Bill Jones Jr. remembers the first time he watched a hunter harvest a buck.
The year was 1975, and on that day, his dad, Bill Jones Sr., took a handsome six-pointer. The younger Jones will tell you that he remembers his father using the vintage Winchester .30-30 rifle he’d bought for $50 when he’d been a young man. And he’ll tell you that’s the instant when his appreciation for the outdoors really began to grow.
Bill Jr. grew up to become a Marine, serving in Operation Desert Storm, and helping to liberate Kuwait City in February of 1991.
His dad labored on the home front. “He was a proud shipyard worker — Bath Iron Works — for 42 years,” Bill Jr. says. “And he was always proud of me for being a Marine.”
For years, they hunted and fished together. Then, they couldn’t do that any longer.
“My father passed away [in 2013] from asbestos exposure,” Bill Jr. says. “He wasn’t able to hunt for five or six years because of that condition. He always told me I could use his .30-30, I said, ‘That’s OK. It’s not a big deal.’”
Bill says having that old, reliable rifle in the house comforted his dad, and reminded him of all the memories they’d made together. After his father died, Bill began reliving those memories in his own way, taking his dad’s rifle into the field with him.
And the tough retired Marine learned that no matter how remote the woods, he was never truly alone.
“Truthfully, I am not a religious man. But since my dad’s passing … I have experienced ‘spiritual’ visits from Mother Nature, which I believe is a spiritual message from my dad, letting me know he is always by my side,” Bill says.
The year after his father died, for instance, Bill took a buck with antlers that were nearly identical to those on the six-pointer his dad shot back in 1975.
Bill said that before his father died, cardinals never showed up at his mother’s house. Since, one is always present.
And when he’s in the woods, he says he often finds what he chose to believe is evidence of his dad’s presence.
“The 10th of November — the Marine Corps’ birthday — I was up in my treestand. I could see these black-capped chickadees coming. There was a swarm of ‘em. They stopped, and one chickadee jumped from the branch onto the rim of my treestand,” Bill says. “I had my father’s .30-30 laying down on my lap, and that bird landed right [on the stock of the gun]. He looked up at me, flapped his wings a couple of times and chirped. Then he fluttered off.”
A week later, Bill was back in his stand when a bluejay flew past. A few minutes later, he heard an approaching deer.
“It took him an eternity to step forward. But he did,” Bill says. “My father always told me to take them right behind the forward shoulder. That’s what I did. And after the shot rang out, I heard [my dad] say, ‘Thattaboy.’”
Bill says it was hard for his dad to give up hunting as his health failed. And he remembers the last time they fished together.
“He had to take his oxygen tank with him. It was kind of emotional that day,” Bill says. “He was so exhausted, he was sleeping periodically. I said, ‘Dad, aren’t you going to fish?’ He said, ‘No, I’m just enjoying it out here, spending time with you.’
“That was two years before he passed. He knew he was going,” he says.
Bill surely misses those times. But he has also learned to keep those memories close. He tries to appreciate time spent in the wilderness the way his dad did. He strives to notice the little things — bald eagles and great horned owls, raccoons and porcupines … and the rare gift of a buck that passes within range.
Bill’s deer this year was a 10-pointer. It weighed 197 pounds, field-dressed. And his dad, Bill says, was proud.
“He’s letting me know he’s still around,” Bill says, softly. “He hasn’t gone too far.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke