Morning sun illuminates fall foliage and warms the air as my daughter, Jennifer, and I bump and jostle down the rutted farm road in my old pickup. A youth model, single-shot 20-gauge, muzzle to the floorboard, lies cased between us.
I glance at Jennifer: 12 years old, slender, not quite 5 feet tall, decked out in camouflage and brimming with enthusiasm. Our target is turkeys-reason enough for high spirits-but there's more to this day. Though Jennifer has accompanied me on other hunts, this is the first time she has been the hunter.
As I ponder my hopes for this hunt, thoughts drift to a photograph I have of my great- and great-great grandfather. Taken before the first world war, the studio shot captures a memory shared by father and son. Great-great grandfather, then in his fifties and sporting a broad, handlebar mustache, stands tall and vigorous next to great-grandfather, then a young man. Both men, in hunting clothes, cradle shotguns-guns still in the family. Great great grandfather holds a Parker double-barrel; great-grandfather, a Winchester Model 12. Behind them a triangular game rack hangs heavy with quail. In front, lying on a rug, is their red setter, head up and eyes alert.
Hunting has been central to my family's close bonds, molding generations of fathers and sons, granddaughters and grandfathers into lifelong friends.
With Jennifer I've hoped and planned for the same, nurturing her interest in animals and the outdoors since she was a toddler.
Thoughts return to today as I pull up and park next to a rusted hay rake overgrown with weeds. Jennifer, wearing a broad smile, hops out and is standing on my side of the truck before I have a chance to open the door.
"Do you think I'll get a turkey today, Dad?" she asks.
"No guarantees," I respond honestly as I step from the truck. "But last week while scouting I saw a flock of 17 young turkeys right over there on that hill." Wide-eyed, Jennifer carefully studies where I point.
With gear assembled and double-checked we head in that direction. The farm, a 200-acre mix of fields and woods in the foothills of the Missouri Ozarks, offers good turkey hunting, but it can prove a strenuous walk.
"Keep it fun for someone whose legs are half as long as yours," I remind myself. I let Jennifer set the walking pace, and I keep a sharp eye on her firearm. Though she carries her hinge-action