By JIM ABRAMS

It was a Thanksgiving Day when I went hunting for the first time. Dad had finally yielded to my questions about the sport and now, with his old, scarred Iver Johnson 28 gauge in hand, we found ourselves in the field. I was about 11.

We didn’t have a real hunting dog, but my younger brother’s noisy struggling to penetrate the briars and brambles was a pretty good substitute. As mentioned, we didn’t have a real hunting dog, but we did have an unreal hunting dog. Chipper, whose pedigree apparently never intersected with those of the sporting classes, followed us with a suspiciously mocking grin as he sidestepped anything that might interfere with his own leisurely stroll.

I’m really not sure Dad’s heart was in it. He grew up in a very different and much leaner time. As he learned it as a young boy, hunting wasn’t a sport but rather where the next meal would originate. A good hunt meant a good meal; anything else meant less on the plate — sometimes, a lot less.

While he cherished his time spent hunting and fishing, his game gathering was never quite in line with the time he seemed to spend on the effort. There was never an urgency, just an acceptance. He also never bought a lot of new equipment, just what was required — another trace of his younger years.

Nevertheless, he was more than willing to take his boys on a hunt and enjoy another day out. The only warning was that we had to be home by early afternoon. Being late for Thanksgiving dinner could evoke a fate worse than that of our prey. We all knew Mom was serious about her deadlines, emphasis on dead.

It didn’t look like we were going to find much, and we were about ready to head back to the Plymouth coupe when my brother froze. “There’s a rabbit,” he urgently whispered as he thrust out a pointing finger in a pose that would be the envy of any English setter.

“You’re seeing things,” Dad replied. “We need to head back.”

“It’s just sitting there,” brother said in an excitedly shaky mutter. I was standing on my tiptoes trying to see over his point. I couldn’t spot it either, but then there was a nearly invisible twitch of a rabbit’s ear. I could tell Dad saw it too. Apparently, Chipper had also somehow put two and two together and took off like an empty freight train.

That dog nearly knocked my brother off his feet as he flew by. Showing the athletic grace of a break dancing Sumo wrestler, Chipper vaulted, pushed and slugged his way toward the rabbit, which was also making its own mad dash. Yielding to my brother’s frantic “There he goes!” Dad raised the single-shot and fired, the rabbit summersaulting. I felt like a spectator at some epic event.

At that point, Chipper was on the rabbit and Dad was begging the dog not to eat it. Eating, by the way, was the one thing at which that dog excelled … well, unless you also include the timely devouring of my homework.

My grandmother often said that if you keep your eyes open, you’ll witness a miracle every day. I always thought that was just something old people said until a dog made me a believer.

Chipper picked up that dead rabbit and retrieved it like a tossed tennis ball, right to Dad’s hands. Since he’d never once returned a tennis ball, this was definitely something new. No chewing, mauling or anything! I expected a round of angelic applause as the dog marched over, chest out as he sat down for the all the “Good dog” praises that were being showered upon him.

Dad quickly cleaned the rabbit and urged us back to the car. My brother, tattered and scratched from stumbling through thorny thickets, seemed to be losing more blood than the rabbit. His fear-glazed eyes revealed that he knew that Merthiolate and Band-Aids were in his very near future. As we returned to the Plymouth … no Chipper. A shrill whistle … no Chipper. Concerned, Dad instructed us to stay in the car as he headed back into the field while calling and whistling.

Time crawled by and I began to worry. We finally spotted Dad being trailed by the dog; neither looked especially happy. Apparently, the newfound shine had worn off the dog’s penny. Pulling some rags out of the trunk, we were given the task of wiping what was left of the rabbit’s insides off the outside of the dog’s ears before getting him home.

We made it just in time to clean up and eat, my brother looking like a drug store advertisement. We dominated the table as we told the story of finding the rabbit, Dad’s amazing shot, and Chipper’s miraculous retrieve, while my brother bragged about all his scratches, until we finally got the nod to watch the afternoon’s football games. Brother and I shared a room, and I’m sure we talked about that adventure late into the night.

We had a very special day, even though it was by no means special in itself. A Dad who took time for us, a scruffy dog that became something of a hero, a rabbit that led to stories of growing up during tough times, and a table filled with food and visiting family. I had no idea then how important those memories might one day become, but memories are like that when they’re born.

Of all the things in my life that I have to be thankful for on this holiday of gratitude, it is the recognition that to everything there is a beginning and for the understanding that there is also an end.

This knowledge allows for the ability to place value on those things that are truly of real importance in life. It can especially offer insight into those things that are not.

Happy Thanksgiving. May it leave you a lasting memory.

“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” — Tecumseh

Along the way:

If you’re a middle or high school student or teacher who’s currently conducting research concerning wildlife or habitats, you can present that information to an audience of fellow student researchers, biologists and wildlife agencies. The 4th annual Student Wildlife Research Symposium and the Next in Nature Teen Conservation Summit offer you the opportunity to share your work. It will be held on April 2 at Ohio’s Huesten Woods State Park Lodge, College Corner.

You can choose to present as a paper session or a poster session. Paper sessions are 20-minute presentations while poster sessions are displayed as a group, similar to a quality science fair. Proposals for inclusion are due no later than Jan. 17.

This project is sponsored by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and the Environmental Education Council of Ohio.

For help, insight or application information, contact Jen Dennison, Division of Wildlife Education Coordinator, at jen.dennison@dnr.state.oh.us or call 614-265-6316. For general information, call 1-800-WILDLIFE.

Step outside:

• Last Monday, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources celebrated the recent acquisition of more than 1,400 acres of land and broke ground on new all-purpose vehicle (APV) trails.

• Today: Roger Knoll memorial shotgun shoot, 10:30 a.m., Bowman Farm, 18613 Township Road 42, Wharton. Trap shoot, still target and slug shoot. Food and drink available. Prizes will be awarded.

• Today and tomorrow: Ohio Youth Deer Gun season.

• Tomorrow: Turkey shoot, 1-4 p.m., Hancock County Conservation League, 13748 Jackson Township Road 168.

• Tomorrow: Turkey shoot, 10 a.m., Fostoria United Sportsmen, 1324 Springville St., Fostoria. Club opens at 8 a.m. with breakfast and lunch available. Public welcome.

• Hunter and trapper education class listings: Information and registration information available at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com

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