Looking back now, it is not difficult to see the progression in men as they age and acquire a little wisdom.

The first time that I noticed it was in Dr. Bill Whetsell. It was at his knee that I learned of outdoor bonding with men of a similar cloth.

Every year between Christmas and New Year’s, “Doc” would have a week-long campout and hunt at Otter Pond in the Four Holes Swamp. Hundreds of men and boys would come and go as they pleased while he and his brothers and nephew would see that they had transportation, opportunity and food.

Dr. Whetsell and Mr. Hamp wouldn’t really hunt. They were the hunt masters and with the help of Alva and Mr. Glen and many others, they would afford us the opportunity to hunt duck, deer, dove, rabbit and coon over a revolving 24-hour period.

As a young boy I could hunt, eat and sleep anytime I wanted for the better part of a week. I had no idea of the expense and the logistics involved.

I purchased my initial piece of land some 25 years ago. It was for investment purposes mainly. Over time I came to realize what a diamond-in-the-rough I had and learned to appreciate the amount of game that occasionally used the property.

The food sources were seasonal and so the deer and turkeys would come and go with the seasons. In an attempt to hold a few animals, I bought a small Massey Ferguson tractor and about beat myself and that little tractor to pieces scratching out food plots and firebreaks.

As time rolled on, I was able to add to my land holdings and manage a little timber. Many government programs require that a participant set aside a certain amount of land for wildlife food plots, which fit my needs, and so with more to do, the expense and necessary equipment and investment in time became larger.

As an old friend once told me sometimes it's about the “getting and not the having." I met a young lady a decade ago who really took to the outdoor world. She became the driving force that again peeked my interest in really managing my farm for its optimum potential in both timber production and wildlife management. Now she is my wife.

I also have friends with children who are becoming of age and it’s a joy to see them take an interest in the blood sports and nature in general.

My niece became and avid hunter after she survived cancer surgery and chemotherapy. I remember what it was like to become an enthusiastic hunting novice. Even into my early 30s, it was all about the killing. It was about the chance to put your hands on an animal that you downed and the chance to share your accomplishment with friends.

Now it is about affording the opportunity to others. It is about the challenge of producing trophy animals in a place that hasn’t offered any in the past. It is a painfully slow process.

We have determined in the past that you have three variables in producing trophy bucks: genetics, age and nutrition. I can control the age and nutrition and can influence which genetics dominate to a certain extent.

During the onslaught of the hundred-degree heat of South Carolina summers, I think about the cool days of autumn. When it comes to shelling out a wad of cash for fertilizer, chemicals or machinery, I think of the smiles on those faces on the camp bulletin board. It sounds like sacrifice, but it really isn’t. It is doing what I love most in life.

I don’t want to seem like something I am not. I do this mostly for me. I enjoy having company around the camp. I enjoy seeing those I love and like smiling with a sense of accomplishment.

When I have a friend who takes a good deer or I call in a gobbler for a novice friend, I take pride in producing the best animal possible.

I like seeing the clean, tall timber that I planted when I was a young man.

I like seeing my food plot grow and thicken and then thin as the animals make use of the nutrients. No, I can’t take credit for being selfless.

You see I haven’t made it to the status yet of a Doc Whetsell, but slowly and surely I am becoming less of a hunter and more of a gamekeeper.

Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.

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