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Sometimes in life, we have memories that stick with us. These memories sit in the back of our mind, often untouched for weeks, months, or years at a time.
The best part about this is the fact that we can dip into these memories casually throughout our lives and pull out the best bits and pieces. It’s even better when they involve another person.
For me, it’s memories of grandpa that stand out the most. Every single weekend of my childhood we were doing something. Whether it was hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, or even doing yardwork; there was always something to be done. The man had more energy than I think I do now as an adult.
I want to pull back the curtain and dump some of my greatest memories. Perhaps you can recall a time where you connected with a close family member in the woods. For me, all of my greatest memories happened when we took a dirt road to a place with no name; nothing more than a rifle, fishing pole, and some basic tackle.
My First Rifle
The year is 1999 and I’ve been itching for my junior’s license for what felt like a century. Small game season is open and my grandfather made a great rabbit stew. He never believed that small game hunting was dying even though the signs were all over the place. He was tough like that; he grew up doing certain things and refused to change his ways. As a kid, it was sometimes frustrating, but as an adult, I couldn’t possibly understand any more than I do today.
It was a Friday afternoon and I was on my way home from school. The bus stop was about a three-minute walk from the house and I knew Papa Joe (that’s what I called him) was waiting at my house to talk about our plans for the weekend.
As soon as I walked through the screen door, kicked off my shoes, threw my backpack at the wall, and proceeded into the kitchen I was greeted with the most beautiful sight.
Resting on the kitchen table was a semi-automatic, magazine-fed, 10/22. Keep in mind that at this point, I’ve fired plenty of rifles, pistols, and the like but this gun stood out. It was sharp, it was clean, and it was mine.
Into The Woods
Late October through to Thanksgiving is cottontail and pheasant season in Pennsylvania. It was a cool and breezy Saturday morning when Papa Joe woke me up and said it was time to go. We got our gear together, threw everything into the back of his Ford Ranger, and we were on our way.
It was about ten miles from my house to the spot where my grandfather hunted small game. The area was called Aston Mountain and it was hit or miss in my opinion. Sometimes you’d get there and park in a line of about 50 trucks and other times you had the woods to yourself.
We grabbed our gear, pack, and other essentials and took off North into the woods near the reservoir. Papa Joe had an interesting approach as well. He believed in coming back with something no matter what. He was an old-school dude who grew up in the woods. At the time he was about 70 when he first started taking me out.
He always said that there are five essential pieces of gear you need when you’re out hunting. You need your rifle, your coffee, game bags, trapping equipment, and basic survival fishing poles in case you don’t get anything. He said, “if we can’t shoot it, we can surely hook it.” I later found out that he had to hunt via water more than he’d like to admit.
A Trapping Experience
One skill that I still use to this day is the ability to trap nuisance animals around my home. Papa Joe taught me how to place and set a snare that we used to catch rabbits most frequently. You’d set the snare right between two bushes where you find tracks or droppings. Chances are this is a frequently traveled path and the rabbits use it to get to and from their burrows during the cold months.
It was about 9 am now and we’d been in the woods for about three hours without seeing a thing. We decided it was time to set a few traps and found the perfect location for two of them. Papa Joe used these red markers to mark the trees a few hundred feet around the trap so we could return to it.
We reached an opening towards the top of a steep hill and knew right away that this was prime pheasant territory. There was still a lot of dense brush that hadn’t quite died off yet and wilted over from the frost. We moved carefully through the field until my grandfather spotted one beneath an evergreen.
He decided it was time for me to test out the new rifle and he walked me through it. We approached cautiously at what felt like a snail’s pace until we were about 50 yards away. With the gun loaded, sights centered, I took a deep breath and fired into the dirt in front of the pheasant. I took a panic shot as it awkwardly flew away.
I was discouraged but I understood how this type of stuff went. My grandfather taught me the importance of getting back at it and not giving up. We went back to check our traps only to be met with more disappointment.
Memories of Grandpa: Trials and Tribulations
Low and behold, the little fishing rods Papa Joe brought came in handy. We took a short walk down from the field towards a river that fed into the lake and dropped some lines there. It was about noon now and we each had a salami and cheese sandwich beside the river as we brought in a few panfish. Some bluegill and even a few rock bass. My papa always said that the rock bass were “no good for eating” so we tossed them back.
After about two hours of fishing, we had ourselves six or seven fish and decided it was time to wrap it up. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a great method of transporting the fish so we ended up putting them in our lunchbox with some of the ice pulled from the riverbank. It wasn’t perfect but it did the trick and kept the fish fresh.
Even though I didn’t get anything and frankly, didn’t even see that much, I learned a lot from hunting with my grandfather. I learned the importance of staying the course and not getting discouraged. I also learned how crucial it is to show up prepared to whatever it is you’re doing.
My grandfather walked into the woods with an attitude problem, and in a good way. His attitude was one of perseverance and resilience. He didn’t care in the slightest if he killed anything that day but he sure as hell knew he was coming home with something.
I think we can all learn something from this old-school way of thinking and if it wasn’t for these memories of grandpa, I don’t think I’d be the man I am today.