Com­ing of Age

A new hunter finds di­rec­tion from be­hind his grand­fa­ther’s ri­fle

Outdoor Life - - ROOKIE SEASON - By An­drew Mck­ean

Ger­ald Giebink is 23 years old, and he has no idea what to do next. He just grad­u­ated from col­lege in his home­town of Billings, Mon­tana, and he’s been un­able to land a job for the worst and most univer­sal rea­son: prospec­tive em­ploy­ers tell him he’s in­ex­pe­ri­enced, but they won’t give him the chance to get the

ex­pe­ri­ence they re­quire. He’s liv­ing back at his par­ents’ house, tak­ing shifts at Home De­pot for spend­ing money, and rest­lessly plan­ning for a fu­ture that doesn’t have a clear place for him.

Maybe that’s what made him ripe for a news re­lease I dis­trib­uted to Mon­tana news­pa­pers last year. It was an in­vi­ta­tion from my lo­cal sports­man’s club for be­gin­ning hunters in my part of the state to match up with an ex­pe­ri­enced men­tor—some­one to take them out in the field, show them the ways and means of hunt­ing, and assist in the col­lec­tion and butcher­ing of wild meat.

Ger­ald’s first com­mu­ni­ca­tion with me was un­com­fort­ably can­did. He had never hunted, he said, be­cause he didn’t have any­one to take him. His grand­fa­ther had al­ways told Ger­ald that he’d men­tor him, but the grand­fa­ther had died, leav­ing Ger­ald his Brown­ing ri­fle, his Buck knife, and an un­ful­filled de­sire to hunt.

“I’ll take you,” I told Ger­ald. What I didn’t tell him: If some­one is so eager to learn to hunt that he would call a ran­dom num­ber in the news­pa­per, then I won’t be the one to not take him hunt­ing. If I had any ques­tions about Ger­ald’s com­mit­ment to this cause, they were an­swered when he bought a ticket on the lit­tle tur­bo­prop com­muter plane that flies be­tween Billings and my town. I picked him up at the air­port, his grand­fa­ther’s .300 WSM in a case and a day­pack over his shoul­der.

LEARNING TO CRAWL

Hunt­ing is equal parts art and sci­ence. The sci­ence is know­able and largely re­peat­able. Know­ing where your bul­let will hit at 400 yards.

That’s sci­ence. So is cal­cu­lat­ing how far away a mule deer will see a sil­hou­et­ted hu­man on a prairie sky­line. Bel­ly­crawl­ing through sticky gumbo? That’s art. Wait­ing is art too, whether you’re wait­ing on a white­tail to turn broad­side for a clean shot or abid­ing years to ex­pe­ri­ence just such a mo­ment. Art is change­able. And ut­terly un­re­peat­able.

It’s this mix­ing of the two, the know­able and the un­know­able, that holds the magic of hunt­ing for me. But the art is hard to ex­plain to some­one who has never hunted, so our first days in the field were all about the sci­ence. And it turns out, Ger­ald has an un­canny abil­ity to judge dis­tance and de­tect an­i­mals, and to reach con­clu­sions based on the avail­able ev­i­dence.

At one point, af­ter a dif­fi­cult creek cross­ing dur­ing which Ger­ald had to pull him­self up the steep bank us­ing wil­low saplings for pur­chase, he asked to stop to catch his breath and scrape heavy mud off his boots.

“I have to get in bet­ter shape,” he told

me, a lit­tle sheep­ishly. “I want to be able to take my bud­dies hunt­ing, and they’re go­ing to count on me to be in charge. I can’t lead from be­hind.”

That’s when it hit me. Sure, Ger­ald was in­ter­ested in ob­tain­ing veni­son for his fam­ily and prov­ing his ca­pa­bil­ity in the field. But what he re­ally wanted was con­fir­ma­tion that he was the right­ful heir to his grand­fa­ther’s legacy. I re­al­ized that a suc­cess­ful hunt might move him out of the post-col­lege cross­roads funk and to­ward a new iden­tity. And I re­al­ized that al­though Ger­ald had never hunted, he de­fined him­self as a hunter. Even more, I be­gan to see that Ger­ald is a men­tor by na­ture, but he was un­der­study­ing with me as a way to log time and ex­pe­ri­ence in or­der to grow con­fi­dent in the role.

With my re­al­iza­tions came re­spon­si­bil­ity. For bet­ter or worse, a be­gin­ning hunter’s value is mea­sured by suc­cess, and I knew Ger­ald needed an an­i­mal not only to cer­tify the ex­pe­ri­ence, but also to serve as a pass­port to his fu­ture iden­tity.

On my home hunt­ing grounds, I can usu­ally con­jure a deer at any given time, and be­cause Ger­ald didn’t care if it was a buck or a doe, I fig­ured we’d be mov­ing on to the gut­ting and skin­ning part of his tu­to­rial be­fore long. Only we couldn’t buy a shot. The deer were skit­tish and veered long, or they were in range but run­ning. We ar­rived at our fi­nal mornto ing to­gether deer­less. The wind was wrong, but there was a place we could set up and hope that mule deer might move to­ward us. If we could make a shot be­fore the deer got dead down­wind, we might be able to score.

AN OLD RI­FLE MAKES MEAT

The first thing we did when Ger­ald ar­rived in my town was go to the shoot­ing range. I wanted to see him shoot, to as­sess his gun-safety skills but also the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of his ri­fle and his aim. His gun was off by 18 inches at 100 yards, but shot by shot we got him on paper, and then in the bull’s-eye. Even­tu­ally, he printed a de­cent group at 200 yards, which I reck­oned be his max­i­mum ef­fec­tive range.

As we sat to­gether that fi­nal morn­ing, the wind at our backs and the cold creep­ing into our clothes, I had Ger­ald dry-fire at bushes and fence posts. He was dead-calm, and his bar­rel didn’t so much as twitch as he pulled the trig­ger. When le­gal light ar­rived, he cham­bered a shell and waited.

An hour later, a young mu­ley buck jumped the fence from the neigh­bor’s land, pushed a doe, and then turned to­ward us. I ranged him at a lit­tle over 200 yards.

“Wait un­til he turns broad­side,” I whis­pered. “Hold halfway up his body, just be­hind his shoul­der. Shoot when you’re…”

The muz­zle blast took my words. The bul­let took the buck.

Art. Sci­ence. Grad­u­a­tion. If I were to dis­till the essence of sat­is­fac­tion in the field down to a sin­gle im­age, it’s the picture of Ger­ald, hold­ing his grand­fa­ther’s Buck 110 knife and mak­ing the first, ten­ta­tive slice into the belly of the still-warm buck, cut­ting a clean path to the vi­tals.

WHAT HE RE­ALLY WANTED WAS CON­FIR­MA­TION THAT HE WAS THE RIGHT­FUL HEIR TO HIS GRAND­FA­THER’S LEGACY.

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