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It's OK to tell a good story more than once

One day last week, while my son and me were home-butchering one of the deer we had legally harvested (or ruthlessly murdered, depending on your views on the matter), I started to tell him one of the old hunting stories from my vast collection of 'I remember the time' and 'Boy, you shoulda been there' yarns. Ben continued to cut, perhaps pondering a deliberate slice to a finger ligament so the pain could distract him from my tale.

Yeah, I admit, some of them probably are that boring.

But not to me, naturally, 'cuz I lived them all, and I expect that anytime I spin the one about the time I jumped the nice 8-pointer in the swamp grass and toppled him with one perfectly-placed shot behind the rib cage that everyone within ear shot will stop what they're doing and relive it with me. I mean, c'mon, it's just the polite thing to do.

Ben did that last week, but as I started to verbally replay this particular piece, I could see a look on his face that he was either just being nice or straining with pure mental power to vaporize me on the spot. At that moment, it dawned on me that I may have told him this one before. Like seven times. Three while he was still in diapers.

Although it was a good one (stop in the office sometime when you have a free hour and you'll hear for yourself), I stopped and asked my kid, 'Heard this one before?' He did, he admitted, kindly enough, yet I felt bad that I would so deliberately dump my boring memories on another human being. The cat, well, who cares? I buy his food. He's gotta' listen.

Deer hunting is a unique experience for those of us whose idea of fine art is a styrofoam-stuffed mammal head with brown glass eyes. It's a sport that engenders good stories as we remember in crushing detail every encounter with a trophy buck we've ever had, yet can't recall the particulars of our own weddings besides the fact there were some people there and it cost too much. I can recite with exacting precision the temperature, wind direction, snow depth and sky clarity on the morning I shot my biggest buck, but would probably have to find a photograph to tell you the color of my girlfriend's eyes. Well, yeah, ex-girlfriend. And I think they were blue. Or hazel.

No, wait, those are mine.

I was fortunate in my early hunting years to listen to some master story-tellers, like my grandpa, who could recite the tale of something that happened in the woods 40 years before so explicitly that you could almost hear the shot or feel the wind that day. I knew well some of grandpa's friends even though I never met them, and I'd sit for hours every hunting season and listen as he told them one more time. Oh, heaven's yes, he told them all multiple times, but to interrupt would not just be rude, but it'd rob oneself of one of the best parts of Thanksgiving week. And these days, when all those guys are gone, I'd pay a hefty sum to hear those stories once more.

One thing about hunting, it's about 99 percent waiting for that one moment when everything happens. I've sat seven or eight hours in a stretch without seeing anything, and then, behind me, the snap of a branch, a flash of brown, and he's there. Reactions are instinctive, you see, you aim, you squeeze the trigger, and if a little bit of skill and a whole lotta' luck are on your side, you may have a new story to tell. And sometimes, as I've unhappily learned, the best stories come when you miss. If you're worth your weight in empty brass shell casings, you tell them, too.

Until recently, I've considered myself more of a story listener than a teller, but with the passing years have come the loss of those old-timers who enraptured hunting camp with their recollections. I mostly hunt with my two sons these days, so it's now me who's the old fella' with the wisdom (how loosely I use some words) to hand down. That's how it came about last week that I was telling Ben a particular story, and the realization I'm now repeating most of them.

This hunting season was not a particularly productive one for me in terms of new story material. I did get some meat for the freezer, but as for a new chapter for my hunting history, it was a dull one. It happens. I'll make due.

For my boys, well, it was a different story.

My youngest, Ben, he saw six bucks in the first hour of the season, and picked out the 10-pointer to double-lung. He had two does in heat position themselves near his stand, and the boys came running in from every direction. He even had time to record some of the action on his phone before he made his shot. By 8 a.m., I was helping him field dress his deer. Just done with that, I got a text from my older boy, Cory, to say he'd also put down a 10-pointer already. He'd called his buck in with a grunt tube, and took it through the neck as it stood there trying to find the sweetheart that'd been calling for him. To top it all off, Cory had taken his deer with my old lever-action .30-30, which hadn't fired a shot in the woods for probably 20 years.

Ben and me made our way over to Cory's stand, and we jawed on about this and that as we dressed the deer, snapped some more photos, and dragged it out of the swamp. Right there it occurred to me that stories are built without us even noticing it, that the tales we'll tell years down the road aren't always the ones we'd expect. For me this year, it won't be about anything I harvested, except the pleasure of being afield with my sons as they added to their own collection of memories. I'm guessing they didn't notice it, but I was taking notes the whole time.

Someday, I hope, Cory and Ben will be out there on our hunting land, with their kids, and they'll tell them the one about the time they both got 10-pointers on opening day, and grandpa was there with them. I won't have to be around anymore to know it was a good one, no matter how many times they tell it.