It all started in the late summer of 2007 when my 12-year-old son, Michael, asked if he could go hunting with me. I have been an avid outdoorsman all my life and was looking forward to the day I could take my son hunting.
I explained to him that he would be required to participate in Rhode Island’s Hunter Safety Program and get a hunter safety card. To my pleasant surprise, he said he would like to go. Since I was never required to take a hunter safety course, I told him that I would accompany him and become certified as well. We both signed up for the class, which was very informative and enjoyable. My son was an excellent student who studied very hard. It was obvious that he really wanted this.
After two weekends of classes, I was happy to announce that both my son and I passed just in time for a youth only hunt for pheasant in a stocked management area in Rhode Island. We signed up and participated in a pheasant hunting introduction course offered by the state. My son learned how to shoulder and aim (or should I say point) a shotgun at a clay pigeon.
On the day of the hunt, we rose early and had a light breakfast with the anticipation of having some pheasant for lunch. The Great Swamp Management Area was well stocked so that every youth would have an opportunity to bag a bird. Since we had no dog, I played that role all day… going through chest high, wet grass and overgrown corn fields without flushing a bird. Hours passed and plenty of shotgun blasts were heard from other parties, but we still could not manage to put a bird in the air.
We were at the far end of a field we had just finished hunting when another hunting party entered the same field with an English setter. I told my son to sit tight and be prepared. Right away, as if it were magic, the dog flushed a beautiful rooster. The two youths in the party fired and missed, and the bird just happened to fly towards my son during its escape on the opposite side of the field. Without hesitation, he shouldered his 20-gauge and fired. The shot was a little behind, but he managed to hit it. I followed the birds’ flight, and he landed hard in some tall brush. I told my son that I had seen where the bird had landed and to reload. At this time, the gentleman with the dog asked if my son had taken the bird, and I told him I thought it may have been crippled. The man told my son that he would send the dog into the thick brush and to be ready. Sure enough the dog did his job, and the bird flushed… just not in the thunderous way that they usually do. Once again, my son shouldered his shotgun and downed the bird. The dog retrieved it to his handler, and the man gave my son his first pheasant on his first hunt.
Needless to say, this father was proud of the way his son handled himself in the field and grateful for the man with the dog who showed true sportsmanship that day and made a young 12-year-old boy very happy! It will be a day I will never forget and a memory that I will cherish forever.
Bob Neill is the President of Fire Fighters Local 4421, Pawtucket Firefighters