Of Pheasants and Fathers

Today I’m taking a look back at my first hunting experiences with my Dad who I hunted with for 53 years. A portion of this column was published in the Maine Times on December 21, 1990. And a short version was published in this newspaper on Father’s Day, 2005.

The crisp autumn afternoon, the stiff weight of the English setter, the explosion of the pheasant from the tall grass, the heft of the shotgun as I brought it to my shoulder, the crack which cut the cool air, and the folding of the colorful bird followed quickly by the dog’s retrieve – set my course for a lifetime.
Dad’s presence right behind me reinforced the hunting tradition in all its glory.

On my office wall is the photograph of the two of us, along with the setter and my first pheasant. I look awfully small but must’ve been 12 years old or so. About that time Dad started me trapping too. No paper route for me.

I got up before dawn to check my trap line along the Waugun, an inlet to Annabessacook Lake in my hometown of Winthrop. Of course, Dad accompanied me and the fog on my face, the breathtaking sunrises, the quiet dip of the paddle into the water, the winding course of the stream, and my exhilaration in finding a muskrat in the trap, are still vivid. I also earned some valuable spending money.

Thirty years after my first pheasant provided a tasty meal for my family, I heard Dad’s rifle shots ring out on a spring-like November morning from his deer stand about 300 yards above my own along a Mount Vernon tote road. A half hour later as he trudged down the road toward me, the look on his face told me the story. I knew before he spoke that he filled his tag. He wore the same look I saw in that pheasant field so many years ago.

Hunting and fishing were my links to Dad. The time we spent together in the woods, trolling the line for salmon in one of the Belgrades, or casting for blues at Pemaquid, is priceless – beyond the comprehension of those who are less privileged.

Forty years after I shot my first pheasant, I returned the favor and introduced Dad to turkey hunting. I’d hunted turkeys for the first time the previous year and knew Dad would love the challenge, camaraderie, and interchanges with the Tom turkeys.

I remember a year when we sat on the edge of a Mount Vernon field as I talked turkey to a Tom down in the woods. Eventually the Tom moved out into the field and headed for our decoys. Dad shot him at about 20 yards. I retrieved the bird. We hadn’t had setters in a long time.

What we did have is a generational bond, forged in the fields and forests and on the lakes and rivers of Maine.

That I became an advocate for sportsmen and wildlife and an outdoor writer and TV show host, is no coincidence. It was my destiny from that first step behind our English setter with Dad. He set my course for life on that very first morning afield.

It’s been a good life, and for that, I am so grateful.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.