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The Last Great Hunt

The Last Great Hunt

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Published by Sam Silvas
All things end, just not the way you'd imagine.
All things end, just not the way you'd imagine.

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Published by: Sam Silvas on Jun 20, 2012
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06/20/2012

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Sam SilvasTumblerSam@aol.com
The Last Great Hunt
It’s almost deer season.
I can tell not from the brown on the leaves released from theMulberry in my front yard or the dew on the windshield of my car that takes three passes of thewipers to remove, but from the fre
quency of my dad’s phone calls.
About a month out theystart coming twice a week and by the time opening day is within sight, I get a call every day.Sometimes the calls are legitimately about the upcoming hunt:
Have you gotten your tags yet 
?
Let’s go to the range tomorrow and 
shoot.
But just as often the
y’re
an outlet for his nervousenergy disguised as calls about hunting.
I changed the oil in the truck today so we should be all set for the trip
.
Leo Martinez just got diagnosed 
with sugar diabetes. I hope my asthma doesn’t 
give me trouble up there
. This hunting trip-probably our last-was my idea so I figure I owe it tohim to pick up the phone
when he calls. Plus, I’m a parent now so I understand the desire to
stay relevant in
your child’s life and the frustration of not knowing exactly how to remain so.We haven’t hunted
in three years, the deer fewer and fewer, my dad and his friendsolder and older until it became an embarrassment to call what we were doing hunting. But thelack of deer was only half of the equation. We stopped hunting hard when we should havebeen hunting harder. The morning hunt became shorter and no one went out in the afternoonanymore, waylaid by sore backs, balky knees and swollen prostrates. I was by far the youngestin camp-barely forty and still in decent shape- but still, I let the conditions chip away at mycommitment. Instead of sitting in a stand during the early evening I was content to road hunt.Then, instead of road hunting I began driving into Chester and wasting the day away taking ashower, buying groceries and reading the newspaper while having a burger at the Pine Shack.Like most things, no matter how monumental they were in your youth, the deer huntingdied off quietly. Initial inquiries were made in the Spring, then in June when it was time to buytags more discussions were held over coffee uptown at McDonalds and it was decided that thehunting was over.
It didn’t matter that men from my family had been hunting on the south
sideof Lassen Park for nearly a century, once one of the men admitted his reluctance to go, theothers fell behind like dominoes in a row. Just like that.
 
My daughter is seven and my son four so it will be some time, if ever, until I lead theminto the woods.
They were with my wife at her mother’s for the weekend a few months back
and I was feeling nostalgic so I pulled out some of our photo albums. My wife is relentlessabout taking pictures, forever stopping our vacations and posing us, always on the lookout for apicture that would make a good Christmas card. The kids squirm and complain but I love thatshe is chronicling our life together so I gladly smile time after time as she sets the automatictimer on the camera and runs to stand with us before the picture takes.Looking through the photo albums that night, I was struck by how many memories Ialready had of my children that they will never recall. By the time they became aware of themselves at three or four, their personalities had long been imbedded in my heart. That, anda third cocktail got me thinking of all the hunting trips I
’d
been on
with my dad. It wasn’t as if the trips were a radical departure from our normal relationship. We didn’t bare long repressed
feelings or unearth family secrets, but there was no doubt the trips up the mountain made usmore relaxed, more gracious and more appreciative of each other. So I called him, rehearsing
what I was going to say so I didn’t sound drunk, and told him we should give hunting one more
go.
“Give Ray and Eric and Donnie a call. See if they want to saddle up one last time.”
 
“I could do that,” he said slowly. “Don’t expect much, though.”
 
“That’s okay,” I said. “Just you and me can go if those chair pussies aren’t up for it.”
 
“I meant the hunting. There’s a reason why we haven’t gone for three years.”
 
“Sure,” I said. “But it’ll still be fun to be up there, don’t you think? One last hunt.”
 
My dad started to speak but I cut him off. “And who knows, maybe without any hunting
pressure
these last couple of years, the hunting will be decent.”
 
“Could be,” he said. “Can’t get any worse.”
 
“That’s the spirit.”
 It was only February, months before tags had to be bought, yet my dad called backwithin three days to say it would only be the tw
o of us hunting. Ray Gifford’s back was so badhe couldn’t make the three hour drive up to Chester much less walk through the woods and siton a tree stand for five hours a day. Donnie Dawson’s wife just had a stroke so he didn’t want
to leave her for a week and Eric Newsom said the last couple of times he went hunting he foundhimself feeling sorry for the deer so he figured it was time to hang it up. Maybe next year Rayand Donnie said.
 
 
“More for us,” I said when my dad told me. “You take everything
East of Swamp Creek
and I’ll take everything West of Slate Creek.”
 
“I don’t even think that’ll help,” he said.
 
My dad’s always been a pessimist, especially when it comes to hunting, even though byall accounts he’s a good hunter and has had more success than most of the men he’s hunted
with throughout the years. I know he enjoys being up in the mountains and hunting more than
anything so I guess it’s about not willing to want something so much in case it doesn’t turn out.
Or it could be because my mom died at fifty-one after fighting cancer for three years and thathas forever put a cap on his happiness.I was finishing up college when she passed and spent the next decade trading stabilityfor adventure, rarely coming home and calling even less. And even when I came home to visit I
was out seeing old friends more than I was at my dad’s house.
 
I could say my mom’s death
shocked me into that lifestyle but the reality was that I was young and selfish. I spent most of my time trying to make sense of my mom being in the ground and me being above it withoutever thinking of my dad alone in his tiny house on the corner of Sixth and F S
treet. If he’s everheld it against me I don’t know. Issues buried for so long are rare
ly worth the effort needed todig them up so now he takes me and my family to breakfast every Sunday and we have himover for dinner once a month and we go deer hunting in the Fall.I try to be extra enthusiastic to counter his gloominess, but I truly bel
ieved this year’s
hunt could be different than the ones that led us to quitting. Back when my dad and his friendsbegan hunting they rifle hunted like everyone else. They quickly transitioned to archeryhunting once the technology and the earlier season made it more successful than the rifle huntshad ever been. Then, a little more than a decade ago a handful of rich land owners down byRed Bluff got in the ear of the Fish and Game and convinced it to push up the opening of archery season and institute an extra late season rifle hunt down by Red Bluff. Overnight,archery season dried up, the deer not even close to moving off Mt. Lassen in mid-August. Andby the time the late season hunt began in early November, the deer were easy targets in theopen meadows by Red Bluff. I suggested that we go hunting during rifle season instead of 
archery. I figured we’d have more of a chance to catch the deer moving down off the mountainand with my dad’s arthritic shoulder and sevent
y-
five year old eyes it’d be eas
ier at this stage
of his hunting career to shoot a rifle than a bow, though I didn’t mention that part to him.
 As opening day got closer, I found myself thinking of all the reasons why we couldexpect for not one of us, but both of us to bag a deer. Then
I’d remind myself that the
realreason I wanted to hunt this year was to get up in the woods one last time with my dad and saygoodbye to hunting in a relaxed way. We could fish on the days Deer Creek was stocked and

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