Sitting in the front of the boat, I held my shotgun and trembled a little with the excitement as we slowly floated forward toward the flock of mallards. They seemed aware that the blind which grandpa had arranged on the bow out of sycamore and oak branches wasn’t quite right. It looked like a floating brush pile, but perhaps they could see me poke my head above the brush on occasion to get a better look.

Gosh, those bright green heads were beautiful, milling about on that shimmering, bright water shoal below us. My grandpa was masterful with that sassafras paddle, maneuvering the old wooden johnboat downstream slowly. We would soon be right in the middle of that unsuspecting flock of eight or 10 mallards.

And then it happened! By a peculiar circumstance of bad luck, a big dead sycamore branch hanging out over the river between the ducks and our boat, snapped under the weight of lingering snow and an alighting kingfisher, and plunged into the river. With a frenzy of rushing wings and erupting water, and an old hen quacking in panic, the mallards took to flight and were gone.

I think that’s when I heard it first. Grandpa uttered an oft-exclaimed expletive and said, “THE GAME GETS ALL THE BREAKS!” I heard that often over the years, hunting with my dad and grandpa. Dad said it often as sort of a tribute to Grandpa, but I came to know that it seemed to be a true statement.

Sitting in the woods along the creek a short distance from my Panther Creek cabin last week, I thought of that as a rush of memories of those great times I had as a boy came back to me. In my hands was a weapon Grandpa would perhaps have laughed at… a crossbow. I can hear him saying… “Yore huntin’ turkeys with that there contraption?”

As the last weekend of the archery season approached, along with a cold freezing rain that was only hours away, I built a good fire in my cabin and peered out the window. There they were… a goshawful string of wild turkeys across the clover patch, moving past the plot of milo and into the woods. It was easy to count them, in a long procession of one or two or three at a time. Fifty-one in all.

The huge flock, mostly young of the year and old hens, crossed the creek and went out into a field on the other side. I knew they would come back across in an hour or so, to roost on the timbered ridge back behind me, above the bottoms they had just crossed. So I took my crossbow and got myself substantially hidden along the creek with my back to a big sycamore and waited. At that time I was about 73 percent convinced that I would be bringing a young turkey back to the cabin about sunset. It is hard to miss 51 turkeys if two or three of them pitch across the creek together.

And then it came back to me, what Grandpa always said… “the game gets all the breaks.” The break those turkeys got was the fact that I had sat down in the wrong place. I watched them cross the creek and head up into the woods just above my cabin, all 51 of them, one or two or three at a time about 75 yards downstream.

I muttered that oft heard excuse my grandfather had made famous, and then enjoyed the ambience. Three red-headed woodpeckers seemed to be fighting along the creek, causing me to realize that this year I have seen more of them on Panther Creek than I ever can recall seeing along any stream. Contemplating why that might be, I glance out into the woods on my left and there stood a nice young buck!

That’s the way deer do on occasion. You are sitting somewhere wondering why women can’t think more like men, or why God lets there be so many crooked lawyers and all of a sudden there is a deer, just materializing before you. This one had a medium-sized set of antlers, but at 60 yards there isn’t a hunter in the world who could have said for sure if he was an eight-pointer or six-pointer, nor if he had a brow tine an inch long or shorter.

Me, I didn’t care… it is the one game regulation too stupid to give any regard to. Most agents ignore it anyway, and there will be a time when that regulation, which never had any biological basis, or any conservation value, will be gone and forgotten. It will someday be a remnant of an ill-advised rule, created by conservation department officials who spent too much time in an office and not enough time outdoors. A rule made by men in suits who needed to know more about deer hunting than any of them did.

Earlier this year I killed a buck with my crossbow at 40 yards, a heart shot right where the green dot of my scope settled. So I figured with the power the crossbow has, a 60-yard shot was feasible. I watched him for a while and then aimed eight-inches above the heart and squeezed the trigger. I couldn’t see where the arrow went, but he jumped and milled around for a while without running.

A crossbow makes a thumping sound, but not enough to alarm much of anything in the woods. The buck certainly wasn’t hit. I reloaded and got ready for another shot, but he walked away, joined a doe, and disappeared. I found the arrow imbedded in a bank just past where he had stood. I think if I had held that sight 16 inches above his heart, I would have put a third buck in my freezer this winter. But what the heck, I have two, and they will be enough to make a lot of steak and hamburger and jerky when I get the time to work it all up in February. I take care of my own venison and I treasure the meat that comes as a result of that effort.

As the freezing rain began that night, I sat back and watched the fire in my cabin and heard a limb or two crack down on the creek. I thought of those poor turkeys sitting on a branch somewhere up the hillside. The woodpeckers take refuge in hollow spots in the branches, but God made turkeys so big they have to just sit out there and take it. Doesn’t seem fair does it?

I looked for the turkeys awhile the next morning. They had just disappeared. Then I walked up to the main lodge on a high point a mile or so to the east, and folks, I swear this is the truth. That whole flock was milling about that big house, some within 10 feet of the window on the west side! If I had spent the night there, I could have plugged one out the bedroom window!

I wouldn’t have done that of course, never shot anything out of any kind of window and never will. But I think Grandpa would have. He hunted for different reasons, and he would have welcomed a wild turkey dinner no matter how he got it. Besides that, he was a little more of a believer in getting what you could get when you could get it. He didn’t feel sorry for anything he looked at down the barrel of his gun because when it came right down to it, back then, he lived with the conviction that –  “The game gets all the breaks!”

Please read what I put on my website this week. I think it will interest you. Find it at  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email

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