Talk about ‘the fabric of our lives’
When we get together as a staff, as we did last month to open the TRCP’s new Western office, discussion inevitably turns to new hunting and fishing gear and gadgets. Between us, we probably have enough inventory for a Bass Pro Shop’s store, and I’m certainly not immune to the appeal of a new camo pattern or unmarked slate call. Still, while a new spring season brings the temptation of new gear, there are a few items in my closet that I’d have trouble replacing.
The gloves I’ll use this turkey season are the ones I stole from my dad years ago. He bought them back in the 80s, and they looked less tattered back then. I’ll hunt in the same camo jumpsuit I wore when I was a kid—also my fathers—although I don’t have to roll the legs and sleeves up anymore.
And I still use the first turkey vest I ever bought new, going on 15 years ago. An older Field & Stream model, now sporting faded fabric and some tears, it’s easily one of the most dated pieces in my spring get-up. When I first brought it home, it was two sizes too big for me—now, it’s two sizes too small. Its pockets are coated with the chalk I carry around to tune up my handmade cedar box-calls. The foam pad has seen better days and some of the zippers have stopped working, but I can’t picture setting up on a gobbler without it.
Of course, at the TRCP, we also talk a lot about preserving our hunting and fishing traditions and carrying on the legacy of one of the greatest conservation heroes in our country’s history. You see, it isn’t sentimental to look back, if there are lessons to be learned.
I was wearing my old vest when I killed my first turkey at age 13. It was a beautiful 20-pound tom that I could barely carry over my shoulder, its 11-inch beard swaying by its lolling head. I was also wearing it the time that I foolishly activated the trigger lock on my Remington 870 out in the field—the key was at home—leaving my gun functionally useless as turkeys gobbled at me all morning. (My dad still teases me for that.)
It has seen countless spring sunrises in several states. It has been between my back and many a pine tree and creek-bottom hardwood. It has been through pouring rain and oppressive heat. It may be the reason I’m still so bad at math, since I used to skip my first-period class in high school to go hunting. The experiences I’ve had in this vest most likely drove my decision to work in wildlife conservation.
Something about wearing a worn-in article of clothing on a hunt just feels right. As I take in my surrounding with my eyes, my gear is actually soaking up the elements, bringing me closer to the places I love to be outdoors. I’m still a sucker for all the new high-tech fabrics and thoughtful improvements of contemporary gear, but it’s tough to part with my more seasoned apparel, embedded with so many memories.
So, when the last stitch on my old turkey vest looks like it’s about to unravel, I think I’ll just put it away until my own kids are old enough to slide their skinny arms into its oversized and faded frame. When that day comes around, I hope I’ll be able to tell them how today’s sportsmen helped ensure that we could rest our backs on a pine tree and converse with a wiley gobbler.
Until then, turkey season is calling.