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All my heroes are gone

Michael Stovall | All Hunting Articles
Posted 04/17/2024




As we climbed out of the old Chevy truck, my nostrils were bitten by the cold Kentucky morning. I always loved the way that the cold air pierced your lungs. Such an infusion of life. The cold wrapped around me, but the warmth of excitement invigorated my soul. I had read many times in the old Field and Stream magazines about the venture I was undertaking with my uncle. I had finally made it. I had gotten the invitation to stand over his prize possessions, an old Elhew pointer and a Lewellin setter.

The ritual of the hunt was unfolding, well it actually had unfolded over the course of about a month. I had gone over to his house to pick up some greens for my grandmother. He had a few quail from a training day sitting on his counter. I had eyed them as soon as I had walked into the side door of the kitchen. He was unfolding an old paper grocery bag, cigarette dangling from the corner of his jaw. “Whatcha know young man?” he questioned as I walked in. We made the token small chat and then I asked the question that would unfold a lifelong passion.

“Can you teach me how to dress those birds?”

That’s the first time I ever saw his eyes light up towards me. He walked me through the steps. He told me little tricks as he demonstrated his technique. He made short work of the task, skill honed from muscle memory, having to slow down so that his hands could keep pace with his words. Then as he rinsed off the dressed bird, he handed me one. “You can’t learn any younger.”

He walked me through the steps. Then he handed me another and watched my work. Critiquing little movements. Then I got another, and another. I became a little more proficient as we went through the dozen birds. The smell of old Pall Mall hovering over us, mixed with smoked ham and bacon, and turnips. I can still see the red brick tile on the floor, the walnut stained cabinets, the old round table that only adults could sit at.

“Well, now that you know how to dress them, you need to know how to get them to the counter,” he claimed. Was this an invite or a statement? Was I to continue watching Hunting with Hank, hoping one day that would be me in that field or actually be in that field? What did this mean? Panic was setting in.

He told me to be at his house and gave me a Saturday about a month off. As I looked at the hunting guide, I realized I was going to get to hunt that opening morning of quail season. Now nerves set in.

The morning finally arrived. Donning my old carhartt pants and my blaze orange deer cap, my old squirrel hunting vest, that was the old military camo pattern. Mismatched to the T. I laced up my old red wing boots, which were hand me downs from my dad. An old single shot H&R hammer 12 ga as the arms of choice. I was hoping I looked the part, and headed to his house.
We rode in silence.

My Great Uncle will always be the man that introduced me to the world of bird hunting. His dogs running through the house at the family Christmas party will ever live in my mind. While he may not be present to hunt with me in person, Uncle Henry still makes every one of my hunts. As do some other great men I have met over the years. The day he died had been spent in part running his two dogs and he had several quail waiting to be cleaned.

I look around today at my kids and grandkids and wonder if they will continue the tradition, or do they just humor me and tag along. Hopefully one day they will treasure these times. I know I do. It’s my time to be the mentor, to teach the skills to clean a bird, to teach them how to fry them up in the skillet with a little bacon grease. It is my turn to teach them why cover is important for not just the birds, but our drinking water and the prevention of soil erosion. While my hunting heroes have mostly gone on, hopefully I can fill their shoes in part. Allowing that memory of the nostrils being bitten by that cold Kentucky air.
 


About the Author : Michael Stovall
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I’m deeply passionate about the outdoors, bird hunting, and ensuring safety in the field. My journey began with a love for nature and a desire to connect with our hunting heritage, inspired by many people who chose to invest time in the field with me.

My goal is to foster a community of passionate hunters who respect the environment, honor traditions, and prioritize safety. Together, we can ensure that future generations inherit a thriving outdoor legacy.

 
 


About the Artist : Kate Hall
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Kate Hall is an outdoor artist who resides on an Angus cattle farm in Tennessee, where she began hunting at an early age. During her 13 years as a flight attendant, Kate visited 27 countries and all 50 states. She now spends her time traveling across the country in search of rising trout and upland birds with her husband and their English Setter. In his first two seasons they hunted on public lands in MT, KS, SC, AL, NC, KY and TN for quail, ruffed grouse, sharptail grouse, woodcock, pheasant, prairie chickens, and hungarian partridge. Upland hunting has enriched Kate's life and influences much of her colored pencil work.

 
 

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