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Big or small, everyone recalls their ‘first’: Woods & Waters by Tom Shank

Posted 3/7/18

Getting your “first” causes emotions to erupt into uncontrollable behaviors.

Jumping, dancing in circles, and yelling are somewhat common. Internally, your heart rate increases and a …

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Big or small, everyone recalls their ‘first’: Woods & Waters by Tom Shank


Getting your “first” causes emotions to erupt into uncontrollable behaviors.

Jumping, dancing in circles, and yelling are somewhat common. Internally, your heart rate increases and a feeling of elation and accomplishment makes you feel fantastic. You celebrate with the closest human, if one is nearby. Many times, the first might come when you are alone, so it’s a solo act. This behavior lies in the crazy to insane level, and folks might think you are a little off the rocker when experiencing the first.

What I’m talking about is the very first time you take a big-game animal. It could be a whitetail deer, turkey, bear or any large critter. Size doesn’t matter either, when it is your first. Small game, like pheasants, ducks, rabbits and squirrels, all can produce first-time celebrations. You remember your first like no other. It’s always special.

I have been hunting for more than 50 years. All my firsts, I can remember like it was yesterday. They never leave you and remain in your outdoor memory book forever.

My first whitetail deer came from my 45-pound Bear recurve bow with a wooden arrow. The broad head was a pointy “Hibre” head that, compared to present day, would be primitive and obsolete.

I was a freshman in college at Mansfield State. I was hunting on the weekend at my parent’s cabin in Lycoming County. The shot was taken and the deer bolted from eyesight. As I walked toward my shot, not more than 50 yards away was a brown carcass of a deer. My arrow hit the deer’s heart and it ran a short distance before expiring.

In my eyes, I had just accomplished the unbelievable. I took a deer with my bow all by myself. I hugged that deer and patted it. I screamed with excitement. To me, it was the biggest deer in the woods. It was a doe and it didn’t matter.

My first turkey came from a Potter County mountaintop near Kettle Creek. I was walking an edge of mountain, periodically looking down the side for feeding turkeys. Suddenly, I caught dark objects walking and feeding. It was a flock of wild turkeys heading along the side of the mountain.

I took a strategic move and hustled along the mountaintop in a sprint. When I thought I was in front of them, I dropped down to the bench where they appeared to be heading. I slid and fell, but managed to get set up without causing too much of a commotion. I waited and waited for the intercept as my first fall turkey headed toward me. It wasn’t just one, but an entire flock was walking directly to me.

I didn’t wait and as the first turkey showed herself to me. I shot. Turkeys flew everywhere. They landed in the trees and ran past me.

One, however, remained motionless on the ground. My shot was clean and my first wild turkey was mine. I carried that turkey for miles on my shoulder as I walked along Route 44 to my truck.

I smiled at every vehicle that passed me. I was one happy and proud hunter on my first turkey.

Well, those two stories were of the big-game type. Not to be forgotten is my first pheasant. Pheasants back in the 1960s were a premium small-game trophy. I took my first off of the Park Huffman Farm near Route 441. My father and Mr. Huffman worked together at Bethlehem Steel and I was able to hunt his farm quite readily.

That farm holds many firsts for me. The pheasant was hiding in a cut-corn field. As I walked along the mowed corn stalks, it flushed cackling as it took flight. It was the first pheasant I saw that was a male and I was able to shoot. My Remington 870 pump did its job that morning. My first pheasant fell to the ground. I hurried over to it, picking it up, admiring its beautiful feathers. I accomplished a wing shot and actually hit a flying target.

I put it into my coat making sure the long tail feathers stuck out the side pocket. Everyone was going to see my prize. My dad was so proud of me that day. It was my first winged trophy.

Mr. Huffman’s farm holds so many firsts with me that I will never forget any one of them. My first squirrel was shot with a 20 gauge shotgun from one of his woodlots, as well as many muskrats that were trapped from his pond.

Adventures in the woods and waters contain “firsts” for many of you. With that first comes many more in sequence, and the numbers can and will add up.

Each outdoor hunting accomplishment possess its own special qualities, but none rank higher than your very first one. Keep them contained and cherished in your outdoor memory and never forget them.

Tom Shank has been writing Woods and Waters for the Press & Journal for about 10 years. His expertise has been gained through more than 50 years hunting, fishing, trapping and exploring the full gamut of nature. The Susquehanna River and his cabin in Lycoming County are his true loves. Woods and Waters is his playground in life, and to write about it for the Press & Journal is a dream come true.