AS BOB HOPE used to sing “Thanks for the memories.” No, I’m not thanking any humans this time around, though many have contributed to my memory bank over the years. And no, I’m not saying thanks for the memories because I’m going to quit writing a weekly column. I have no plans for that.

This thank you for the memories is directed to all the wild places and critters that have provided thousands of memorable moments in my life.

I got to thinking about some of those moments this morning, a little before I dragged my sorry retired carcass out of bed at the obscenely early time of 8:30 a.m.

I guess what sparked the memories was the anticipation I woke up with for the upcoming Wisconsin spring turkey season which will begin, for me, six weeks from now.

Thinking back on my first turkey hunting experiences in Missouri back in the ’80s, my first memory was, not surprisingly, one of the morning when I killed my first gobbler. I failed to kill a gobbler during my first week-long hunt in Missouri and it took until the very last morning of the next year’s week of hunting before I finally filled my tag.

As I look at that 231⁄2-pound bird hanging on my wall, something that I take time to do every single day, the memories come flooding back. They are not just memories of that successful Sunday morning hunt, but more importantly, of all the mornings before when I came back to the hunting shack empty-handed.

You see, hunting and fishing, at least for me, is not just about the big fish, trophy buck or limit of ducks you might bring home on any given outing. Sure, success fills a hunter’s or a fisherman’s heart with joy, but the trophy in hand is but a small piece of the memory.

Take that first turkey. Yes, I will always remember the moment when I pulled the trigger for the first of what has become many times on a gobbler, but remembering the absolute beauty of redbud trees and dogwood in full Missouri bloom means just as much to me.

Listening to gobbles and catching catfish, bluegill, crappie and giant largemouth bass out of the farm ponds located on the property where hunting camp was located bring back even more memories. You might think turkey vultures soaring on the wind currents above wouldn’t provide much of a lasting memory, but for me, seeing those ugly old birds for the first time was a unique experience and a memorable one.

I will never forget the first buck I shot when I was 15. Each time I walk through the woods where I got him, despite the fact that the stump I sat on that Thanksgiving morning is long gone, I can pinpoint to the inch where it was as well as the exact place the buck came out of the swamp and along the ridge where he fell.

But even more important to me, I can remember dragging the buck up to a stand where Grandpa Maines was sitting. Perhaps no words ever spoken to me were more meaningful than his when he told me how important it was and how much it meant to him that I got my first buck. His exact words are still firmly embedded in my mind and always will be.

I don’t have a lot of fish and game mounts on my walls. One of them, an 181⁄2-inch brown trout, is a constant reminder of the morning on Elk Creek near Eau Claire back when I was in college, when it became the largest trout I had ever caught at the time though there have been several larger since. It is still the largest I ever caught while fly fishing and to this day, the satisfaction of getting a trophy trout to grab a light Cahill and the thrill of wrestling him out of a rock-strewn, fast-tumbling piece of trout stream is something I will never forget.

The mounted trophies on the walls of my house are trophies in my eyes not because they are the largest, best or most ever taken in my life, but because they represent wonderful memories of special moments in my life.

An 8-pound walleye is the largest I have ever caught of his kind. A 34-inch northern pike reminds me of a wild day in Presque Isle when I caught the biggest fish of the day during an ice fishing tournament, not to mention the wild ride home that evening that took five hours for six young, drunken idiots to return home to Sayner.

My first Canada goose was taken while hiding in standing corn next to a picked corn field near Burnett where several thousand geese, by my estimate, were feeding. My goose was taken from a small flock gliding over my head on the way to join the feeding frenzy.

The cacophony of sound those wild honking and gabbling geese were putting up is equally as important in my memory as is the shot I made to bring down that first goose.

Other geese, ducks and ruffed grouse have fallen, and other fish of many species have grabbed a hook on the end of my line, all of which have left me with memories I will carry with me to my last day. Those memories, over the years, have become an important and permanent part of my life. 

I give thanks for all of them.