This past weekend, I had such a moment.
My son and I had been planning the trip for nearly a year. In fact, it came from a promise that I made to him last year.
“Sean, once I’ve finished my bachelor’s degree, I’ll go turkey hunting with you this fall.” So, having finished my degree, my son reminding me of my commitment, and we were soon making preparations.
Sean had already been turkey hunting once before with his grandfather. It was a memorable hunting trip for him. He got his first turkey which became our Christmas dinner this past year. He could have never been so proud, and rightfully so. He had carefully picked out the hunting spot and called in a flock of turkey into his lair. One shot later, and the Lang family had a traditional Christmas turkey dinner awaiting them.
As the days drew closer to our scheduled hunting trip, he began expressing his plans: how he would be my hunting guide, call in the turkey, and let me have first crack. After all, he wanted to see his Dad get his first turkey.
The bags were packed, rifles cleaned, and we were soon on our way to the mountainous region of central Pennsylvania. After completing the 200 mile trek, we unloaded the car, ate dinner, and prepared for our next days hunting adventure.
We were up before the crack of dawn. A quick breakfast followed with the morning rigors of cladding oneself with enough garments to fight off the expected chill of the unusually cold autumn day. With snow expected in the forecast, we had already resigned ourselves to the fact that nothing much would be moving in the woods on this wintery day.
The truck’s headlights illuminated the roadway as we traveled the one short mile from the cabin to the foot of the mountain. Jumping out from the truck, we slung our back packs over our shoulders, loaded our shotguns, and quietly strolled through the meadow towards the dark pine.
We navigated our way over the rushing stream, using the slightly submerged rocks to keep from going knee deep in the frigid waters. Banking right, we were soon on our path that led to the trail that provided a clear path straight up the side of the mountain. It was a steep, brisk hike; especially for two hunters loaded down with food and provisions for the pending inclement weather.
Pressing on with full vigor, the walk became dizzying as our leg muscles screamed and ached.
As all good hunters should, I was walking uphill, insuring that the muzzle of my shotgun was facing down towards the ground. As I pressed on towards the top of the ridge, I suddenly found myself plummeting face first into the cold, damp ground. My left foot didn’t negotiate a rock in the pre-dawn venture up the hill, and the barrel of my shotgun plunged six inches deep into the side of the hill. I extracted my weapon and carefully inspecting it, confirming that the barrel was packed with fresh mud. I’ll get that out when I get to the top, I thought as I knew I was nearing the spot Sean had picked out for us.
We quickly settled in, strapping our camouflage umbrellas to our trees. With everything in order and dawn soon to break, there was little time to make the shotgun ready for shooting. I unloaded the weapon, insured that the safety was engaged, and went to dismantle the barrel from the stock. But when I realized that this shotgun had a screw mechanism that I was not familiar with I knew that there would be no chance for me in making this weapon a safe weapon to shoot. My hunting trip was over.
“Did you get it cleared?” my son asked at a low whisper.
“I can’t clear it… I can’t get the barrel off.”
“What about a stick? Did you try cleaning it out with a stick?”
“Yeah, but it only pushed the mud up further into the barrel.”
A hush fell over the wood.
“Here, Dad, use mine,” Sean said, handing his shotgun over.
“Are you sure?” I asked with reservation.
“Yeah! I’ve already shot a turkey last year. You haven’t shot one yet. After you get yours, you can give me the gun and call the others back in and I’ll shoot mine.”
Given that turkeys were forgetful and known to wander back in front of hunters who had just shot five minutes earlier, this was a plausible plan. But it wasn’t the plan, or the fact that I now had a workable shotgun that had me beaming from ear to ear. The fact that my son made a selfless sacrifice in hopes to see his dad shoot his first turkey became one of the proudest moments a father could experience. In that moment, I witnessed my son’s willingness to make a sacrifice. It was a small sacrifice compared to some sacrifices made by others. But nonetheless, it was evidence that he was learning a trait that separates heroes from common people.
I thought about the men and women who have so bravely served our country, some giving their lives for freedom. I thought about the men and women that I serve with in my police department and have written about in my books, and how they offer their lives everyday in pursuing justice and defending our Constitution.
For me, it was a proud moment, one that allowed me to see the unique character and individual that makes up my children. And though we didn’t get to see any turkey wandering through the woods, my Son and I did get to see each other for who were truly are on a beautiful snowy day.
Ken Lang is a former homicide detective and an award-winning author of several true crime books, including Walking Among the Dead: True Stories from a Homicide Detective. In 2011 he was named on of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Author’s Show. He resides in North East, Maryland with his wife and three children. To learn more about his true crime books and upcoming crime novels visit his website at www.kenlangstudios.com.