Life is a constant progression of firsts, for most of us. There is nothing like the first of something, whether good or bad. And when we flip through the photo album of our memory, the images we find are often related to the first of the good things we’ve experienced in our lives. Our first day of school, our first kiss, our first real friend, our first car. Our first is, in many cases, remembered as our best, even if it wasn’t.For a boy who loves hunting, his first deer is one he’ll never forget. The first time a kid gets to hunt alone is also memorable. But for sheer nostalgia, ask any hunter about his or her very first deer rifle. Make sure you don’t need to visit the bathroom first.When I was 13 years old I wanted a deer rifle more than I wanted air. My dad had allowed me free access to his rifle for a few years already, and I took advantage of that at every opportunity, but still, I wanted a rifle of my own. The problem was that I was generally broke. I worked all the time, on our own place, but that didn’t pay actual money, so I needed an alternate source of income.During the summer after I graduated from eighth grade, my dad agreed to build a fireplace for Tim and Glendene Underwood (Glendene was my fifth and sixth grade English teacher), and Dad needed someone to mix mortar. My dad was the guidance counselor at our high school, but during the summers he was always busy outside at one job or another. When he did masonry work it was usually my job to mix the mud, in a wheelbarrow, with a hoe. I’d been doing that since I was about eight, and there was no danger Dad would decide to rustle me up an electric mixer. Sweat was considered good for boys in those days.It took a couple of weeks to get all the rocks laid, and at a dollar an hour I had accumulated $70, along with plenty of blisters and a sore back, when I had to quit to take rabies shots. That’s another story, but the point is that I had seventy bucks, and Wilfred ‘Swift’ Fleming had a used Remington Model 788 in .222 he agreed to sell me. For seventy bucks.The deal was arranged, and Swift came by with the rifle, and I gave him the money. And then, when I was holding my new rifle, happy as a puppy with two tails, Swift said, “Do you want the scope, too?”I had thought the scope came with it. It was a 4X Bushnell, not the top of their line by any means, but without it I was going to be limited. But in the end, Swift agreed to take $10 for the scope, and my dad paid it and said I could work it out. I finally had my own deer rifle.No telling how many deer that little .222 has shot over the years. My three boys all killed their first with it, and it’s been responsible for several fox and coons and plenty of rabbits. My wife even shot a deer with it once.Bill Koock, my boss at Mason Bottling Company during the early 1980’s, offered to dress up the stock for me. He helped me do a tip and cap job with myrtle wood, and did some fancy carving on the grip and fore end. The 788 was a pretty plain design, and Bill made mine look a lot nicer.My youngest son, Leret, is 16 now, and after our recent shooting experience at Delta Red in San Saba, he’s decided he needs a 9mm pistol. So he’s working to raise the money, helping me do odd jobs. Sweat is still pretty good for boys.Leret has mostly been helping me clean chimneys, which I started doing in 1983 because Bill Koock told me I should, and haven’t been able to quit yet. And one of the chimneys we cleaned recently was the one my dad built at the Underwood house (Glendene has taught all three of my boys, too).When Leret and I went on the roof at the Underwood’s, we found an inscription in the mortar on the top of the chimney. It said, “Merle Cope,” who was the carpenter who built the house, and “7-9-1974.” It also said, “B.H. helper,” and “S.H.” Brian and Steve Horner are Merle’s stepsons.So that fireplace helped me earn the money for my first deer rifle when I was 13, and 37 years later it helped my son earn the money for his first pistol. What goes around comes around.We never really escape our past, but that’s not always a bad thing. The blisters healed and the sweat was washed off long ago, but I’ve still got that first rifle. That’s not the kind of thing you can sell.And one of these days, if I’m lucky, that gun might end up being my grandchild’s first deer rifle.He’ll have to work it out . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who shot his first deer at age nine. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org