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Old Men
By David L. Falconer

Growing up in southeastern Oklahoma during the 1970ís and 1980ís was not exactly growing up on the frontier, but in many ways it was the end of the era. During my teen years to early twenties I saw Oklahoma move from the # 1 state in the nation for quail hunting to a state with game management departments trying to figure out how to bring the quail population back in areas where the beautiful bobwhites once flourished. The quail themselves went from calm birds who would often flush and spread across the lush pastures in easily hunted patterns and cover to crazed maniacs darting almost woodcock fashion among the trees to scurry rat-like into the densest honeysuckle or briars along the grown up creeks that make shooting impossible.

The regal white hunting dogs that everyone referred to as simply a "setter" or "pointer" no longer abide in the back yards of the weekend hunters across the little towns in the area I grew up. In Haskell County my grandfather was known as one of the best bird dog trainers in the country and many weekends I can remember attending the meetings he had with buyers from all over the state and men who traveled from Texas and Arkansas to watch my grandpaís dogs run. Now grandpaís kennels hold a handful of dogs and the 8 to 12 trips he walked every day running his dogs have lessened to a small fraction of what they once were (He is 81 years old so some slow down is expected.).

My first hunting trips were basically long, briar-scarred walks following the tall old men I doted on. These old men were in their 50ís and 60ís then, the older Browning Auto-5ís, Remington Model 11ís and Winchester Model 12ís all have a similar appearance to a small boy. The Red Ryder I carried never killed a quail, but it went on many quail hunts.

When I was 8 years old I spent a summer doing slave labor mowing my great-grandmotherís yard (She had passed away in 1972 and this was in 1975) for a miserly man (grandpa) in which I would get paid 5 dollars. When I told grandpa that a yard this large in town would bring 10 to 12 dollars he reminded me I was using his mower and gas, an argument I could not parry at the age of 8. However, at the end of that summer I took my hard earned $80.00 and spent $55.00 tax included for the most beautiful gun in the world at the time. The new Winchester Model 37A Youth fit me well and the 20 gauge was the most powerful shotgun in the world, second only to a 12 gauge which was a waste of weight and powder when it came to quail hunting. I still own that gun.

By the time I was 11 more rabbits, squirrels, quail, dove, and ducks had fallen to the mighty boom of the Winchester than I could possibly count. I had even taken a muskrat with it along the edge of an old pond. The muskrat brought $2.50 from the local fur buyer and suddenly a desire to be a trapper was born. That however, is a different story.

With the Winchester came an important responsibility as well as important graduation. Suddenly I was walking as a near equal within the company of old men. The ride to and from our hunting grounds had always been filled with glory days of bird hunting as well as stories of the wars the old men had fought in. My great uncle had not been in a war, but he had been a lawman in Oklahoma when it was still a young state. He had followed the footsteps of his father and uncle, both who had rode for Judge Isaac Parker, known as The Hanging Judge in Ft. Smith Arkansas.

The old men smelled of tobacco and coffee, a combination that makes gives me a sense of safety even now. They grew up in a time when men faced their own challenges, their own problems and they dealt with them, fairly always, friendly if possible, harshly if necessary. The stories of adventures and life in their youth kept me mesmerized with stories that would rival Where the Red Fern Grows or Old Yeller. I never heard a vulgar cuss word from them though I did learn the fine use of language from these old men.

I learned of history and life in a day I could only imagine. I learned of corn cob fights, the location of the road from Ft Smith to Webbers Falls and I may be one of the few people my age that can show you the old "baptizing" holes in the various creeks in the area I grew up. The most important thing I learned was honor was not something a man could contract on a piece of paper. Honor was what a man had inside and made his word good. No laws could dictate it.

The old men who hunted quail were a breed of man that is rare in todayís mechanized and computerized society. As with the demise of the quail, many of those old men have moved on to that last hunting ground. My grandfatherís best friend, Joe Wells told my grandfather in April of 2006 during the opening weekend of turkey season, "Hell, Perry just about everyone we knew is dead!" We laid Joe to rest in August of 2006 from terminal brain cancer. Joe said he never wanted to be in a nursing home and he would rather be hit by a truck. The cancer took only a few weeks from learning of it to succumbing to it, so in a sense, Joe got his wish.

With the demise of these men whom a boy could look up to and see what it took to gain their respect went a part of America that is going to be hard to revive when our children would rather be playing computer games than wading in creeks or surfing the internet rather than climbing trees. The Red Ryder has been replaced by the Ipod and I wonder how long it will be before we pay for it as a country. Progress for a country is needed lest it grow stagnant. But, just once, I wish my children and grandchildren could stand in the shadow of the men I knew and considered great, to bask in the experience of their lives and their personalities and see if they could see what I saw and remained unchanged.

I think not.

About The Author: David is an avid outdoorsmen who grew up in eastern Oklahoma. He has hunted, trapped and fished his entire life. David also has a love of writing and has written two novels, The Realm Of The Wolf and The Realm Of The Wolf 2: Law Of The Wolf. David and his wife Sheila live in northeast Texas only a couple of hours drive from his hometown and his ranch. He has a daughter that is attending college.

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