So my Dad made a camper with a stove for the back of his truck. We wore red and black plaid cotton hunting clothes then — a couple years before orange was mandatory. No tree stands or baiting in those days, you just looked for a stump on the side of a small hill overlooking a creek bottom. You sat on a piece of old carpet and waited all day for a deer if that’s what it took. About a half hour before dark on opening day, I took a four-point with one shot from my .32-caliber WInchester. Dad had bought it used a month or so before my first season. I treasure that gun to this day.
Dark was coming on fast when I dragged my deer out to the road, I still had a half mile drag back to camp when along comes a beat-up rusty Ford with two scruffy looking men in their early 20s. They stopped and said I had a nice buck and asked if I wanted a ride to my camp. We loaded my deer in their trunk and I noticed blood and deer hair. A couple of “Good ole boys, locals, ridge runners.” Maybe their season started early for them, or not?
They helped my Dad and I tie the deer to a low tree limb at our camp. They accepted a couple of Dad’s cold Stroh’s beers, and said they would open them later and drove off. About 10 p.m., as dad and I were sitting around our campfire, having a real Hallmark moment, the same old rusty Ford turns into our two track and out jumps the same two guys who gave me a ride some five hours earlier. The first thing they said was, “We had a hard time finding your camp at night.” I noticed my Dad giving them the “once over,” sizing them up, so to speak. Dad took in their well worn clothing and four day old beards. They looked rather scary. Then, the biggest of the two looked my way and asked if I was missing anything? I said, No.” Then with a big smile he turned back to his rusty, mud splattered, beat up Ford, reached in and brought out my cherished .32 Special. I nearly fell over as did Dad.
I had been so excited over taking my first deer that I had left my gun in the back seat of that old Ford. The smaller of the two, said they had been looking for our camp some three hours even had to go back to town to get more gas for their car.
They refused all offers for “pay back” and said they had to run. Off they went, loud muffler a cloud of blue smoke and lots of rust. Dad and I were speechless, for several minutes we just looked at each other. I remember Dad saying, “Bob, that just goes to show you, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Things change over time. Oh, I’m sure there are still a few men out there who would do the right thing and bring back my gun. But, I’m beginning to believe they are few and very far apart. Today, just about anyone who you know who hunts knows of someone who has had their deer stand stolen. My son had his lock cut off his tree cam, just recently. Back in the day, you didn’t have to lock everything up. If you did, never was your lock cut off. I blame it on the many who grow up without fathers around, drugs, and the current mess this upside down country of ours has gotten into.
One thing that hasn’t changed are our Michigan conservation officers. Back when I was a kid, our local conservation officer was Harold Bowditch, today we have Ivan Perez. Both, “top notch characters.” Harold is long gone, and for years I have owned his once “back up” .38 pearl handle SW Model 10. Perez has the same respect for our Michigan Department of Natural Resources, puts in the same long hours with few if any days off.
My Dad once told me, that back in the day, conservation das didn’t carry side arms in Michigan. That changed a long ways back after two Michigan conservation officers were shot to death while checking on a couple of duck hunters.
I fish and hunt less often now, even gave up my annual South Dakota pheasant hunts, but my boys are into fishing and hunting, for this I am both grateful and proud.
We must change the stealing and disrespect for our wildlife and other natural resources. We need first of all to have these violators prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Not a $250 fine some tree hugger received for gut shooting and killing over 13 deer within the city of Grand Haven a couple of years ago, because they ate his tulips. And most of all we need to teach our young people that everyone and everything deserves respect.
To have good stories to tell later in life, one must first have lived a good life.
— Bob Dehare, Grand Haven