Howard Delo

I fidgeted a bit from the cold, crisp morning air. The sun had come up, but the Michigan cedar swamp was still dark. I could hear the crunch of my hunting partner’s footsteps in the crusty snow as he made his way further down the ridge to another deer stand. He paused about 50 yards away.

His fluorescent orange hat screamed for attention in the dim, gray light. For a time, the hat, seemingly bobbing unaided through the dense underbrush, was all I could see of him. He wore the tattered, wool, red and black checkered hunting coat commonly seen in Michigan deer camps. His wool pants sported a different checkered design, advertising the fact that they were replacements for a previously matching pair. Red wool gloves warmed his hands and a new pair of brown leather-topped boot-pacs kept his feet comfortable. He carried his rifle cradled in his left arm.

A desk job for the last 30 years had helped develop a stout waistline, but he carried himself gracefully. He was starting to gray at the temples and his four-day-old beard was also streaked around the mouth with gray. He reached up to adjust his glasses and took a last puff on his cigarette before extinguishing it on the sole of his boot.

I had known him for a long time but had only become his friend within the past few years. I guess the age difference and the fact that he had been traveling a lot were responsible. Our friendship developed through an interest in the outdoors. Once he had offered to take me shooting. I readily accepted. From then on, we were constant shooting buddies and, later, even began reloading ammunition together on free evenings with his equipment.

A year after he introduced me to shooting, we started hunting as a team. Pheasants, rabbits, and squirrels kept us busy that first hunting season. The next fall, we were both free during the first part of the deer season and managed to get in a few days of hunting.

I learned much about him while we were gone on these excursions to the wilderness. He was a deliberate person, not letting any little detail escape his attention. He was understanding and knowledgeable. He was thoughtful. His whole manner and outlook on life were similar to mine and our friendship soon developed beyond the hunting-buddy stage. I found I could talk to him about things I had never been able to discuss before. His advice was always welcome, and his experience helped me through some rough stages in the life process. What started as an almost casual acquaintance had developed into a very special friendship.

Now he stepped over a deadfall and continued down the ridge top. He was soon out of sight, and I figured he had found the deer run he was interested in watching. The air warmed and the details of the swamp became visible in the rays of the rising sun. About an hour after he disappeared from sight, I heard one shot come from his direction. I left my stand and started walking over. I knew Dad would want some help dragging the deer out to the car.

My father has been gone for nearly 40 years, now. On his passing, I inherited his deer rifle, the customized 30-06 military Springfield his father had built for him just after World War II. My dad used to tell me how, as the oldest son, I would someday have that rifle after he was gone. And I used to think how nice it would be to have that rifle to hunt with for deer or whatever I chose to pursue. That was while he was still alive.

The rifle just sat in my gun safe for more than ten years after I received it. What had seemed important to me at the time no longer had any real meaning because he was no longer there to share in the discussion or the experience. Now, I would gladly trade that rifle and every other firearm I own for just one more hunting trip with my dad.

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