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Sage grass & cedars
by Darrell Thompson

The Ultimate Sportsman

My grandfather Thompson, and many others like him of his generation, might could have been considered the ultimate sportsmen. I say this and even consider that he may have never given much thought to what a sportsman is.

Mr. Webster describes a sportsman as "a man who engages in sports, especially outdoor sports such as hunting, fishing, etc." and "one who exhibits qualities especially esteemed in those who engage in sports, such as fairness, courtesy, good temper, etc." My granddad was all of this and more.

Many today, myself included, consider ourselves to be sportsmen simply because we love the outdoors and the outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing. Some of those finer qualities of being a sportsman may escape us from time to time and we neglect to display fairness, courtesy, good temper and so on. Mr. Webster did a fine job in his dictionary but I think he should have included that a sportsman will abide by the rules and use good judgment. A true sportsman will realize that there are times that good judgment will stop him from doing all that that even the rules would allow.

I think TV has played a large role in the decline of true sportsmanship. Our youngsters watch the spoiled brat millionaire athletes and their antics and go out and imitate them. We hunters can watch the hunting shows where professional hunters go out to kill all they can legally or get the big trophy. They are all dressed up in the latest hunting clothing and boots and using the latest and greatest equipment that has just hit the market, all supplied to them by the sponsors of their TV show. (I have to admit that I’m a bit envious.) We ordinary people look at these guys and picture in our minds what a real sportsman is like and think that we are less than a sportsman if we are not doing the same thing.

Granddad would probably have laughed if you called him a sportsman. He wouldn’t want to brag, but he probably felt more like a survivalist. I’ve heard stories of his younger days of catching a raccoon or opossum, putting them in the corncrib and feeding them for a while before serving them up on the supper table. When he killed an animal, it was with the intention of it becoming food. In my forty-two years of knowing him, I never saw him kill an animal just for the fun of it.

The amount of money that I spend on hunting is moderate or maybe conservative compared to the money that some spend. But I think that Granddad would probably be appalled to think of even spending the amount of money that I spend on hunting. I never saw him in camouflage or in insulated boots. Usually his "long johns," a pair of work coveralls, a jacket and his every day work boots would get the job done.

He was a man content with what he had. His single shot shotgun and single shot .22 caliber rifle was sufficient for his hunting needs. I do think that later on in his life that someone did give him an automatic rifle but the rifle that I remember him hunting with was the single shot. That may be a testimony to his skill; he once was rabbit hunting and jumped some quail and shot one as it flew off with that single shot .22 rifle.

I would guess that he enjoyed squirrel hunting more than any other kind of hunting and normally had a dog that would tree squirrels. Most of the dogs that he had were adopted dogs that someone had dropped off at the creek close to his house. He would take one of these reject dogs and transform him into a squirrel-treeing machine. I think Granddad got more enjoyment in the performance of the dog he trained than he did in any other part of hunting.

I have many memories of hunting with Granddad. I remember the first fox squirrel that I ever saw. Granddad passed up a shot so I could get a shot at it but it ended up getting away. I remember opossum or coon hunting on the Big Nance Creek with him and gaining an appreciation of the things that you can see and hear in the woods at night. I once worked a job where I got home at 1:00 a.m. but would sometimes get up and go hunting with him and be in the woods when the sun came up. Those days were special and sure beat getting to sleep a little longer. Granddad had and maintained a boyish appreciation and passion for hunting well into the almost ninety years of his life.

If Granddad had ever hunted deer, I don’t know of it. It was not until the last decade that I even knew of any deer in our area. Recently the man who rents what was my granddad’s farm told me that he had seen some deer signs on the backside. One day I drove to the backside of the farm and walked down a short trail and came to an opening. I cautiously stepped out and almost immediately saw four deer. I just stood and watched until they decided to mosey off into the woods. I couldn’t help but wish Granddad could be there beside me to watch them. He would have been excited.

Darrell Thompson is the manager of Lawrence County Exchange in Moulton.

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Date Last Updated January, 2006