In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about my biggest influences in my hunting life. The first one is my dad, who taught me the basics of hunting ethics and laid a good foundation to build on.
The other major influence, and the one that this blog post is dedicated to, was Kent Jarvis. When I was a kid, my dad managed a hunt club in Woodstock Illinois, and let me tell you that as a kid who loved the outdoors it was the ultimate playground. Kent was hired there as a goose hunting guide, and being that he was retired it was a good fit for him. Kent was a personable and friendly guy, hard working, and could run a goose call like no one I’ve ever seen.
He had made custom cabinets professionally, so he was great at wood working. In fact he would make Christmas gifts for those of us he hunted with, and I have various gifts given to me by him from handmade nightstand boxes, to wooden Christmas ornaments and a cutting board he hand made. I even have a few goose calls he made, which I don’t hunt with but have a special place in my home.
Kent telling us one of his many stories during a lull in the hunt…..”I’ll tell you what dude….”
Another skill Kent had that became very apparent once you were around him was he could tell stories. He never knew a stranger, and could strike up a conversation with anyone about damn near anything. Once the hunt began it seemed like he never stopped talking, unless of course he dozed off in the blind. In fact, he could be in the middle of a story and someone could spot birds, he would pause while we worked or even shot the birds, and once the interruption was over he could pick his story right back up where he left off, as if he had never stopped. He had a gift of gab so to speak, and I know through the years I had heard a few of his best ones a few times over. Every hunt we would be listening to one of his stories as he told them to a new hunter to the group that had not heard it yet, and those of us who had heard the story a time or two before would look at each other laughing and say,
“That old man.”
Kent’s dog Otto, with one of our most successful hunts, which took place shortly after Kent’s bypass surgery.
As long as I had known Kent, he had hunted over these bearded dogs called Drahthaars, commonly refered to as German Wirehair Pointers. The first one I remembered him having was named Toby, and he was a phenomenal dog. That dog went everywhere with Kent, he was Kent’s constant companion.
When Toby passed away, Kent was crushed, to the point that he swore he’d never have another dog again. Well his loving wife Rose Ann got him another male Drahthaar, because she knew the bond that Kent had with Toby needed to be reestablished. While he wasn’t Toby, this new pup Otto could hold his own. Once again Kent had a dog that went everywhere with him, and he too was a hell of a dog. Otto would actually share Kent’s layout blind with him, curled up on his legs waiting for the command to retrieve. They made quite a pair, both with their gray beards, cuddled up and warm in their blind together. Kent would tell us that a bonus of having the dog was he kept Kent warm in the blind in the winter. We would shake our heads and laugh saying to each other,
“That old man.”
Kent was a bird hunter to his core, but waterfowl hunting took precedent over upland for him. He was a passionate waterfowl hunter, and he was a wealth of information given his experience. He told me that shortly after his retirement he followed the migration from Canada beginning in September and hunted all the way to the southern reaches of Texas for the spring snow goose season. He said he loved doing it and was glad he did it, but boy was it exhausting.
He knew so much about waterfowl and their behavior, he could tell what birds were gonna work and what ones weren’t. Kent used to tell us,
“Boys, in my experience when geese fly nose to tail like that in a line, you can’t call them.” We didn’t believe him at first because, hey what difference does that make? But we have experienced it first hand, and use that line to this day as an homage to him, and usually follow it up with a chuckle and,
“That old man.”
In 2009 one of our bean fields flooded, which led to an abundance of ducks hitting the flooded spot. Being that we mostly deal with dry field goose hunting, we jumped on the opportunity to get into some ducks. Me and my buddies Ben and Mark extended an invitation to Kent and my dad to come with us. Well what we didn’t anticipate was how difficult the walk in with all our gear was going to be. To make matters even more serious, over the summer Kent had had a 5 way bypass surgery. Yes you read that right, a five way bypass. This was also his second bypass of his life. Well, he kept pace with us younger guys, carrying the heavy loads of the panel blind, decoys and personal gear, and never complained once. Mark, Ben and I were beat doing all of that, and we couldn’t imagine how Kent felt. In true Kent fashion he never let on how he felt. We shot a mess of ducks that day, had an absolute blast, and that hunt is one of my fondest memories of hunting with Kent and the boys. The years following that, he would continually try to keep pace with us, to the point we finally had to say,
“Kent, you’ve earned the right to take it easy, we got it.” He followed it up saying,
“I don’t want to be a burden.” That’s how his mind worked, he would work just as hard to not put the burden on someone else. It got to the point that Ben told me one time,
“Kent has to take it easy, because if he has a heart attack out here, and we have to do mouth to mouth waiting for help to arrive, I think I’ll be too upset to do it.” It was a feeling all of us had, so we tried to force Kent to take it easy. He would just go on, carrying heavy loads, and we’d shake our heads and say,
“That old man. ”
In 2012 Kent paid me the ultimate compliment that still gets to me as I write this almost six years later. He and I were on the phone together during the season, and while I don’t remember the reason for the call (probably making plans for an upcoming hunt) what he told me will stick with me for the rest of my life. He told me,
“Ya know Ryan, I tried to get all of my kids involved in hunting, and none of them showed any interest. I’m glad I got you into it, and you became so passionate about it, and now as a 27 year old man you still ask this 75 year old to go along with you. Makes me feel good I could pass it on to at least you.”
I remember responding,
“Well Kent, the only thing about that is, you’re the one to blame for all the money I have spent all these years on this hobby!” He laughed at this and accepted the blame wholeheartedly. This was one of the most heart to heart conversations we had, and you could hear the genuine love in his voice. I remember hanging up from that conversation realizing how strong the bond was between us, he was more than a mentor, he was family.
That old man.
A few weeks later, on December 16, 2012 I was visiting my dad in the hospital. My phone rang, and the hen mallard quacking ring tone told me it was Kent, so I silenced it. I did this because he and I had hunting plans the next day so I figured it was him calling to finalize the plans. I would call him back when I was done. As my wife and I walked out of the hospital I opened my voicemail, expecting to hear his joyful voice. What I heard instead was his wife Rose Ann telling me she needed me to call her. I hit redial on the missed call and heard Rose Ann answer,
“Hey Ryan, it’s Rose Ann, I’m sorry to tell you this, but Kent died this morning while out hunting.” You could hear the pain in her voice, but she kept her composure, the strong woman she is.
My heart dropped and I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. I stopped walking towards the car, and my wife turned and looked at me, seeing the look on my face. Somehow I was able to keep it together and told Rose Ann,
“I am so sorry Rose Ann, is there anything I can do? Is someone there with you?” She told me someone was there, and she would let me know the details of what was next, because Kent didn’t want a funeral. When we hung up, I told my wife we needed to go back in and tell my dad. We walked back into my dad’s hospital room, and his surprise that we were back was replaced with grief when I told him the news. I kept it together up until we got back in the car, and then I lost it.
My wife drove while I took on the responsibility of telling our little group of hunting buddies, guys who had come to know Kent through me, and who all adored him as well. Each conversation was short, as each guy wrestled with what they were told, there was plenty of cursing, plenty of shock, and one phrase was repeated,
“That old man.”
Kent had suffered a heart attack while out hunting with two buddies, Vito and Brad. They had been done for the the day, and were negotiating a shallow channel between two lakes which required pushing and pulling the boat. When they got the boat into the open water, Vito and Brad were ribbing Kent about not getting the boat started back up to head back to the dock. When they looked they saw him slumped in his seat, so they knew something happened. Vito, having EMT training, began CPR while Brad started the boat and called 911 to have an ambulance meet them at the dock. Despite their best efforts, Kent was gone.
As cliche as it sounds, Kent died doing what he loved, with people that he loved. I’ve hunted that lake with Kent before and know the amount of effort it takes to move that boat in that mud and muck. In fact, he and I were supposed to hunt there together the next day, just him and me. Knowing Kent, he was right there with the guys, helping out.
That old man.
Kent’s good friend Jason put together a memorial service for Kent in February of 2013. It was held at Vito’s restaurant Guiseppe’s La Cantina in Des Plaines Illinois. Kent’s wife, children, twin brother Trent (yes he has a twin brother, and let me tell you there is definitely no denying they are twins) and the friends he and Rose Ann had made over the years all came together in rememberance of him. There were plenty of laughs recalling stories of Kent or retellings of the numerous stories we had heard from Kent, pictures on display, and the shared knowledge of how this one man impacted us all.
One thing that truly led to not a dry eye in the place was Vito playing a recording of the hunt that fateful day. In it you can hear calling, and then Kent’s voice as he decided on a course of action for the working birds. You could hear the passion in his voice, from that point on just a memory. Jason had hats made in rememberance of Kent, and also faux leg bands inscribed in his memory. I wear no other hat now when I am hunting, and the leg band sits proudly on my lanyard. It was a truly touching experience, to meet others who had been positively influenced by this one man.
Kent’s Krowd was a phrase Kent had had put on some hats he had made for friends. Seemed fitting for that phrase to be put on his memorial hats his good friend Jason had made.
Jason also had faux leg bands made, in honor of the memory of Kent. Inscribed on the band was Kent’s go to phrase; “It is what it is”.
Kent had such a profound impact on me, both as a mentor and as a friend. The values he taught me, the life lessons he made sure to pass on to me, hunting related or not, all have helped make me who I am. I miss not calling him, just to shoot the shit, or to make plans for an upcoming hunt. We would call each other, comparing notes of what we saw bird wise or to just see how each other’s family was doing.
I still make a point to call Rose Ann and check in with her. We call back and forth when time allows, and we always seem to get ahold of each other when the waterfowling season is approaching. She has had to put old Otto dog down, but, in true fashion she now has another Wirehair pup, named Buckshot (Kent’s nickname for his son).
There are plenty of other Kent stories I could write in this post, but as it is this one is lengthy. Chances are, however, if you share a blind with me and my buddies, you may hear a Kent story or two, as he always seems to come up. He may be gone, but his memory is always with us, whenever a flock of geese makes that fateful turn, or ducks drop like rocks to the spread. Whenever something happens that reminds us of him, we chuckle and say,
“I miss that old man.”