used to be a rite of passage for young men with their fathers and grandfathers.

Out here in the rural American West it still is.

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