Remembering a great heritage of hunting with Dad in Ozark County
I was born at Romance in May 1938. When I was 5 years old my dad, Richard Hawkins, bought me my first gun, a .22 single shot, and taught me how to shoot squirrels and rabbits. Then, in 1943, Dad heard there was going to be a deer hunt in Ozark County the next year, 1944.
We lived close to Caney Mountain Game Refuge where, in the fall of 1940, the Conservation Commission imported deer from the Drury-Mincy Conservation Area in Taney County to reestablish the deer herd in Ozark County. The deer began to jump the fences and scatter all over, especially near the refuge where we lived.
When I was 6, Dad taught me how to be extremely careful and use my grandpa Albert Nance’s old 30-30. Then, at 7:30 a.m. on opening morning of the first season, I shot my first buck with Grandpa’s 30-30, and later in the day, Dad shot a buck with his own 30-30. Both were single-shot rifles. Grandpa was still living then, but he said he was too old to hunt.
We hunted on our family’s 600-acre farm. We didn’t have tree stands but sat on the ground with our backs against a tree. We did not shoot the deer just for sport but to eat – and eat we did. We didn’t have electricity until 1954, but we had a smokehouse behind our house, and that’s how Dad preserved the meat, cutting the venison into hams and steaks and smoking them in the smokehouse.
Back then, all you had to have was a piece of paper with your name on it when you hunted. You didn’t need a license.
For 51 years, Dad and I hunted deer on our land, and every year, we both got one deer each. My younger brothers and my mom also got in on the hunting as the years went by. My youngest brother Joe got his first deer at age 8. My brother Jerry got his first deer at age 7. I was the one who took him that first year.
In those early days, we were allowed to miss three days of school, just to hunt; the school let the guys who hunted miss three days and they didn’t count as absences. When I got old enough to drive the old pickup to school, we had a gun rack in the back window in plain sight. We didn’t even lock the pickup doors, and no one dared to touch one of our rifles.
Dad died in 1999, at age 75. He didn’t get to deer hunt that last year, but he did kill a turkey. Turkey hunting had started for me in Arkansas. It started in Missouri in 1960. Again, Dad and I were extremely successful. Dad got his last turkey just a few days before he passed away.
Our land had about a 3/4-mile border with the Caney Mountain Refuge with no fence. A few years ago, some people went to Texas and trapped some wild hogs and let them loose in the refuge. The hogs did a lot of damage. We called the Missouri Department of Conservation and showed them where the hogs had been in seven ponds on our farm. The conservation agents went after the hogs, trapping them and even shooting them from a helicopter.
I am now going toward 81. I gave up deer hunting after being successful for 74 years in a row, mostly on that family property that borders what is now the Caney Mountain Conservation Area. Last year was my last year of hunting there. We sold the family farm to a man from Florida. It is a special place. There’s an old Indian petroform on a bald there. It’s 52 feet across, carved into a flat rock. I’ve taken astronomers and archeologists there, and they’ve estimated the petroform was created more than 6,000 years ago. It has to do with knowing when the solstice and the equinox happen. One part of the petroform points to the Big Dipper.
When my family first moved to Romance, there was an old man who lived there whose last name was Everett. He lived to be 100 years old, and his family had moved up there in the 1800s. He said his family had seen the Osage Indians come back from Oklahoma on horseback in the early 1900s to have ceremonies up there at the petroform. Somehow they knew it was up there on the bald.
I still own Grandpa’s old 30-30, which is stamped with the date 1869. I don’t know where he got it, but I’m grateful to have it. Seeing it hanging on the wall of my home, I’m reminded of the great heritage of hunting my brothers and I had, thanks to our dad, and to Ozark County, and to the Missouri Conservation Commission. Thank you for a sporting life and for conserving game all these years. What a rich blessing to all of us who hunt, whether it be for food or sport.
Dolan Hawkins, now lives in Cape Fair.