By Douglas Franklin, Memphis, Tenn.
Hunting camps and trips and traditions had been mostly about men most of our lives. Fathers and sons and hunting buddies, and weekends away from wives and daughters and sisters. It’s just the way things were. And then we had daughters.
Two fair-haired, blue-eyed children who loved all things pink and purple, but were all about blaze orange and old-school camo, too. Ballet and bird dogs, cheerleading and duck hunting. It wasn’t a conversation we ever really had, or even a negotiation. It just kind of happened. Maybe just because they were always included.
Maggie was the first born, and everything seemed to come naturally for her—school, social events, sports. She was taller than most of the boys in grade school, and a three-sport athlete at her all-girls high school, home to the first all-girls trap shooting team in the state.
We didn’t have a trap gun when she signed up, just bird guns. But she picked up my Remington 870 like it was made for her, and with its fixed full choke, started breaking targets way past where most shooters were pulling the trigger. It wasn’t orthodox, but it worked.
Grace came at things from a different direction. She arrived six years after Maggie—and six weeks early—and was a scrapper from day one. She studied harder, and had to work harder on the athletic field, too. She was 6 inches shorter than her sister, but she was fast and determined.
When it was Grace’s turn to join the trap team, the 870 was too big and too much. We settled on an economical Beretta, and then spent everything we’d saved to have it fitted to her. But in her first two seasons, she never broke more than 75 targets out of 100 ... until someone finally noticed that she was left-eye dominant. With the addition of a small patch on the left lens of her shooting glasses, she was off to the races, always on or near the podium, and fifth in the state her senior year.
Both sisters are still excellent shots, having inherited their ability from their Louisiana granddad, a trap and skeet state champion in his teens. And they really shine when the birds are wild and on the wing.
Maggie went off to Ole Miss and stayed there as long as she could. There are stories of her schooling the frat boys on clay targets thrown out over Sardis Lake, but she rarely came home to hunt.
Grace planned to go away to college, too, but surprised us when she accepted a scholarship to her hometown school, the University of Memphis. She lives in her sorority house and is just five minutes from her big sister, 20 minutes from her mom’s hugs and 30 minutes from the duck blind. And she watches the weather forecast like a hawk for chances to hunt on mornings when she doesn’t have classes.
Maggie is married and teaches fourth grade, so her schedule isn’t as flexible. And Grace doesn’t rub it in. They didn’t compete with each other growing up. One was always in the bleachers cheering for the other. This season was like that, too. When Grace brought another limit of mallards out of the woods in the middle of the week, Maggie was quick to congratulate her, and quietly hoping for a hunt like that on the weekend. It never really lined up like that, but Maggie was a good sport, still happy just to be out there when she could, and introduce her new pup “Manning” to all of the new sights and sounds.
On a slow Saturday morning in January, we let him bounce around the blind while we got set up, and then let our attention drift. The ducks were scarce, and the geese were trading back and forth but way out of range, when one group suddenly swung temptingly close and just above the treetops.
We hadn’t shot at a goose all season, and we hadn’t fired a shot all morning. No one moved or said a word. They just looked over at me with eyes that asked, “Can we?!”
I nodded, and they rose together, their guns coming smoothly to their cheeks, their eyes on the honking, twisting flock of snow geese.
Grace wobbled her bird but it kept going. Maggie dropped hers right in the middle of the duck decoys.
It was the only bird we knocked down that day, but a rare prize for us on the edge of the timber.
Grace was happy for her big sister. Maggie was one big grin. And just like that, the scales were even again, out there in the middle of the migration, with their matching smiles, camo caps and a hint of purple nail polish.
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