By Kenny Roberts
Have you ever considered what your ultimate hunt would be? I think each of us who are true hunters has spent many hours daydreaming about such a hunt, whatever it might be. Would your ultimate hunt be a whitetail hunt in Saskatchewan waiting for one of those Canadian bruiser bucks to appear? Or would it be in Iowa, Illinois or Kansas?How about a flooded timber hunt around Stuttgart, Arkansas, for Mallards and other species of ducks? Maybe you have dreamed of hunting elk in New Mexico, big horn sheep in Montana, or possibly a grizzly bear hunt in Alaska?
It took me nearly 40 years to figure out what my ultimate hunt would be, and the surprising revelation is that I have already been on that hunt! Although I still dream of the chance to go on new and exciting hunts for a variety of animal species and waterfowl, none of these hunts will compare to my ultimate hunt.
My ultimate hunt started about 4 a.m. in the fall of 1971 when my dad (we called him Pop) said, “Get up boy, it’s time to go” as he shook me awake. Since I was the runt of his three “boys” I am certain that he started with me and worked his way up by age to my oldest brother. I slowly arose from my warm bed and began putting on every stitch of clothing I could find, including several layers of athletic socks and the same brogan-style shoes that I wore to school everyday.
I didn’t own any camouflage clothing or hunting boots, so it was whatever was available (and hopefully warm) that could be worn in layers. My two brothers and I piled into Pop’s 1966 Chevy Impala and we headed east towards Uwharrie National Forest. Somewhere between Charlotte and Albemarle, Pop found an AM radio station that was playing a Jerry Clower comedy skit. For those of you not familiar with, or have never heard of Yazoo City, Miss.’s, most famous resident; you’ve missed out on some good ole’ southern culture. After a few Jerry Clower stories about one of the Ledbetter brothers and somewhere between Albemarle and Troy, NC, we stop at a restaurant for breakfast. No socialite would be caught near this choke-and-puke establishment, but it’s the perfect place to fill your belly before a day in the woods. Everyone excluding the waitress, the cook and of course me; are wearing camouflage and the place was packed with other hunters. Years later I thought about this scene, and I could only imagine how proud Pop must have been to walk into this restaurant with his three boys trailing behind him.
Although the years to come would prove more stressful for him and our mother, one thing is for sure: At least they knew where their boys would be every Saturday during the fall!
After a quick breakfast of grits, eggs, sausage and toast, we are back in the Impala for the final leg of the trip. We finally arrive at our hunting destination and immediately begin preparing for the hunt. Pop leads us into the woods a couple hundred yards or so and instructs me and my brother Ronny (two years my senior) to sit at the base of a tree till he and our brother Wendell (four years older than me) return. Ronny and I will hold down the centerline of this deer assault, while Pop and Wendell take the left and right flanks.
Of course Ronny and my chance at successfully harvesting a buck are greatly reduced due to the fact that we do not have a gun! It is a minor detail – at least we are hunting.
We were left in charge of the most important element of the hunt: The survival food, which consisted of candy bars, crackers and apples. Unfortunately for the other members of our hunting party, we completely decimated every morsel by 10 a.m.
Ronny and I sat at the base of this tree in the dark for several hours; actually it is probably only 10-15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. We are a little scared and a lot cold! About mid-morning Pop and Wendell return with no buck to show for their efforts. Is it any wonder with Ronny and I ripping open candy bar wrappers; crunching on crackers and all the other noise we surely created? At that age I had only assumed that they must have walked 5 or 6 miles away, but I know now that Pop was certainly in eyesight of us. If you think our chance at success was greatly reduced by not having a gun, what about his? An 8 and 10-year old sitting in the woods with a gunny sack full of goodies.
In those days there were not nearly as many deer as there are today in the Piedmont of NC and those that might have been in our vicinity that morning were now three counties away.
Pop had always been an avid deer hunter and he continued hunting till his death in November of 2000. One thing for sure about Pop, when he hunted, he liked to walk around and explore the woods. The mid-morning till noon hunt consisted of walking over each hill or mountain we encountered to “see what was on the other side.” This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the ultimate hunt; we got to stretch our legs and the walking warmed our chilled bones. More importantly to an 8-year-old; I was walking in a wilderness and over each hill I expected to see a Grizzly bear, a mountain lion or just maybe, a whitetail deer! I can still vividly smell the damp fall leaves lying on the ground, feel the warmth of the sun as it peeked over the mountain to our east and see the beautiful trees and rock outcroppings that we passed. It was an amazing place for an 8-year-old to spend a Saturday during the fall of 1971.
After a couple of hours of wandering around and examining every holler and hill, we made our way back to the car. Since all of the food was gone, we would find our way to a little general store and resupply the gunny sack.
The early afternoon was spent lounging around in the warm sun, drinking a Pepsi Cola and eating a moon-pie and dreaming about the buck that we would see later that afternoon. The afternoon hunt was so much more comfortable; it was warmer and us unarmed hunters could see everything around us, which allowed for more concentration on spotting a deer as opposed to worrying about who or what was going to come out from the shadows to get us. As the afternoon light faded behind the mountains, Pop and Wendell returned to the base camp and reported no sightings of deer in the area. Oh well, we’ll get one next time!
Our hunting machine (the Impala) is brought to life and it is time for the journey home. After waking up at 4 a.m. and an all-day hunt and walk in the woods, coupled with the heat that finally filters into the back seat of the car where I sit; I quickly fall asleep and begin dreaming about the next hunt. In today’s society they recommend that if you take a child hunting or fishing, you need to keep it exciting and hopefully successful, so that the child does not become bored or discouraged. We continued to take these hunting trips in the years to come and rarely if ever did we see a deer, much less harvest one. It was several years later when my oldest brother harvested his first deer and 10 years later before Ronny took his first. Once again, being the runt of the boys, it was only fitting that I was the last to take a deer – a mere 18 years later in 1989.
Although these early hunting trips did not result in any deer being harvested, they were the most exciting and enjoyable times in my youth. Successful? Oh yeah, they were successful in only the ways a true hunter can understand. They taught us patience, perseverance, how to enjoy the simple things such as a sunrise, the view from a mountain top and the pure enjoyment of an outdoor lifestyle. We were not discouraged or disappointed that we did not harvest a deer. It simply fueled our passion for hunting that much stronger. We learned to appreciate and enjoy the sport of hunting, before we learned how to hunt and before we started harvesting any deer.
Although I have never hunted in any exotic locations or in any of the “prime” locations for any species, I have harvested numerous deer, including several with my trusty PSE bow. I’ve killed my share of squirrels, quail, doves, ducks and several wild hogs. And so many of those trips have resulted in lifelong memories and friendships. However, if the stars were aligned just perfectly and God would grant me the ultimate hunt tomorrow, I know exactly where I would go and who I would go with. The hunt would start with, “Get up boy, it’s time to go.”
Ted S. “Pop” Roberts passed away 10 years ago today, Nov. 28, 2000. I would like to dedicate my simple words of reflection to his memory and to all the fathers, mothers, uncles and family friends who dedicate the time and effort to take their children or other children hunting or fishing.
Thanks Pop! I hope you and Fred Bear are enjoying the “big hunt.”