Who taught you to hunt? Who nurtured your passion for hunting? Most likely it was your dad, uncle or older brother or maybe a neighbor or friend. My story harkens back to being mentored by relatives and friends, one of whom I’ll never forget.
The first time I saw Henry was in the woods. One day in late winter a high-school pal and I were hunting rabbits with .22-caliber rifles but having no luck. Bored, we sat on a railroad trestle and wasted ammo plinking away at kitchen matches we had tossed into the stream below. Suddenly a young man, also carrying a .22, emerged from the woods behind us to see why we were shooting. His jacket bulged with cottontails.
“You’re doing it all wrong,” he said. “To hit a moving target, you have to catch up to it first, and then pull the trigger as you move past it. Throw another match, and I’ll show you.”
Pointing his gun at the sky, he brought it down quickly, found the floating target and fired, breaking the match in two. “See? Nothing to it,” he laughed.
It took my friend and me a while, but we found that we could be sharpshooters too. And I had found a new mentor. Henry and I became friends, and we hunted small game together throughout my school years. Whether shooting at rabbits, ringnecks or clay targets, his advice held true: Swing through the target—like painting with a brush—and fire as you go by without stopping your swing. Forget about leading any moving target; the lead is instinctively built into the swing.
My shooting improved, although I never could match Henry, who was a few years older and much more experienced. Proficient with rifle, shotgun and bow, he hunted nearly every day during the long seasons and constantly spent time at the trap, skeet, rifle and archery ranges. His early-morning job, making truck deliveries for a dairy, paid well and afforded afternoons, evenings and weekends off.
Not only did Henry have the perfect job, but he also was married to the ideal wife. Although Carrie didn’t hunt or shoot, apparently she allowed her husband free rein to follow his dreams. He was the luckiest man alive!
As the years passed and my life changed, I saw less of my friend. I learned he lost his job when the dairy folded. The last time I saw Henry was at the county courthouse. I was there to get a marriage license; he was there to respond to Carrie’s divorce pleading.
Another lesson I learned from him.
Tom Huggler’s Grouse of North America and A Fall of Woodcock won national acclaim and are now collectible. His Quail Hunting in America (Stackpole) is still in print. A Fall of Woodcock was reprinted recently by Skyhorse Publishing.