A Man Named Don
Russ Chastain 11.27.19
A man could do worse than helping a young hunter find his way, but I don’t know that he could do much better.
Shortly before I became a deer hunter at the ripe old age of 13, I met a man named Don Poyet. He worked at the same company as my father, but when I first saw him he was dressed in woodland camouflage, trudging down a dirt road with a heavy tree stand on his back and a compound bow in his hand. The weather was hot.
My father was driving, and he drove right on by the hapless hunter. He later claimed he hadn’t recognized Don in his hunting duds. I’m not sure Don bought it, but there wasn’t much he could do but gripe about his long and sweaty walk.
Dad and I had made the two-hour drive to check out Art’s camp, where we would be hunting come deer season. Then we’d driven to the woods to find Art and Don.
I was the youngster of the crew. I’d been hunting small game for a couple years with the battered and much-worn Lefever Nitro Special 410 double-barrel shotgun my father had given me, but this season I would begin carrying a rifle and hunting for deer. Dad was not an archery hunter, and we would not begin hunting until gun season.
Hunting deer with my father and those fellows was a highlight of my life. I was entering my teens and needed some good influences and proper outlets for my teenage, er, “energies.” Hunting was it, and the best part was that the menfolks treated me as more of an equal than a boy.
Somehow, Don resonated with me. Perhaps it was that he gave me my first set of camo clothing, an old pair of pants and lightweight shirt in the woodland camo pattern. As a DIYer even with needle and thread, I took in the waist of the pants so they’d fit my skinny waist and happily wore them every time I went hunting.
I probably still have those clothes buried somewhere in a box of precious hunting memories which I refuse to throw away.
Back then, I held a great dislike for vegetables. Taters were okay, meat was great, but vegetables were gross and deserved only to be washed unchewed down the gullet with great gulps of milk when my parents insisted I “clean my plate.” But somehow, Don talked me into actually trying green beans. How he convinced this stubborn kid I still don’t know, but once I actually tried and tasted a green bean, I fell in love with the things.
Truth be told, there still aren’t many veggies I enjoy, but green beans remain my favorite almost 40 years later.
I can’t explain the connection between a man almost of retirement age and myself, but there was some sort of understanding and empathy going on between Don and me. He remembered what it was like to be a kid, and most of us forget about that once we grow up.
One morning, I was cleaning and installing my contact lenses over the sink, which was still heaped with the dirty dishes of the night before. I dropped one of the little soft transparent plastic lenses into that heap of crud, and to me that was pretty much the end of the world. But ol’ Don picked through that mess until he found my contact! What a hero.
Not that Don was always beloved by myself and others, especially when he was the first to bed and the first to awake — then strutted around camp banging pots and pans next to our bunks, bellowing out the lyrics to “Elvira,” and giggling at the cussings he received from the snoring menfolk.
Don was a turkey-calling master. He could take a leaf and hold it between his fingers, and blow on it to somehow make the most turkish of turkey calls. Eventually he grew weary of hunting for just the right leaf, so he cut an elliptical piece of thick visqueen plastic and sanded the edges thin, and kept that in his wallet. With it, he could sound more like a turkey than most turkeys.
But Don knew his way around the hunting woods. He had a Browning Superposed over/under shotgun that looked a lot like Dad’s, except Don had carved notches into his shotgun’s stock. Each notch represented a deer or turkey he’d slain with the old twin-stacker. So when Don gave some hunting advice, I listened. I can still remember him advising me that, whenever I thought I might be hearing my quarry approach, that was the time to get my gun shouldered or get my bow in my hand, so I’d be ready to take a shot with very little movement. That advice helped me take my first deer, and many more over the years.
It didn’t help me the first time I had a chance to take a buck, though. I was 17 by then, a high school senior, and had been hunting in my own climbing stand for a few years. When the buck arrived, I stupidly stared at it. It looked up at me as if to say, “Well?” and I just sat there quivering like so much Jell-O as it stepped into the brush and disappeared forever.
Nobody at camp hassled me. They all knew buck fever and could understand it. I was the hardest on myself. I’d worked for years to get that opportunity, then I’d utterly failed to take the shot.
As usual, Don had the best thing to say about it. He sympathized with me, then his eyes lit up with kindness as he said, “But just think if you had shot that buck! You hunting with all these old men, and you would be the one who got a deer! That would have really been something!”
Don gave me encouragement in the midst of my anguish, and I have always appreciated it.
Don didn’t hunt with us much after that season. He retired and moved north to the Florida panhandle and we didn’t see much of him. But when I got my first buck the following season, one of the first calls I made was to him. It could be that he was just as proud as I was.
Years later when Don passed away, I wept at the loss. We hadn’t spoken in years and after all he was an old man, but the world became a poorer place without his generous soul encouraging others.
Don was a good hunter and a fine man, and perhaps the best thing he ever did was encourage young folks to become more than they thought they could.
God bless such men forever and always.