I met Rick in the fall of 1996 when I was invited as a guest to hunt one weekend at a hunting club in Caswell County. I needed a place to hunt so I wanted to make a good impression so I brought some moose steaks with me and grilled them for the guys. Rick in particular like it but he had a number of suggestions on how to improve my marinade that years latter makes me laugh because Rick is not much of a cook. As a matter of fact most of us who know him would avoid anything Rick said he cooked but he always had suggestions on how to improve whatever it was you cooked. I joined that club in 1997 and it started me on a lifelong friendship with Rick. Initially I wouldn’t say we were close but what really bonded us together was turkey hunting.
At the time the turkey population in the state was pretty low except for Caswell county that held most of the turkeys. NC Wildlife would use many of those Caswell county birds to populate the rest of the state. Our club was sitting in a great spot and we saw turkeys all the time so I figured what could be so hard I’m going to be a turkey hunter. Our club the turkey hunt amounted to usually opening weekend and typically by 10 o clock in the morning we empty handed hunters were headed to town for breakfast and called it a day. Most of us never even saw a turkey never mind kill one. I wanted to kill one and I knew the way these guys hunted there’d be more biscuits and gravy in my future than turkey dinner. Rick was the one guy who every year tagged out on turkeys so I knew if I was going to learn this turkey hunting stuff he was going to have to teach me. So one night in deer camp I got him talking about turkey hunting and he agreed to work with me on learning to turkey hunt. He was with me when I killed my first turkey. A hunt on the Caswell Game Lands many years ago and the start of an obsession we both shared. I’m not sure who was more excited that day him or I but we often relived those memories many times sharing our love for turkey hunting.
Anyone that hunted much with Rick could tell you he was a planner. He knew how whatever animal we were hunting was going to move through the habitat and where we needed to be. He had spent so much time hunting and observing the natural world that he was really gifted. Anytime Rick said look there or watch over there I would listen because the man knew his stuff. He loved planning hunts. I remember one year him and I had been chasing this one particular gobbler which Rick named Huey. This gobbler had been giving us the slip all season but Rick devised a plan to get Huey. Rick had a guy that had never killed a turkey before hunting with us so Rick put this guy on one of the trails we thought old Huey was using. Rick set up on one ridge and I was on the other he and I just called back and forth to each other. Sure enough we got Huey’s attention and he gobbled his fool head off walking that trail between both Rick and I. We both waited for the boom of the gun which never came and Huey shut up and slipped out of there. Some how he busted us. When we all got back together the hunter had and exciting story to tell because he practically had gobbler snot all over him because Huey had gobbled right behind him. He got busted trying to slip around to shoot him. Rick was dumfounded because Huey came a different way then he expected. That is when the hunter told him well he came the way you said I was looking the other way because I could see more that way. We all learned a lesson that day including Old Huey that made him a much harder bird to kill.
Rick enjoyed a good laugh and he and I shared a lot throughout the years. While he was a target of my practical jokes a fair amount of the time he was also great at pulling stuff on others. Rick was with us the weekend we dreamed up Hen -N- Heat and the fun we had with that. That story took on a life of its own and I suspect Rick had something to do with us getting calls from Texas and California trying to buy some bottles of the stuff. He got Michael Waddell to ask me about it at one of the hunting shows.
One of my favorite pranks we pulled on our hunting club president and Rick’s best friend Jim was making believe he was in deer hunting heaven. We kept Jim in that stand all season long by making fake scrapes and rubs all around it. One of us would be with Jim and the other would be in the woods making deer sign. Any time Jim suggested he might hunt a different stand Rick and I would argue about which one of us should get the privilege to hunt Jim’s stand. Needless to say Jim wasn’t letting either one of us hunt it so he kept going to it all season.
The hunting prank that I pulled on Rick a number of years ago and gets talked about often happened at our website’s annual swan hunt. I had gone down a few days before to photograph swans which gave me the perfect opportunity to get Rick. I called him before he came down and told him the swans were really screwy this year and it was likely the first few people will get a shot but the ones at the end probably wouldn’t. The night before the hunt the outfitter Mike met with all of us to go over the plan for the morning hunt. Seeing where there was 17 people hunting Mike wanted everyone to draw numbers for the order of the shoot. Everyone was in on it so all the little slips of paper in the hat had #17 on them. Mike went around the room and everyone drew yelling out made up numbers “I got three”…. “I got eleven”…. “I got Two”…. Until it got to Rick and he pulled out #17. The next morning you could see Rick was wondering if it even be worth it to trek out into the field. Mike couldn’t keep it going so on the second flock he told Rick to shoot and he got a magnificent swan. As I recall as Rick figured out what I did and saw everyone else get their bird he had a few choice words for me. I guess I was getting him back for the day he told me “raise the hood and tinker with the engine I’ll be right back” But that’s a story for another day.
Rick loved his family and friends and would do anything for you. I will miss the wisdom and the support he gave me as we talked about different challenges and issues we or our family were facing. In the early days, he would talk with pride about his daughter’s clogging team and their competitions. There were times we’d be trying to plan a hunt and he say “nope not that day I got to take my mother to the beauty parlor” He was always looking to help others and he genuinely cared about you and you knew it. More recently it was stories about the grandchildren and how they were growing up. Rick loved his family so much.
I guess for me Rick’s the guy I have hunted with the most over the past 20 years. The guy that on days he couldn’t make it out hunting would call me to check to make sure I got out safe. Hard to believe there will be no more days laying in a hayfield with decoys all around us waiting for geese to get off the lake talking about whatever. The news of the day being cut off by Rick barking “Mac they are getting up get ready”. I don’t know how he did it but he always seemed to hear the geese or turkeys first before anyone else.
Bottom line is I could tell you a hundred stories of the things we did together and I could fill notebooks with all these great memories. I trade them all for one more hunt with my friend Rick…. Godspeed my friend until we meet again.