It stands out in my mind as if it were yesterday-a truly wild memory.
A beautiful ringtail (ringtail cat) crawled out of a hole in the base of a live oak that had been cut nearly to the ground and sat atop as if it owned the world.
I had seen ringtails before but always at night crossing the road or around the barn on our Menard County deer lease. Seeing one in broad daylight, just before the sun started to fade behind the hills was exciting.
They were more brightly colored than I thought and just an absolutely beautiful creature.
That was 23 years ago when I was a junior in high school and had saved my hard-earned money to get on a deer lease in the Hill Country.
That was always my Shangri-La growing up. The sheer amount of game in that part of the state blew my mind and getting to spend extended time there was motivation for me to save the money and help make it happen.
A close friend of mine saved up money that year to get on the lease too. I used to drag him through the woods behind my house when we were in elementary school and hunt rabbits and squirrels. He had an interest in deer hunting that year but it was obvious from the first weekend up there it was not going to last long. We put him on the best spot on the lease, at the juncture of a 100-acre oat field and a thicket with a fence line just behind his blind but he said he never saw any deer.
The fourth weekend of the season I found out why.
I walked to his blind because he did not come in for lunch and he was dead asleep. Oh and as I approached a yearling doe stood up not two feet from his blind and quietly slipped away.
I was frustrated.
We hunted that lease one more year before moving to one near Brady but after the 90-91 season, I never hunted with my friend again.
We stayed close. I was his best man and he was in my wedding and we worked out together for more than a decade but there was no more hunting or adventures in the wild.
Growing up I thought it would be great to have lifelong hunting and fishing friends and today only one remains. My dear friend Lewis Hogan still likes to deer hunt and fish but of course, he is not as fanatical as me.
My family tells me few are.
I remember that 90-91 season as one where I pushed harder and focused more than the other hunters. I walked a mile to my blind every day (one way) and stayed in the field long hours. At home, I studied books about whitetail behavior and did everything, I could to be successful.
I felt truly alive as the sun peaked through the oaks along the creek bottom and the coyotes howled in the distance. Life seemed grand as I encountered my first genuine monster buck at near point blank range. I started dating my wife Lisa around this time and had wonderful times with her showing her the sights of the beautiful Hill Country and sharing my passion for all things wildlife.
I say all of this because I truly believe some people need time away from the city, away from all distractions to be permeated by true wildness. Some of us, men in particular, need a connection to nature.
There are certain young men in particular I believe must have the opportunity to spend extended time in the woods or maybe in the marsh so they can learn to embrace who they are. My friend walked away from the wild. I walked further beyond the pavement and down the trail of an amazing pursuit that has led me to this point in life.
I thank God for that opportunity and I also thank Him for that beautiful ringtail that so interested me on that day so long ago.
I shot a buck just before dark that day and another a couple of weeks later. It was a successful deer season, however my greatest memory was of that tiny mammal sitting proudly on the tree.
It taught me that some of the greatest prizes from our hunting trips are not antlers or even a nice bowl of warm deer chili. It was the encounters.
There is something about encountering the elusive that continually draws me down the path of wildness and I am so thankful my Dad took me with him on that lease.
It was the right place for me at the right time.
There were many formative wildlife experiences before that but I was at a crossroads in my junior year in high school and that year I took the path less traveled.
Some of the young people in your life or maybe you are at that place. I recommend some time on the wild side to bring to clear heads and help forge destinies. It is much easier to hear the call of greatness when there are no man made distractions in sight.
Chester Moore, Jr.