I have heard described as “meat hungry” persons whose whole pleasure supposedly comes from the kill. They’re supposed to be blood thirsty egotists who must prove their superiority over that which they seek. Is that what hunting is all about? I doubt it.
Then there are others who say hunting’s pleasure comes solely from closeness to nature and the proximity of wild beauty: a multicolored autumn woods, the sound of a beagle, with a nose full of rabbit, the smell of newly cut alfalfa on a woodchuck hunt, or the cold crisp morning of opening day in deer season. Again, I doubt if that is what hunting is all about.
Both are partly right. For if the kill meant nothing, why carry a gun? And surely the beauty and closeness to nature have deep meaning for most of us. But this leaves out one of the major answers to the question. What is the prime pleasure in hunting?
To me, of much greater importance are “Ronnie’s Dumplings.” Now that may sound irrelevant, even stupid, but it’s true. Each of us has his own “Ronnie’s Dumplings.” They represent the experiences we all have that make up the hunting stories-the friendships, the dreams and the humorous experiences we all remember and retell for years.
The preparation for a hunt can be memorable: going over the list of necessary items, the dog to get in shape – you know what I mean. For example, three men who have been hunting together will come to work and tell similar stories, but with one variation. Each one says the other two got lost and he had to rescue them. Now surely someone was lost but who I’ll never know, and I’m not sure I want to, for each time it’s told the tale get’s better. According to Harry, he had to depend on his built- in radar to save the day. Donny says he led the trio out of Buzzard’s Swamp with a compass he had to tap to make work; and Charlie claims he heard cars on the highway and used them to lead his comrades back to safety.
How well I remember the time I hunted with Ed and Dan in Warren County. We thought we had prepared carefully for this trip only to discover on arrival that we had no cook. After much discussion, Dan agreed to take on this chore, but on one condition: “Anyone who complains, cooks.” The very first morning when Danny set a cup of coffee in front of Ed, he sipped it and blurted out, “My gosh but that coffee’s strong.” Danny turned red, but before he could say anything Ed calmly added “But I like it that way.”
Austin Courtney and Ronnie Stephens are two friends who I see only once a year, during deer season. Both are supervisors in blast furnace operations of Jones and Laughlin Steel, one from Pittsburgh and the other from Cleveland. Courtney is medium sized, hair thinning on the top, straight faced but always good for a prank. Ronnie’s a dark-haired, jovial giant, always laughing, always the best hunter, cook, and blast furnace operator. His 6-3 frame is topped by a tassel cap that adds another 4 inches to his height. One look at his face and you know here is a fellow you could never believe, or trust except when the chips are down. He was a born comedian who takes his tall tales seriously, and Courtney is the perfect straight man.
Sunday’s preparation consisted of straightening up the cabin, putting food away and filling us in on what had happened during the previous year. Courtney told of a trip they made, camping in their car and cooking on a Coleman Stove. Ronnie was cook, so the first morning he prepared breakfast while Courtney slept. It seems they had forgotten a few items, so he had to make do; he just cooked what he had. That morning they had pepperoni cooked in beer. Now that’s some breakfast and Courtney said he could not stand a repeat on this hunt.
On Sunday night, Ronnie cooked chicken and dumplings. He labored hard over a hot stove, following his wife’s directions. After the mixture had cooked for a while, he proceeded to mix dumplings and when everything was right (and we all watched trying to learn how) he took a large spoon and formed a large dumpling. The only thing was, as he dropped each dumpling into the chicken noodle mixture on the stove, each one literally disintegrated. That evening we ate chicken and dumplings the size of radishes. Or peas, maybe. As I remember, Ed found the prize – a dumpling the size of a golf ball – and passed it around, saying we should frame it as Ronnie’s masterpiece.
Ronnie’s dumplings were small things. And like them, what makes hunting rewarding are the small things. The joys, the pains, the close calls, the friendships, the long-lasting memories – these are “Ronnie’s dumplings.” This is what hunting’s all about.