Practicing for Dove Season!

We had a weekend’s worth of fun with both grandsons at the Swimming Hole, which is The Place To Be in the August heat. Water comes out of my well at 68 degrees, and we keep that valve cracked in August.

Uncle Dee had a couple months ago introduced water pistols to the youngsters gathered at the Swimming Hole, and Grandson Sir (Sean Robert Irwin, but the last initial goes in the middle, for monograms) had appropriated them for our water play, sneaking up on his Grunk (short for Granddaddy Uncle Bob) to splat me, or both of us sneaking up dog paddling on objects in the pool. On Saturday afternoon, the thunderheads threatened from a distance, and the snake doctors (dragonflies) just swarmed in the humidity, all around the pool, pasture, and nearby yard. Sir immediately saw the opportunity for target practice, and informed me of the plot. We refilled our guns and advanced from the water to the shade of an oak, where it seemed the biggest congregation of snake doctors (also called mosquito hawks) hovered.

Whether one is a grown-up or not, one cannot shoot a water pistol at a target without making the standard “Kiirr, kirr, kirr” imitation of a gunshot. Doots (Betsy’s Grandmother name) was tending Nil (Neill Leiton Irwin: ditto on mongrams) in the shade of the big cypress by the Swimming Hole, and they were initially started by the barrage of water-pistol shots from close by. “You can’t hide from me!” bellowed Sir at his prey (where’d he get that?). I actually got pretty close to several snake doctors with my first shots, and began taking more careful aim, thinking that dove season is only a few weeks away, and this was a less expensive tune-up than shooting clay pigeons in the pasture, like we usually do, “Turning money into noise,” as Mountain Willy used to call it.

“I’m outa bullets!” the leader of our posse called (he actually had a stick horse that Doots had made, complete with eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and mane sewn on a stuffed-sock head). “Back to the water!” he ordered, and we charged back into chest-deep water to reload. Moments later, he directed another charge into the midst of the enemy, firing at the darting insects, who after several successive forays seemed to catch the spirit of things, and actually looked like they were darting into our shots – or maybe our lead angles were just getting better. Sir was obviously catching onto a sense of ballistics!

When I was a kid, we gained our understanding of ballistics from whacking with sticks the bumblebees that hovered and darted about the cypress barn, houses, and commissary store on the plantation. Brer Beau was good enough for college baseball, having trained on bumblebees as a youngster. I whacked my share too, but the right-hand, left-hand thing got me. I made my mark in football.

Which I now was beginning to remember from my youth, too: we had to run and practice in the August heat to get in shape for the season, and Sir was a whole lot less tired than I was after a few dozen windsprints from pool to pasture and back to reload – which I began to stretch as long as I could, to the distress of my posse leader: “Come on, Grunk!” he urged.

Thankfully, the snake doctors were attracted to the pool as the afternoon waned, and we were able to designate a target-rich environment over the water which I, as a former Navy Gunnery Officer, was able to appreciate a lot more!

Much later in the afternoon we gravitated to BB gun practice, shooting at cans that did not hover and dart about. Yet I had to wonder: how could we market commercially this practice for getting ready for wing-shooting, which is right around the corner? Does Remington make a water-shotgun?

If not, here’s an opportunity for new businesses!

But lighten up on the Grunk, as far as pasture windsprints are concerned!

Where Did They All Come From?

I was relaxing out in the hammock the other day (with my eyes open) and caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. At the side of the patio, a chipmunk was doing something with a big pecan, sort of rolling it along. The nut was almost too big for him to get the whole thing in his mouth, although he was trying hard. He’d get it situated just right, make about three hops toward his burrow, and the pecan would pop out, sometimes at right angles to where he was headed. It was an entertaining few minutes, until he finally got the nut to the edge of the hole, where he rolled it in and followed it out of sight. Only a moment later, he popped out of the burrow like a cork, and took off for the pecan tree behind the Store, our guesthouse. I guess he was headed to get another. I thought about walking around to the pecan in the front yard, which has smaller nuts, but then thought, what the heck, he probably enjoyed the challenge. Sort of like hunting for a big buck.

After he left, I tried to recall when I saw my first chipmunk here at Brownspur. We didn’t have them in the Delta when I was a kid, though I had seen them when I visited Jackson, and saw many when I was courting Betsy, who was from Lexington, in the hills.

I had it: Adam was about eight, and we were rabbit hunting along the Mammy Grudge, almost to the old Cemetery, when the beagles struck and turned back toward us. We stopped at the top of the ditchbank, watching for the canecutter to come our way, when the boy punched me and pointed. “What’s that, Daddy?” he asked.

A hackberry tree was growing out of the side of the bank below us, and the first crotch was at our eye level. In that crotch were two chipmunks, obviously watching us and for the approaching beagles with some trepidation. That was in the late seventies, and those were the first chipmunks I had ever seen in the Delta. Why did they come here then?

Big Robert was killed in a wreck in 1983, and he never saw a fire ant mound on Brownspur. Later that fall, I was watching for squirrels in a pignut thicket by the north newground, and noticed a mound at the edge of the grass. I kicked it, and just about then a squirrel barked, so I froze, looking for it. Before I got to a shooting position, my leg was on fire! That was my first introduction to fire ants, and 25 years later, they’re all over!

My father also never saw a coyote east of the River, though we had seen both coyotes and wolves on the islands for years. Now, it’s not uncommon to hear three packs on a clear night in the fall, and we can’t keep yard cats, nor let beagles run loose. Back then, we had a real problem with wild dogs, and had to kill over 100 of them after B.C. was mauled by a pack. After we thinned out the wild dogs, was when we began to see a few coyotes, or even an obvious dog-coyote cross (some of those were awful-looking!). Maybe the wild dogs kept the coyote population in check. Nowadays, we hardly ever see wild dogs, so I reckon the coyotes kill them off, now that they outnumber them.

When I was a kid, we used to go over to the Island in the River, and ride around shooting armadillos. The King of the Island ran horses and cattle, and claimed that the livestock would break legs stepping in armadillo holes, so he encouraged their extinction. Not to be. Now the “Armored Possums” are across the Mighty Muddy, and Betsy regularly fights them for digging up her flower beds. Yet I never saw one east of the River until I was grown, and now they have replaced possums as the Number One Roadkill.

Catfish pond farming has engendered the appearance and proliferation of many aquatic species, especially birds. I never saw a kingfisher until I was grown, except when fishing in the coastal marshes of Mississippi and Louisiana. Now one comes by the Swimming Hole on a regular basis. A hurricane blew a bunch of seagulls this far north 15 or 20 years ago, and they have stayed, though I don’t know the correct term for a seagull this far away from the sea. Cormorants were at one time classed as an endangered species, I understand, but now they are pests for catfish farmers, literally eating up profits.

Nutria migrated up the streams from the coast, and now you can hear the mewing of those big water rats any night in the Mammy Grudge or the swamp woods. I had seen alligators here at Brownspur when I was young, and while they still aren’t common, we see them, or their trails in the swamp, now and then. I’ve heard they were released here in the Delta to try to keep down the beaver population, after the same folks released beavers back into this country in the fifties.

Times change, people change, and the wildlife changes.

Wonder if chipmunks are good to eat? Especially if you fatten them up on pecans!


I was tooling along back home the other day, and caught a glimpse of something on the side of the road that I instinctively declared, “A leopard?!” and slammed on the brakes. Nothing was coming, and we so seldom see roadkill leopards, even out at Brownspur, that I wanted to examine this one more closely. Sure enough, it was a golden color, with very distinctive black spots. But it had a bobbed tail. I estimated it weighed close to 40 pounds, which would make it a very big bobcat, which is obviously what it was.

Of course, it had been hit by a vehicle some several hours before, and it was 100 degrees, so some unnatural swelling was present, yet I could tell by the length and height that it was an exceptionally large bobcat, of a most unusual color. Generally, our bobcats are brownish-gray with spots that blend in more than they stand out. The ruff around this cat’s neck was somewhat darker than gold, more tawny. He was absolutely beautiful, and my first thought was to get him into a freezer, then to a taxidermist.

That thought lasted just as long as it took me to roll him over with my foot. WOW!

A skunk’s perfume is nectar, compared to the stink I unleashed! I jumped back in the pickup, gagging, and stomped the accelerator. A half mile down the road, I pulled over again and got out to wipe the bottoms of my shoes on the roadside grass, but there was no residue on my shoes – it was just a lasting odor!

Another mile with the windows down, and I was finally able to breathe. Yet it struck me: what a waste! This was the most beautiful bobcat I was ever going to see, probably, and there was no choice but to let him rot by the roadside. Nor would I have shot him, if he had come by while I was in the woods on deer stand, for I’ve never been one to shoot predators, except wild dogs and coyotes. I’d rather watch them, and have saved up many wonderful memories of bobcats, wolves, panthers (which the Game & Fish people say we don’t have, so these were probably figments of my imagination), Russian boars, bear, alligators, red & timber wolves, and the lesser predators: coons, foxes, possums, mink, otters, skunks and others, right here within 50 miles of Brownspur!

Later on that day, I saw a big coyote lying beside the highway as I traveled north. I didn’t stop for it, nor mourn, as I had for the bobcat. Coyotes have become such a pest out here at Brownspur…. Well, having said that, let me back up and say that they used to be such pests out here at Brownspur, but someone or something has solved that problem for the past few months. We’ve not heard the coyote packs this summer like in years past, when one could step outside late at night and hear three packs running simultaneously. Don’t know what’s happened, unless a neighbor has taken drastic measures. We did have some professional coyote trappers come through last winter, and maybe they did a number on our local population.

One early May morning, my neighbor across the road shot, obviously a deer rifle, and then came over to explain. “I was sitting there drinking coffee, and saw something move in the cane patch in front of your well tank. It walked out and stretched, like it was just getting up, and made its morning constitutional as I scrambled for the binoculars, thinking it was a dog. It wasn’t – it was a big coyote, and he must have spent the night in your cane patch, right in front of your house! Then he starts trotting up the turnrow that runs by my house, and I reached for my rifle. That was the shot you heard: he won’t be spending the night in your cane any more!”

That’s getting ‘way too familiar with human habitation, but explains why we haven’t been able to keep cats around the house.

Yet I got to cogitating: I didn’t atall mind seeing the coyote roadkill, and actually appreciated Jim shooting the bold one in my cane patch, but I actively grieved for the bobcat by the side of the road. Nor would I have been offended if he had shot a big bobcat coming out of my cane patch, in order to mount it. I wouldn’t do that myself, but I understand if other hunters want to, in order to preserve the beauty of the animal for their own den and family pleasure.

Of course, it’s nobody’s fault, when they hit a bobcat, or coyote, or deer, with a speeding car. Usually, there’s no time to dodge, and dodging is dangerous. But there is no harm in grieving for the beauty that has been taken from us, when that happens. Selah.

Lyme Disease in the South (this’un’s long)

It was summertime, and I was driving through town with my truck window down, when a lady from church hailed me. I pulled over, and she sashayed up to the truck. “You know, you’re always writing about Lyme Disease? Well, I’ve found out how to keep the ticks off. You need to tell all the hunters about this!”
I’m always ready to admit my ignorance and acquire new knowledge, so I pulled out my pen and a notebook. “Shoot!” I said.
“My husband and I were over at the lake this weekend cleaning up the yard, and when he showered that night, he hollered for me to come in there. He was covered up with ticks! We picked over a hundred off of him, then I took my shower and we checked me for ticks, but there were only a few on me. Know what the difference was?” she demanded.
Now, I have noticed lots of differences between men and women, which don’t even include showers. Mental pictures were bouncing around in my head, but I suppressed them and replied innocently, “No, Ma’am. Why?”
She hiked her skirt a few inches. “Panty hose!” she crowed triumphantly. “I had on panty hose, and he didn’t. Obviously, ticks can’t get a grip on them and sure can’t get up under them. You tell those hunters to wear panty hose, at least until it frosts!”
Now, I generally try to stay away from empirical statements like that, but she said to tell the rest of y’all. No, I ain’t tried it myownself. It’s a little late for me to prevent Lyme.
Over 30 years ago, I apparently got bitten by a tick, or maybe cleaned a game animal that was infected with Lyme Disease, and got it into my blood that way. At any rate, I contracted Lyme Disease, and it went after me arthritically, if that’s a word.
Whatever, I got it, and it went to the bone — and joints! With at least 24 broken bones and a dozen other joint injuries, I was an ideal host for Lyme arthritis. Since it was normal for me to hurt, especially in the wintertime, no one thought anything about it getting worse. I didn’t even go to see the doctor, not for the arthritis, anyway. When I did mention it, while in the office for something else, his reply was to be expected — indeed, my own mother had said the same thing: “Son, you just played too much football; you’ve got terminal arthritis: it ain’t gonna kill you, but you’re gonna die with it!” By the tenth year, I was taking a couple dozen painkillers — aspirin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, BC Powder, whatever — a day during the wintertime, when cold weather made the pain and stiffness worse.
Then I was assigned an article on Lyme Disease by a national magazine, which I turned down, initially. I told the editor, “I don’t do that kind of writing; you call Neill, you get humor!”
“Fine,” he agreed. “Write us a humorous article on Lyme Disease, and we’ll pay you a thousand bucks for it.”
“I can do that!” I exclaimed, and went to researching.
It was like one of the old cartoons, where someone snaps on a light bulb. After two days of research, I suddenly realized, “Dad blame! I’ve got all these symptoms!” I got out of the computer as quickly as possible, jumped in the truck, and headed for the hospital. Bear in mind that this was in 1989. I walked up to a nurse and demanded, “Take some blood from me and test it for Lyme Disease!”
“What’s that?” was the response.
No one had really heard of it down here. It was supposed to be a Northeastern thing. The sickness was first misdiagnosed as an outbreak of juvenile arthritis in and around the city of Old Lyme, Connecticut, back in the early to mid seventies. Further testing revealed that the disease was being caused by a spirochete bacteria, which actually invades the human cell, making it extremely hard to knock out. While one of the main vectors for Lyme is the deer tick, the bacteria has been found in all types of ticks, and most blood-sucking insects, like mosquitoes, horseflies, fleas, and lice. These other hosts, however, can only transmit the organism by going almost directly from one victim to another host, whereas ticks can keep it in their systems for weeks. An outbreak of Lyme in Philadelphia was traced back to fleas from the highly Lyme-infected rat population in that city. Killing the rats cured the Lyme epidemic.
One can also contract Lyme from the blood of an infected animal, and research has shown that an animal is six times more likely to have Lyme than a human. The symptoms are the same: fatigue, depression, arthritis. Interestingly enough for a dog man, it’s hard to tell when a cat has Lyme, because “cats are so lethargic anyway,” as one vet put it.
I spent six weeks gathering information on Lyme Disease, but was unable to find a doctor who professed to know enough about it to treat it. In desperation, I finally called the Lyme Borreliosis Foundation in Connecticut and asked for the closest doctor to Brownspur that they knew would recognize, diagnose, and treat Lyme Disease. There was a Dr. George McCullars in Mobile, and I said, “Fine, that’s close enough,” and headed South. Indeed, I did have Lyme, one of the highest positives he’d ever seen, and he started me on long-term antibiotics. I took 200 mg a day of Doxycycline beginning in late June, and didn’t come completely off of it until April, but it knocked it out, though the organism will always be in my blood (and I’m not supposed to give blood any more). Almost a year later, he told me in wonder, “You’re the only tertiary Lyme patient I know who has apparently been cured.” I will always have the sleep disorder, and short-term memory loss (which they now believe is connected), but I haven’t had an aspirin for arthritis pain in years! Oh, I still have places that hurt, especially where the pins are, but not all over, all the time, like before!
Let me insert right here, that if you are placed on long-term antibiotics, you will probably experience intestinal difficulties. See, the antibiotics kill all the bacteria in your system, and there’s some good-guy bacteria in your intestines that belongs to stay there. If you will drink buttermilk or eat active-culture yogurt, it will reculture those good-guy bacteria, and you’ll be a lot more comfortable. Another tip, for victims with the sleep disorder: I take a couple of benedryl when I go to bed at night. Knocks the edge off just enough for me to get some decent rest. The memory loss can be helped, too. Once after an article on Lyme, I received calls from three ladies, one in Michigan, one in Oklahoma, and one in Florida. All three recommended something called Lecethin for the memory loss I had mentioned. The very next day I was walking into a store in Greenville, and a lady stopped me. “Aren’t you that Neill boy, that writes?” she asked. I admitted that. “Well, I read that article on Lyme Disease, and if you’ll take Lecethin, it’ll help that memory problem.” I told her she was the fourth lady in a week to tell me that, but I didn’t know how to even spell it. She got out a pencil and paper, then said, “Wait. I’ve enjoyed your books and articles for years. If you’ll let me, I’ll go back in here with you, and buy you your first bottle!” She did, and I highly recommend it, after fifteen years on it.
I wrote a syndicated weekly column for 25 years, and since 1990 worked in at least a couple of columns a year on Lyme Disease in papers, plus numerous magazine articles. I’ve gotten calls from as far away as Michigan and New York about Lyme. Several years ago, a pharmaceutical company offered to underwrite a book on Lyme, and I got about a third of the way through with it, when the company had some financial difficulties and dropped the project. I’ve given seminars to doctors in hospitals on Lyme, for as much as $1500. When I was president of the Southern outdoor writers, I arranged the testing of our members and wives by the Centers for Disease Control, as a control group of Southern outdoors men and women. They predicted we’d be only 5 to 7% positive, “and those will be the guys who have hunted and fished in the northeast,” but we were 28% positive by one test, and nearly 42% by another! Seven of the past eight presidents tested positive and were symptomatic for Lyme Disease! That’s really the first time they began to consider that Lyme was not just a yankee ailment.
Out here at Brownspur, where there are only five families, we’ve had five diagnosed and treated cases of Lyme. Two were caught early, and treated correctly with heavy antibiotics, and they got completely over it. The other three of us have lingering problems, mine being the least damaging. Only one of those cases apparently came from a Brownspur tick. Three of the victims knew they were bitten by ticks from other regions, like east Mississippi, north Arkansas, and north Tennessee.
In other words, I know what I’m talking about on the subject, though I’m not a doctor.
It is my considered opinion that some insurance companies, HMOs, and medical organizations have decided to cure modern Lyme Disease by changing the parameters. In their defense, it is hard to diagnose, even harder to cure, and requires long-term expensive treatment. Its symptoms mimic fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, even the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Medical experts warn against using long-term antibiotics, which are essential to successful treatment, because that may build up resistant strains of bacteria. I understand that.
But I also understand the disease. I know many victims who have gotten frustrated trying to get help for Lyme, and have just picked up and gone to Connecticut for treatment and advice, where the modern version of the disease was first diagnosed. And if the victim is a youngster, I have gotten to the point of recommending that myself. If caught early (when the tell-tale “bullseye” rash has shown up) it can usually be cured by a month’s worth of antibiotics, but if the patient has had it for several months, or even years, then it’s going to take months of antibiotic treatment to get remission. So what if that builds up resistant strains of bacteria? If the victim is in constant pain and cannot live a normal life, then should not one cure the pain, even at the risk of creating another possible problem?
Again, I am not a doctor! But I’m an educated victim, because I had to be to get mine under control. In one recent year, no fewer than six doctors from three states have called me for Lyme facts (two for their own symptoms, and one for his grandson’s!), and several have sent patients to me for the purpose of rash identification.
Obviously, the best advice is to take precautions against contracting Lyme. Avoid areas of tick infestations. Spray a good repellent on your britches legs and socks, around your belt, on your collar, and on your wrists and sleeves. Wear rubber gloves when cleaning game. Watch your pets for signs of lethargy or arthritis. Check for ticks when you come in from the fields, and be sure your family does the same. Notice any unexplained rashes, especially rashes that appear to red and circular in nature. Only about a third of Lyme victims apparently have the telltale “bullseye” rash, but if antibiotic treatment is administered immediately after that rash is noticed, then complete recovery is very likely. Be alert for cold and flu symptoms that hang on longer than they ought to, for stiff neck (the unBiblical kind), arthritis, chronic headaches, extreme fatigue, blurred vision, memory loss, and sleeplessness.
And I highly recommend husband and wife showering together. Look closely for obvious ticks, but also for the smaller variety, described as “freckles that move.” Take your time. One can’t be too careful for Lyme Disease!

Jesus Who Was a Vegetarian???

This is not a religious article.

On the other hand, I was raised to use the Bible and religion as a part of life, in growing up, and ain’t got over that. While cruising down the Interstate recently (on my way to prison, actually, for a Christian Prison Ministry Reunion), I noticed a sign from a distance (I can see great at a distance, but my arms get short holding the hymnbook) that proclaimed “Jesus” on the front end. What a great way to witness, I thought. Sort of like those signs which have been appearing “from God” on roadsides, as in “Be still and know that I am God.” Or, “Come on over to my house before the ball game, and bring the kids.”

Then I got a little closer. That sign said, “Jesus was a vegetarian.”

“Jesus who?” I asked Betsy, pointing it out. Whoever put that sign up obviously did not have in mind the Son of God, who ate lamb and fish, for sure, though I’ll grant that the Bible is kind of weak on mentioning Christ eating marinated venison loin and shish-ka-bob mallard. That could be because I am not old enough to be specifically included in that book, but if there’s an update in the works, I KNOW the Heavenly-inspired writer will have to make reference to my rabbit shish-ka-bob, my char-broiled bass, and Betsy’s duck gumbo, as well as my sassafras-smoked turkey and Adam’s crawfish etouffe.

Turned out, as we got close enough to read the fine print, that the sign was put up by one of those groups who espouse never hurting anything but other folks’ feelings, so they probably were thinking of Jesus Carrouthers, whom I believe flunked out of Ole Miss when we were sophomores. I had never thought about it before, but that Jesus could have been a vegetarian, sho’nuff. I never saw him eat anything atall, for that matter; he seemed to get all the nourishment he needed out of liquids which came in cans, mostly. Seems like he was a member of the Knights of Alcohol fraternity, though I could be wrong.

Myself, I always figured that the Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 was when the Lord inspired flat sardines. The kid who had the “two fishes” probably really had the boat lunch for he and his dad on their fishing trip, and they stopped to hear the Lord’s message, after which the boy wanted to share his sardines and crackers with Christ. If they had been the kind that are packed in mustard sauce (which is also Biblical), there wouldn’t have been all those leftover baskets, I guarantee! I’ve seen a dozen guys at turkey camp make a lunch off of a couple cans of flat sardines, so it’s not hard to believe 5,000 folks feasted on the same amount, what with Jesus (Christ, not Carrouthers) to supervise the sharing.

Some kid came down from college with my daughter once, and expressed disfavor on the eating of meat which had been killed. That was before Betsy started stirring around the kitchen with Venison Stroganoff, which is so good that Jesus (Christ, not Carrouthers) would have ordered it for the Last Supper, assuming He approved of substituting Venison for the Lamb. If not, Betsy could have simply made Lamb Stroganoff for Him.

After we had insisted on helping the college kid keep to his standards by serving him squash & onion casserole while we ate the Stroganoff made with dead deer meat, we pointed out that he had on leather shoes, leather belt, and a leather billfold, all of which was (hopefully) processed after the steer was deceased. Oh, he didn’t mind that, nor chicken sandwiches and hamburgers. Pointing out that the contributing hens and cows had not died of old age before being pressed into service at fast food joints helped. After considerable discussion, he ended up eating two helpings of Venison Stroganoff, rather than give up all the accouterments of modern life made from dead animals.

How do these people miss all the obvious references in the Bible to eating meat? Since God (the Father of Jesus Christ, not Carrouthers) early on considered the odor of barbecue to be worthy of a sacrifice in Old Testament times (which caused the first murder, when Cain – who may have been an ill-tempered vegetarian — wasn’t as good a cook as Abel), man has been cooking meat and sharing it with even the angels. Would you want to worship a God who wanted burnt onions as a sacrifice back then?

Of course, if they’re referring to Jesus Carrouthers, I could care less. But for all the drivers who see that billboard and know anything atall about the real Jesus, I guess it is a constant source of humor, as well as a monument to ignorance.

Hey, the real Jesus ate meat, folks; but He loves even the ones who don’t know it.


Newcomers to the eastern side of the Mighty Muddy may be surprised to learn that we didn’t have armadillos here originally. They migrated in less than thirty years ago. Rumors that the “armored possums” were stocked in the Delta by Federal Fish & Game biologists in order to take some of the Road Kill pressure off of native possums may or may not be true. I never personally saw a uniformed biologist turn loose an armadillo.

Hunting on west-side Mississippi River islands, I grew up with the hard-shelled little hole-diggers, and have seen horses hurt legs by stepping in their burrows. There used to be several civic “Armadillo Festivals” featuring barbecued, fried, and fricasseed armadillo meat, until it was discovered that the little devils carried leprosy, at which time such festivals came to an abrupt halt. The meat tastes a lot like pork, barbecued.

The kids used to make a game of catching the surprisingly fast scuttlers on The Island, riding around in the Ghost (a 1948 Jeep) until they’d filled a couple of croker sacks. Then they’d take them out to the River in a boat to teach them to swim. I had repeated the old wives’ tale that they can’t swim, but hold their breath and cross rivers walking on the bottom. The kids proved that false, establishing that ‘dillos swim like pigs, with only their snouts above water (depending of course on how far they have to swim!).

Once they came up with some luminous spray paint just before Halloween, and scared several club members plumb sober when glowing spooks kept appearing in the headlights’ gleam. A few were so shook that I advised the kids not to mention that they were the culprits for a couple of years. Some folks have NO sense of humor!

Howsomever, the armored possums did manage, walking on the bottom or otherwise, to cross the Mighty Muddy, and become established on this side of the River. They regularly dig up flower bulbs, root under the pecan trees, and burrow into the yard. Here at Brownspur, they have been ruled fair game, and until the government places them on the Endangered List, we encourage their annihilation, at least around the houses and pasture. Yet it was by accident that I came up with the perfect Armadillo Trap.

Betsy and I had been cleaning out The Store, our old commissary-turned-guest- house, and saved a thick glass top from an otherwise-deceased cabinet. We toted it out of The Store, and lacking a better place, leaned it against the Tallow tree outside the kitchen window. The glass was about five feet long and two feet wide – or, high, when you lean it against a tree. There it still sits, until she decides where to put it permanently.

The other night I picked up the Slung Coffee pot, and stepped outside to toss the grounds. Without cutting the lights on, I walked out and let the screen door slam behind me as I flung the used coffee grounds out. I was startled by a commotion in the fern bed beneath the kitchen window. As I looked, an armadillo, disturbed from his digging up fern roots by the slamming door, darted out of the fern bed to escape me, his sworn enemy.

He had a clear path across the yard to the fig tree, as far as he could see.

Armadillos, as noted, are surprisingly fast, and their acceleration from a standing start, even when not scared by a slamming door, is even more amazing.

This ‘dillo emerged from that fern bed like the proverbial striped ape, or scalded dog, or streak of greased lightning, or even bat out of Hell. After all, he had to cross 50 feet of what appeared to be unobstructed yard.

I once walked slap into a patio door which Betsy had just cleaned, so I can somewhat appreciate the armadillo’s predicament. “WHOP!” he hit that sheet of glass!

To make matters worse, Betsy had recently trimmed some limbs from the Tallow tree, and had left the aluminum extension ladder propped up only a foot from the glass.

“CRASH!” the armadillo rebounded from the glass into the ladder. Dazed, he eyed again his seemingly clear escape route, and accelerated like a pro fullback.

“WHOP!” “CRASH!” “WHOP!” “CRASH!” resounded from the darkness as I widened my eyes to try to see as much of the action as possible. “WHOP!” “CRASH!”

Finally, the concussed armadillo staggered around the corner of the glass and headed across the yard. I was laughing too hard to pursue.

Adam found him the next day, dead as a doornail, just short of the fig tree.

We decided to leave the Armadillo Trap right where it is.

Coyotes Are Too Adaptable!

My neighbor shot a coyote early one morning who had obviously spent the night in a large patch of foxtail cane in our front yard. Betsy decided to cut the cane patch back (which is why I’m nursing a couple of broken ribs) to discourage such varmint lodging in the future. She found several trails, nests, and bedding spots, so maybe the one Jim shot hadn’t been the only regular visitor. It does explain why we haven’t been able to keep housecats very long these past few years.

I used to hunt such predators on a regular basis, and got quite proficient with a crippled rabbit call. I skinned a couple of red foxes for bedside rugs, and there’s a bobcat in the freezer awaiting mounting right now. I quit predator hunting with a call one dusk when a great horned owl nearly scalped me, obviously mistaking the moonlit glint of my unlit headlight for the crippled rabbit he had been hearing crying. A sixth sense warned me to duck just in time, and when I clicked the light on and looked up, the owl was coming back for another try.

Few people know that owl is white meat, just like chicken and hawk.

At any rate, I have little personal experience in call hunting for coyotes, though Adam and the Jakes and my neighbor Jim and his boys do it a lot. From what they say, it doesn’t take the coyotes very long to get rabbit-call shy, once they get to associate that sound with the sound of gunshots.

Several nearby catfish farmers say that coyotes have learned to associate the sound of the pond paddlewheel agitators with suppertime. When the oxygen content of the pond gets low, the agitators start going, and often the fish will initially congregate close by the agitator float itself, to get some fresh air, as it were.

Ever quick to adapt, the coyotes have observed and taken advantage. I heard about that, so asked a catfish farming friend, who confirmed it.

“Right at dusk, the coyotes come out of the nearby fields and go right to the paddlewheel, where usually the fish are swimming bunched up, on top of the water. It’s hard to believe, but those dog-gone coyotes will hit the water just like a pure-bred Labrador! They’ll swim out and grab a fish, swim back, lay it on the bank, shake like a dog, then pick up their fish and trot back to the fields. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’re taking MY fish, it would be fascinating to watch! You want to shoot a few this evening?”

A veteran predator hunter told me of a method he adapted for his own hunting. A friend had a herd of goats outside of town, and testified that every evening several coyotes would come to the pen and cruise the outside of the fence, just in case they might find a goat that had strayed outside the pen. George drove down there to watch one evening himself, then went to work on an extra predator call. Soon he had perfected a goat call.

The next evening, he parked under a tree on a ditchbank not far from the goat pen. He set up his chair and spotlight, loaded his rifle, and got out his trusty goat call. It only took a few toots on the goat call before four coyotes trotted right up for supper, almost tame, it seemed, until he plated one. He took care of several more the next few nights, until the coyotes adapted to associate the sound of gunshots with the sound of goats.

Having had the experience we have had with the coyotes eating our cats, I’d be willing to bet that if a fellow worked on his goat call to get it to sound like a meow, he’d be sure death on coyotes, until they figured out they were hearing armed cats.

Adam and the Jakes took some kittens out one night to the woods, and got shots at several coyotes, just by picking up the kittens and encouraging them to mew loudly. The same thing will work with small puppies, when they are taken away from their mamas for a couple of hours in a dark, strange place, and begin to whine and howl. I’ve done that, and it brings coyotes up even in the daylight.

Betsy and I were turkey hunting one day, backed up against a tree shoulder to shoulder, she with the gun. In the dry leaves I heard something coming to my call – a turkey, I of course assumed. It came up behind us, and when it sounded too close, I turned my head just as a female coyote, in the puppy-nursing stage, trotted around the tree. She was so close, I could even tell she had bad breath! She probably didn’t stalk turkey hen calling for a few days after that, either.

One last tip for coyote hunting: when your lady Labrador comes into heat, try taking her out and sitting at the edge of the woods for a couple hours. But be ready to shoot quick! Coyotes in love are faster than hungry coyotes!

Too Wet To Fish?

During our annual Brownspur spring Swimming Hole cleaning project, one of our usual co-workers opted out for the day, saying that he was going fishing with a friend. Since he is an accomplished fisherman, in addition to being a college engine-ear, we excused him enthusiastically, envisioning a fish-fry when we finished work that evening, knowing that Namby would return with full stringers and feed us bountifully.

Our efforts were interrupted after lunch by several hard showers. One might not think a shower would bother anyone in a Swimming Hole, but the cleaning-out stage involves pumping out the winter accumulation of water, minnows, tadpoles, crawdads, a snake or two, a few legless salamanders, couple of snapping turtles, and assorted other critters and trash you don’t care to swim with. When it showered, the pump would quit. Of course, the uninitiated might say, “Well, hold a tarp over the motor,” but standing beside a pond next to an 80-foot-tall cypress tree while lightning strikes around you is not recommended by the best authorities. Perhaps our absent engine-ear could have figured out a way to put up lightning rods, but the rest of us just retreated until it quit raining and waited until the motor dried out to try again.

When the mosquitoes came out in force at dusk, we went inside, leaving the Swimming Hole mostly pumped out, and chlorining the water left in the bottom to eliminate what critters that still survived. We could almost taste the fresh bass Namby would have for our supper, some char-broiled, some beer-battered and fried.

Sardines were as close as we came to a bass supper that night. Our engine-ear had returned bass-less and clean. “It was too wet to fish,” he explained, plugging in a movie.

Too wet to fish?

Lordee, some of the best luck I’ve ever had fishing was just before, during, and just after a shower! Dude and I tore up the bass on the Alligator Hole one evening toward the end of a six-inch rain. Filled up both stringers, and didn’t string a fish less than three pounds. Gary Dye and I got next to nekkid one morning on Christmas Tree Lake when it was raining hard, but the bass were on a feeding frenzy. We had so many big fish that he introduced me to “bass eyes” that night for supper, also known as “Arkansas lobster.” Using a sharp knife, he cut out a double-thumb-size piece of meat from right underneath the fish’s eye; I guess maybe “bass cheeks” would be a better description. He had a deep pot of lightly salted water boiling, and would stir those pieces into the pot, more or less poaching them. Drained and dipped in melted butter, they tasted better than lobster!

I’ve got an eight-pound plus bass on the wall that brother Beau netted for me one rainy morning, just as the Who Dat lure pulled out. Wind was blowing so hard the lake was white-capping, and raindrops stung like hailstones. Cal Ibele and I stayed out in the rain one morning on Chandelier Island and loaded the boat with speckled trout, when all the other skiffs had run for the cover of Uncle Tullier’s (“Too-yay”) boat, the “Captain Pete.” Now, I will admit to sitting with Dude on the porch of Guy Sharp’s cabin at Honey Island when it was raining so hard that our “Big O” lures floated well before they ever got down to the surface of the lake. In addition, the lightning was truly spectacular, which discouraged us from sitting on an open lake in a metal john boat. However, in our defense, we were able to troll from the truck, as the road went under water almost before we could pack up and get out of there. Didn’t catch anything, though.

Too wet to fish? We gave our resident engine-ear so much grief that the movie was forgotten. How could it be too wet to fish, if it hadn’t gotten to the point where his lure floated on each cast before it could get to the lake surface?

Turned out that what Namby actually meant to say was, that the turnrow they had to drive down to put their boat in the lake was too muddy to drive on. We could appreciate that, because we’d all had experience with folks driving down our own turnrows and cutting them up when they were too wet. However, one would think that an engine-ear would be more specific, considering the profession. I mean, when he’s designing a future bridge, is he going to say, “pour a little concrete in that hole, chunk some metal and wire in it while it’s wet, and prop some big long timbers on it when it’s dry.” Surely not!

However, seems like I recall that we crashed a billion-buck Mars spacecraft a couple of years ago because some of the engine-ears got confused between metric and American measurements, right? Maybe, in some circles, it was too wet to fish that day!


Prior to the June 2nd Grand Opening of the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum, President Billy Johnson, Sec/Treas Bob Neill, and Director Gaila Oliver were sort-of-frantically trying to get the correct names of the hundreds of antique fishing lures which had been collected to go in the special display case that used to be the old hardware store’s nut and bolt bin. Billy had the idea of cleaning out that pigeon-holed bin, painting it a light color, and using the holes for display of the lures.
The process was working thisaway: Gaila was writing Billy’s (the Fishing Expert) dictation of names and makers of the lures, then sending those in two pages to the next-door Museum Office where Uncle Bob was typing the labels and sending them back to be stuck under the correct holes to identify the artifacts. The Runner betwixt and between was Unc’s 8-year-old GrandBoy, Leiton Irwin.
Understand this was going on late Wednesday afternoon before the Grand Opening Friday morning. We’d all been working 15-hour days for a couple of weeks. Hard to concentrate, short tempers, senior moments — all were the Order of the Day.
When Expert Billy couldn’t come up with the names of a couple of lures, it delayed Gaila’s listing, and Leiton was right there ready to run that list to his Grunk (Granddaddy Uncle Bob, shortened), the boy waited while The Expert fussed about he couldn’t “remember nothing no more!” Then the youngster held out his hand and asked, “Can I see those?”
“Yeah, sure, Kid! Take the dang things!” Billy handed them over, hooks and all.
And the 8-year-old declared, ” This one’s a Crazy Crawler, by Heddon, and this one… is a Jitterbug, by Arbogast.” He handed the lures back to the nearly speechless Fishing Lure Expert.
Billy blinked and stuttered, “How did YOU know that, Boy??!!”
And Leiton pointed out innocently: “The name is stamped on the bottom of all these lures.”
Ahhh, Youth! We finished the rest of the exhibit in jig time! (Excuse the pun!)

How to Snag-Hook a Skunk!

It was a lovely clear early summer Friday afternoon, just right for an outdoor oriented family to visit their cabin on one of the River islands, catch a few white perch or bream, or maybe a bass or two. They had brought steaks to grill, as well as hot dogs and marshmallows for the kids around the campfire that night. No one else was on the 10,000 acre island, so they’d have it to themselves – perhaps even a little skinny-dipping expedition to the north rim while the two kids went for a bike ride on the woods roads, pedaling quietly to catch deer or wild turkeys off guard.

But first they drove the jeep up to the cabin to unload their gear for the weekend, arriving just in time to see the only other camp resident in sight disappear under their house – a skunk! The tin skirting around the dwelling had been pulled loose at one back corner for some needed plumbing repair during turkey season, and someone had neglected to nail it back securely.

The mother refused to enter the cabin knowing that a skunk was underneath it, and directed that the father rid her abode of such a mal-olfactoried occupant, as soon as possible if not sooner. The suggestion that they go fishing first was summarily dismissed, for “How will we know if he has left or not?”

The father put his thinking cap on. Hanging on one outside wall was his “doodle-socking” pole, a long stiff cane pole with about a foot of heavy line on the smaller end, to which an oversize Lucky 13 lure was attached. Inspiration hit!

Kneeling at the open corner where the tin skirting was askew, father and son were able with a flashlight to see the skunk grubbing about unconcernedly under the cabin. The father engaged the cooperation of his twelve-year-old boy in the venture, which would soon turn into an adventure. “I’m gonna back the Jeep up to this corner, while you take this pole and real easy maneuver the Lucky 13 to just the other side of the skunk. Then when I give the signal, you jerk the hooks into the skunk’s hide, and run hard as you can with that pole to the back of the Jeep and jump in. If you don’t ever give him any slack line, he won’t be able to spray, and we’ll just drag him out of camp aways to turn him aloose.”

Such an opportunity is seldom presented to an outdoorsy boy, so the kid was suitably enthusiastic, and began to slowly slide the Lucky 13 around behind the skunk, as his daddy backed the Jeep to the appointed spot, shifted it from reverse to first, revved the motor once, and nodded “Go!” to his son.

“Jerk!” and the little animal was snagged by the oversize hooks just behind the ears. As instructed, the boy jumped to his feet and ran for the back of the Jeep, keeping a tight line on the pole. The vehicle scratched off as the kid grabbed the bumper, and away they flew. As prophesied, the skunk wasn’t able to spray the camp, and was 100 yards down the road before he could even assess his situation.

Which he then did, and was infuriated. He knew exactly who was causing his pain and indignation, and intended to remedy the situation. When the father turned around to tell his son to pull the pole in and cut the line, he was amazed to see that the boy was frantically playing the skunk almost like he would a big bass, except trying to keep the skunk away from the bumper. The stout pole was BENT, and the little animal was angrily galloping behind the Jeep with the obvious intent of boarding the vehicle and exacting his revenge upon the occupants at close range! There was twelve feet of pole and another foot of line, but the skunk wearing the Lucky 13 was less than six feet from the bumper, and gaining!

The father put the pedal to the metal, but it was still another quarter mile before the skunk tired of the chase and dropped back a little. In the excitement, the son had dropped the pocketknife with which to cut the line, so Dad yelled to just chunk the entire rig overboard, and they sped away, the mad skunk still in pursuit.

So, if you see a skunk wearing an oversize Lucky 13… now you know!


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