I was born in 1947 and grew up on a small patch of land in the shadow of Cumberland Gap. My mother was determined to teach me to read, so she made sure that I had access to copies of Outdoor Life and Sports Afield magazines from the time I was seven years old.
I eagerly read the stories about fishing in big lakes from a real boat and hunting big game animals in exotic places, but was limited to catching sunfish and mud cats from Yellow Creek and stalking squirrels, rabbits and quail on Mingo Mountain.
Spring and summer would find me with a cane pole and an assortment of worms and grubs, fishing in Yellow Creek or the backwaters formed by the levee that protected the golf course. My first trips were under the care and supervision of my grandparents, fishing with the cane pole, bobber and worms. My Granny cleaned and cooked whatever I caught for my dinner and I felt that I was a real fisherman. As I got older, I acquired a steel rod and bait casting reel from Montgomery Wards and was able to ride my bicycle to different locations that might hold fish. One glorious day I put an aquatic insect, that I had found under a rock in the creek, on my hook and tossed it into a deep hole in Yellow Creek. After a bit the line started to move and I reeled in a foot long small mouth bass. I was so proud of him that I put him into the basket of my bike and pedaled all over town showing him off.
By the time I was fourteen I was deemed trustworthy enough to not shoot anybody nor to wantonly shoot property. I regularly went over to my friend Cliff’s house early on Saturday mornings and we would hit the mountains in search of the wily fox squirrel, frequently joined by John, Steve or Earl. Today a fourteen year old boy carrying a sixteen gauge shotgun through the city would draw out the SWAT team, but in 1961 it was not even noticed, except by the game warden who stopped me one snowy morning to see if I had a hunting license.
Our usual route took us South across the railroad track and into Magazine Hollow, so called because the coal company used to keep its explosives in three powder magazines there, where an unplanned explosion would do no harm. We had no adults to mentor us and had no real idea how to hunt the inhabitants of that hollow, but we tried, no doubt to their amusement.
We traipsed intently over downed trees and up and down the hillsides. If we did see a squirrel or a rabbit all it had to do was make one or two hops and disappear into the brush and it was safe from us. When we got on top of the hills we occasionally flushed a covey of quail but they were in no danger, as we had full choked shotguns and not the slightest idea of how to hit a flying target.
Noon would find us sitting on a log, usually on the top of the ridge on the West side of the hollow, drinking water from old Army canteens and eating bologna and cheese sandwiches. If it was cold we would build a small fire and in our minds we were living like real hunters. On one bitterly cold, snowy day Cliff and I were by ourselves. We managed to get wet and were pretty miserable, so we stopped at the first house that we came to after leaving the hollow.
The residents, an elderly gentleman and his daughter, invited us in, gave us a cup of coffee and let us warm up by their Warm Morning coal stove. Their barn was leaning precariously and we asked them about it. They told us that their landlord would not allow them to make any repairs or improvements on the place as they were to be the last tenants and the barn and house were to be leveled as soon as they were unoccupied.
After half a day of being outwitted by the birds and animals we would return to the foundations of the old powder magazines and indulge in some friendly competition as to whose shotgun could put the most holes in an old soup can or, if we had .22 rifles that day, who could hit closest to a pop bottle cap wedged into the bark of a tree. We had enough sense to make sure that there was a solid backstop behind our targets and that all of our companions were accounted for. When we ran short of ammunition it was time to head for home. Then we would clean our guns, do our household chores and dream about the next hunt.
A lot of years have passed since those early fishing and hunting trips. We grew up, moved away from home and found careers. We also learned how to hunt and fish properly, and have reunited to make trips to hunt deer, elk and moose. We have fished for crappie in Norris Lake and for trout in the streams of Colorado and Wyoming. But the most precious memories we have were when some little boys were exploring the mountains with their minds full of dreams.