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The Season of Painted Leaves by Larry Weishuhn

The Season of Painted Leaves

by Larry Weishuhn

“When the autumn came to our coast, just a little ahead of the quail-shooting season, when all the summer visitors went away from Wrightsville Beach. Beach and the gray-shingled little beach houses had their windows racked shut again the northern gales, when the skies got as gray as the shingles and a wood fire was nice at night and all the little shops closed for the long, unprofitable off-season----that was when the Old Man and I got into big business with each other.” Robert Ruark, Old Man and the Boy, 1953.

As a mere tyke growing up in rural Texas, I loved the summers, when I could freely roam the woods and streams behind our home daily, untethered from the prison of school. But…nothing compared to the coming of fall when temperatures cooled, leaves of the Spanish oak and sumac turned redder than Santa’s suit, a time when robins arrived and grayed otherwise clear evening skies, and all thoughts dwelled totally upon hunting!  

With the coming of fall, day and dark, the scent of wood smoke from our cast-iron wood stove wafted on the welcomed northerly breeze. With coming of the fall equinox, white oak leaves turned yellow, then brown, and fell like giant odd-colored snowflakes. Overhead was heard the honking of Canada, snow and speckle-bellied geese, winging their way southward to the rice fields of Eagle Lake, Garwood and Katy, just south of our tree covered gravel hills. With the slightest provocation my dad’s bluetick, black and tan and treeing Walker coonhounds sounded off, day and night begging to be released to scent trail a raccoon.

Whitetail bucks, their antlers finely polished on oak saplings, necks swelled from isometrics performed while rubbing, were once again interesting. After dark, chores completed and animals fed, talk over supper turned to deer hunting. Satiated, my nightly approaching autumn routine included cleaning guns. First, my dad’s and mom’s .30-30s, followed by “polishing the bluing off of my deer rifle”, a single-shot .22 rimfire, given to me by my maternal grandfather once I had attained my fourth birthday. Caressing it with Hoppe’s, I was soon lost in dreams of hunting far off places seen in the pages of Outdoor Life and Sports Afield, but then coming back home, yearning for and anticipating the taking of my first whitetail.

Since those early days, I have long since taken my first whitetail, and, a good many more. I have visited places and hunted animals many of whose names back when, I dared not even try to pronounce, in fear of doing so, I might possibly jinx the future of someday hunting them.

I have been fortunate and blessed having traveled and hunted wide and far, accomplishing many childhood dreams. With the passing of years, I have matured in some ways. There are, however, some things that have not changed since my post-short-britches days. I still await the annual coming of autumn, not unlike a youngster yearning for the arrival of Christmas.

With the first cooling winds of Fall, old pains deposited upon me because of questionable, nay “stupid”, things I did in my youth, disappear. There comes a spring in my step. The air smells sweeter and cleaner and I can almost “taste”, the fast arriving autumn. There too, is an unexplained “feeling” in the air one which can never be adequately or appropriately described. But it’s there!

Shrill bugling of elk, squawking of geese, clash of antlers fill the air. Whether real or imagined, frankly, I would hear them from memory even if they did not occur. Tantalizing aroma from hunting campfires, freshly brewed cowboy coffee, the perfume of gun oil and freshly burnt gunpowder rejuvenate my body and soul.

To paraphrase Havilah Babcock a bit, “My health is always better with the coming of the first day of Autumn!”.

First day of Autumn this year will be September 22nd. It is coming none to soon! This year the dawning of Autumn will find me in route to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico to host an elk hunt sold at our 2021 DSC Foundation Gala. In anticipation I have my Remington Model 700, .300 Remington Ultra Mag, topped with a Trijicon AccuPoint and shooting Hornady’s 220-grain Precision Hunter ammo sighted in and ready for a hunt that will be filmed for “Trijicon’s World of Sports Afield”. It is the same rifle with which I met Autumn back in 1999, hunting elk in the Prophet-Muskwa of British Columbia, Canada. There I watched verdant-green covered hills and mountains turn to shades of red as only accomplished in the High Country.

Whether with fellow hunters or alone, before the 22nd of September becomes the 23rd I’ll raise high a glass in honor of all the first days of Autumn past, the present, and those to come.

To me, “The Season of the Painted Leaves” is life itself, fresh and new…..

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