The Things We Carry

Sportsmen are often a superstitious lot. We swear by a lure that will always catch one, or a stand that always draws in the deer. Many seasoned sportsmen carry a special item, something that conjures memories of hunts, mentors, or simpler times. I may be able to put a talisman I carry for every season.

Partially emotional and partially effective, I always have a jitterbug in my tackle box. Half the time, I have one loose in my glove box or cup holder. The Arbogast Jitterbug doesn’t cast very well, it snags on everything, and the treble hooks are less than stellar, but that little top water connects me to my childhood.

My summer nights would be spent paddling a canoe with my father and neighbor listening to the tell-tale “blub, blub, blub, blub” of a trolled jitterbug shaking with anticipation of a pickerel, largemouth, or mythical stocked Atlantic salmon. In the 25 years since I was taught how to fish, I’ve probably purchased enough of those poppers to pay several months of mortgage. Every time I hear that pattern stopped by a loud splash; I know it was worth it.

For archery season, I carry my arrows in an old leather quiver. Odds are this thing is as old as me. When I was freshmen in high school, I was introduced to Bob. Bob was older than my dad, and worked for the town in tree management. My interest in making longbows and my family’s wood stove put us in touch. He was an archery nut and greatly amused that I was fixated on using a longbow or recurve instead of my compound for peppering the deer target we had set up in that back yard.

Out of the blue one day, he dropped off the quiver stuffed with old cedar arrows. While most of the arrows have been lost or broken in the years since, every time I synch the strap of the quiver across my chest, I remember the guy who took his free time to teach some kid how to shoot with a stick and string.

In muzzle loader season, my oddball camo is accented with a fleece camouflage bag that I carry. The bag and its contents were carried by a hunter before me. Richard was an old Marine who retired to Florida several years before I became his neighbor. When I first met him, Richard was in failing health. I helped him work on the outside of his house. And when ALS took his ability to move, I would lift him back into his wheelchair when he fell. After he passed, his wife gifted me an ammo can filled with old ammo ammo and a satchel full of black powder tools and components. When I take my Kentucky rifle to the field this season, it will be loaded with his powder and his lead.

And this last item I carry, I would pair with general gun season; but truthfully, it stays at my side during every season. This stout skinning knife from Toledo, Spain, belonged to my friend’s father Mike. Mike was an accomplished shooter and fishing guide. As young men my friend and I soaked up any information or tale he would tell; everything from reloading facts to what type of canoe we should buy. Like many Vietnam veterans, Mike was diagnosed with cancer from any number of the chemicals they worked in and around while in country. He passed away before we ever got to go hunting together.

More than a decade later, a package arrived at my door. To celebrate the birth of my son, my friend had gifted me his father’s knife. From his son’s memory, this knife was purchased at a shop in Toledo when he and Mike traveled across Europe for a family trip. When a discussion about knives or skinning would come up, he would produce this knife with a speed that made us believe it never left his side. I carry it proudly for both its quality and as a celebration of his legacy.

I don’t consider myself a particularly religious person, but I do feel a spiritual connection when in nature. Call that connection of place whatever you will. I feel a connection with those who walked these woods before me, and I know I carry more than just pieces of steel and leather. I carry the memories of the men who guided me to the woods I now walk. I imagine those who have passed may look down and smile at the connection passed on a and remembered by a knife, a bag, a call, or vessel.

I hope you have something of a similar collection. Someday my children will have memories of time afield with friends and family as well. So if you should see a bedraggled and antiquated looking sportsman carrying around three mud-covered children, that’s just me making memories. I’ll see you in the field.

Cameron Bissell is a first generation sportsman and Florida transplant from Massachusetts where he grew up chasing striped bass, errant redcoats and his wife. He’s an active member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and enjoys hunting, fishing, and when successful cooking. If he’s not in the woods or on the water near his home in Naples he can be found transporting one or all of his three kids between activities and the beaches. His outdoor aspirations include catching a yellow fin on spinning gear and hunting elk in Colorado. If he had his way every hunting license would come with a plaid shirt.

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