It’s a horrible tale, but someone has to tell it, and since it was me what supposedly got et up, I reckon I’m elected. It all started when Adam and I (well, to be honest, mostly Adam – but he’s young and strong) had to drag a big buck out of the woods – a long drag! After all the mullygrubbing was over, Betsy put a deer-dragging harness on our Christmas list.
Now, that drag strap is a wonderful invention: wide nylon straps come over your shoulders to clamp across your chest, and the tail-end harness hangs down to slip over the buck’s antlers. Beats the heck out of having to lean to one side to drag a big buck with your hands, not to mention saving you from a fatal back crick.
We got to try it out on a forkhorn I killed in the Delta, then on a nine-point and huge ten-point that Adam bagged in the hills. The first buck killed on top of a ridge, though, was the monster twelve-point I bagged on Cousin Jack’s place out at Big Hongry, on a day I was hunting by myself. After field-dressing the buck, I harnessed up to drag him out, and had gone a couple hundred yards (long enough to be whupped!) before the ridge ran out. I was really looking forward to starting downhill, figuring it would be a lot easier pull. Boy, was I ever right!
It was fairly steep where I stepped off the ridge, one of those high ones so common to Big Hongry. I noticed that the buck was pulling easier – matter of fact, that old mossyhorn was probably fifty pounds heavier than I was, and I could feel his antlers pricking my legs as he picked up momentum. I lengthened my stride to try to stay ahead of him. That’s when I learned how slippery pine needles are – a gap in my education from hunting the flat, pineless Delta all my life.
As my feet started to slip, I glanced fearfully behind me at the long, sharp, twelve-tined antlers. The buck’s head was propped on his front legs as he slid on his belly; I could see that if I fell backwards, I would be impaled. In a desperate attempt to escape punctured liver and kidneys, I flung myself sideways as my boots lost traction on the steep, slick slope.
I narrowly missed impalement, but had misjudged Mossyhorn’s momentum and weight. He continued to pick up speed headed downhill, only now I was being dragged by him! The harness worked both ways, and I lost my rifle trying to grab a bush to slow myself. There was no quick-release mechanism on the clamp across my chest, so now I was being towed headfirst down the hill by a buck bigger than I was, to which I seemed to be harnessed for the ride. My hat flew off, and both gloves were ripped away when I grabbed a sawbriar vine, which cut my left palm badly. My head bounced painfully off of a stump, so I covered my face with my hands to protect my eyes, unable to stop myself on this wild, humiliating ride. That’s when the blood covered my head from the cut hand. It’s also the reason I didn’t see, and fortunately concealed my identity from, the pair of hunters who were traversing the slope as we passed. But I sure heard their exclamation.
“GOODGAWDAMIGHTY!” screamed one. “That big ole buck’s done kilt him a hunter, and is draggin’ him off to eat!”
“Lord, if you’ll let me git home safe, I’ll take up golf!” prayed his companion. “Let’s git outa here, Fred!”
By the time Mossyhorn and I ended up in a pile at the base of the ridge, and I could get loose from that dadblame drag harness, those guys were long gone. I was too whupped to try to catch them anyway. Didn’t take but a couple of days for word to spread across Big Hongry about the Maneater, and golf courses were reported to be uncommonly full for the rest of the season. It’s been over a month, but I’m still picking pine needles out of my backside.
And I’ve almost perfected a quick-release clamp for that doggone drag harness!
The big buck seemed to suddenly appear out of the undergrowth, just his chest, neck, head, and antlers visible at the edge of the clearing. The wind was from me to him, so I reckon he scented me as he emerged, causing him to abruptly halt and scan the woods. Whilst he scanned to his left, I eased my Remington 30/06 up and slid the safety off. He obviously caught some of the motion, for he raised his head back to better eye my stand, his horns shining brightly in the sun.
Those antlers were extra white, polished by his activity I had seen on earlier hunts where he had attacked every little cedar tree within a couple hundred yards of where he now stood staring at me. His head went further up, and I knew I’d been made, but the crosshairs of the 2&1/2 power scope had already settled on the white spot where his neck centered his great chest. I pulled the trigger.
At the rifle’s roar, the buck whirled and disappeared into the foliage from whence he had partially emerged seconds before. I didn’t even pump the gun, slinging it over my right shoulder as I evacuated my stand. Out of several hundred deer I have killed, I’ve seldom had to shoot twice at one. Old One-Shot Bob.
Which had worked against me earlier that morning, just as it began to be shooting light. A big buck – he had to be, for me to see horns in the dimness – had stepped into a clearing and walked calmly across, as I raised my rifle, aimed at his front shoulder, and pulled the trigger. He paused briefly, then continued his walk and disappeared into the trees, apparently unhurt. I waited a few minutes for full shooting light, then got down and looked carefully for blood, hair, or any sign that I had hit him, continuing the search for half an hour, first at the spot where I’d shot, then the direction he had gone, then half-circles from where he’d disappeared. Not a sign that I’d hit him, which was unusual.
Then I remembered that, as I was going into the woods in the darkness, the top sling swivel had popped aloose – second time in 25 years – and while I had felt it go, and had managed to catch the rifle by the pistol grip, the barrel still took a nasty whack on a cypress knee. Maybe the scope was affected by that?
Nor was there blood or hair where this buck had been standing, so I followed the direction he had been going as he disappeared into the undergrowth, moving slowly and quietly in case he was wounded and down. That seemed to be the case, sure enough, for 75 yards further along, I suddenly saw antlers stick up, then go back down, only maybe 40 yards ahead. I eased to the side for a clearer view and stepped up on a log, raising my gun to look through the scope. Now I saw the antlers rise again, then go back down. I resolved to try a killing shot at the top of his neck next time he raised his head. He did, and I did. The Remington spoke again, and that part of the woods exploded with deer!
Two more bucks, both smaller than the white-horned deer I had shot at, had been standing in a little swag I’d not known about, with several does in whom they were apparently expressing a carnal interest. I thought I was finishing off a big wounded buck, not firing a warning round over a whitetail orgy! I was not ready for a small herd of deer to flush out of the swag and disappear into the brush.
Had to be the scope, I knew. I unloaded the rifle and left the woods, but when I got home I stepped into the backyard first and fired at a water bottle I set up on the Mammy Grudge ditchbank. Sure enough, at 20 yards, I was shooting 6 inches to the left! I reset and sighted in the scope, convinced I had missed 3 bucks.
And kept my mouth shut about it for a year.
Then I was hunting the same stand last week, and when I came out, followed a scrape line in a different direction than I usually take. That big white-horned buck had 10 points. He had circled, not gone straight, and was 50 yards from where I shot him. His backbone was still intact, a very long spine. Big Buck.
Follow up. Every shot. I didn’t, and wasted a 10-point buck. A sin.
This didn’t happen to me, but it’s too good a story to pass up, and the friend who told it to me gave me permission to write it.
Seems that a young college couple in love got a dog. The boy duck hunts, and knew that the finest dog in the world is a Labrador Retriever, of course, so that’s what they got. The girl of course fell in love with the Lab, who ended up staying with her that fall while her boyfriend was out of the country for several months on his college co-op job.
As an aside, youngsters, be sure and check your college co-op plans beforehand, to insure that they don’t send YOU overseas during hunting season!
The girl and the Lab became even closer; he went with her everywhere, and that included a visit to friends from down around Natchez. It was there that the tragedy occurred: the Lab was hit by a speeding car. It was fatal.
The coed had to return to school, a college in the Starkville area, almost immediately after the accident, but a friend assured her that he’d retrieve the body and make suitable arrangements. However, the grieving young lady waxed remorseful on the four-hour drive that night. There was a Pet Cemetery close by the college, where several dogs that she knew her Lab had been friends with had been interred, and she realized that’s where her own Lab would be happier in his perpetual rest.
Early that next morning, she called Mama — who lived in Greenville, three hours drive from the college, and a little more than that from Natchez, where the recently deceased Lab was now facing imminent interment. The coed cried on the phone as she told her tale of woe.
She belonged to cry. When one’s friend has been taken in such a terrible manner, it is heart-rending. I understand that some people cry when their dogs other than Labs or beagles die. It’s okay, folks, to cry at such times.
Mama cried, too.
Mama called Daddy.
Daddy, already at work even at that time of the morn, responded with, “I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.”
Daddy got into his truck, gassed up, and drove more than three hours to Natchez, to the friend’s home where the deceased had been prepared for burial. They retrieved the body of the retriever and placed it gently in the truck. Then Daddy left for Starkville.
He made the four-hour drive ( he may have taken the Natchez Trace, in which case it should have taken him closer to five hours, with the lower speed limit) and arrived while it was still daylight, to pick up his daughter and friends and be directed to the Pet Cemetery. The procession was fitting, as was the service and interment. Knowing about college daughters myownself, it’s my bet that Daddy bought daughter and friends supper, and they held a proper wake for the Lab. He then took daughter back to her apartment and turned toward home, another three-hour drive away.
That’s ten or eleven hours of driving, very little of it on Interstate Highways, if any.
And it was worth every mile of it.
At first blush, you might say, “Boy, that’s a lot of sugar for a nickel!”
No it ain’t. It is Above and Beyond the Call of Duty, but it’s a rare demonstration of love and understanding of a father for his daughter (and wife!). It’s a respect for the love that daughter shared with her Labrador, not to mention the duck-hunter co-oping absentee boyfriend, who perhaps would have done the same if he had been within 5000 miles, but now has a standard to appreciate and adhere to when he does become a husband, and then a father to a daughter, himself.
I have owned many, many wonderful Labradors, not to mention beagles, as well as a few other breeds, like a Black & Tan hound named Jupiter Pluvius, who inspired a book. I have buried nearly all of them in our own Pet Cemetery out here at Brownspur. On still nights, I can sit out on the balcony with a snifter of Frog Juice and conjure up their voices and personalities, revisiting fine times together, with the whole family they were a part of.
Oh, yeah, Daddy: it was worth the drive. Thanks from all us other daddies.
When I had just become a grandfather (“Grunked” – “Ganddaddy Uncle Bob” was shortened to “GrandUncle” then to “Grunkle”, ending up “Grunk.”) for the second time, I had a lot of congratulations, as well as a lot of well-wishes for the kid. A couple of friends asked a serious question that started me to cogitating, though: “In these days and times, thinking about raising up a pair of grandsons, what would you wish for them to have, to make their lives as good as yours has been?” As one old classmate observed, “We’ve had a pretty good run at Life, haven’t we?”
Little Dave was right, as usual. We were raised in the best place, in the best times, by the best people that kids could ever have been by. And that includes a whole bunch of good friends who are fast getting long in the tooth right along with me.
So that would be about it: Friends, to go along with Faith and Family, which you’d hope and pray for as they grow. There’s a framed calligraphy in my den saying, “The finest gift a father can leave his children is the knowledge that he loves their mother.” That works, but I’d add to that, “and God.” If you have those two things, you almost got it licked. There could be a lot of frills added, but the main one is, I’d wish for Sean and Leiton to grow up with as good a group of non-blood-kin Uncles and Aunts as I did, and as my own kids did.
Big Robert and Uncle Sam, his brother, did well bringing me up, but I killed my first dove under my Godfather Frank Tindall’s tutelage, and in his field. I acquired the desire and the skill of predator calling from Big Dave Bradham, until a great horned owl almost scalped me one night decades later. I also learned from him an appreciation of being willing and able to try to fix anything, though I never had the knack for it.
Big John Dean was there when I killed my first duck, as well as my first deer, from which he liberally smeared blood on my face first thing. He also sent Little John & me to rake sloughs for crawfish, and purge them before boiling to eat. Uncle Shag Shaifer was magnificent on building a stew, but even more proficient in the hospitality of doing so for a houseful of friends and kids. He also instructed me in the art of coon hunting. Mi’ter Mo’ taught me the art of tight-lining for white perch. Mister Jay looked after me not only in teaching hunting, but the basics of conservation and manners in the outdoors, sometimes enforced forcibly. Mountain Willy reinforced the instruction in firearms I got from Big Robert and Uncle Sam. Unca Tullier (“Too-yay”) taught me all I could ever want to know about salt-water fishing.
I grew up being at home in the houses of all those men and their wives, and they loved me just like they did their own kids, as well as – and this is a biggie, folks – disciplining me right along with theirs when I needed it. Many a Sunday when we’d act up on the Kid’s Pew, there would be a regular belt line before we cleared the church. I was never abused, but I sure got at least what I deserved!
My own kids had the same type of Uncle-&-Aunt fraternity as they grew up: older friends who were no blood kin, with names like James, Dye, McElwee, Daly, Bedford, Steen, Street, Neely, Ross, Crockett, Drake – one of my favorite books, Illusions, says, “You will know your friends better in the first minute you meet them than you will ever know some of your family. The bond that links true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” Of course, that said, I have to acknowledge the value of Br’er Beau and Mountain Willy to my children’s lives.
So that’d be my wish, for those who asked and started this train of thought: For Sir and “Baby Brudder” to have those type Giants in their lives as they grow older; as well as, of course, for The Grunk and Doots to be around for a long time for their GrandBoys.
I’ve been through a lot in this life, and could have given up several times. The one thing that kept me going in the toughest times was knowing that there were friends to whom I could turn when things got too tough; and that they’d be there when I needed them, for whatever I needed. I can only hope and pray that my GrandBoys will have that type upbringing.
We were planning to go elsewhere to watch the 2009 Cotton Bowl Game between Ole Miss and Texas Tech on the day after New Years – which is the day everyone eats themselves to death. Betsy was determined to take something to feed the crowd of Rebel Rousers that they would not have had since Eating Season began last Thanksgiving. She mulled it over, checked the freezer, and it was revealed unto her: “I’m going to make a big pot of Goose Gumbo!” she announced.
“Big Pot” would be the right choice of words. She has one of those what I call, from my Navy days, “K-P Pots” that one can actually crawl into and scrub the bottom of, if one just has to scrub the bottom of the pot. Such a thing is unheard of in the Navy, and at men’s hunting camps, where that pot previously served time. I rescued the Big Pot from outside on The Store (our guest house – the remodeled old plantation commissary Store) porch, where it had last been used possibly for a fish fry, or maybe to boil a deer skull and antlers clean. She did insist that I crawl in and scrub the bottom, which brought to mind a similar pot on one of the Kairos Prison Ministry weekends for ladies, when we men were cooking for 110 women, team and inmates together, for the three-day weekend.
About the middle of the second day when we were cleaning up from lunch in preparation to cook supper, we heard a dank echo from the young man whose designated job, due to his small statue, was Big Pot Bottom Scrubber. Larry croaked loud enough for us to hear, “Cleanliness is ‘WAAAY over-rated!”
However, I even knocked off the dirt dauber nests around the Big Pot, brought it into the kitchen, and mirated over the amount of meat that Betsy had dug out of the freezer, especially since it was the day after Christmas, over a week before the Rebels were due to play. “Hey, those are specklebellies,” I pointed out. We had picked those better-tasting geese, so as to roast them for a dinner. Nay, nay – she dumped those into the pot to thaw, along with the blues, snows, and a Canada goose or two, as well as a few ducks, doves, what I thought was a squirrel or possibly a small coon, a venison loin, and a chicken for the stock.
Mid-day next, I walked into the house to the most wonderful smells. Gumbo was obviously going to be the main course for supper! I salivated throughout the afternoon, but was greeted by fried venison steaks, rice & gravy, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, cornbread, and soggum ‘lasses for dessert on another piece of hot buttered cornbread. Mighty good, but she warned me away from the gumbo.
Too late to make a long story short, but she had decided there was not going to be any discussion like unto: “Wow! This gumbo was really good last night, but tonight it’s absolutely wonderful! How come it’s always better the second (or third or fourth – however long it lasts) day?” Of course, the answer is always, “Because the flavors have more time to blend, if you just give it a few days in the fridge.”
Seven-Day Gumbo! We waited a full week before attacking that Big Pot, and I’m here to tell you that it was the best gumbo anyone anywhere ever put into their mouth. The smell of it all the way over to Dallas inspired the Rebels to play over their heads and soundly defeat a team picked to beat them by two touchdowns even though they started out two touchdowns behind before Betsy actually began to serve the gumbo. Our family Texans, after that first bowl, never cheered whatever it is that Red Raiders cheer, but joined us enthusiastically in “Hotty Toddy” after each worthy Rebel play. The event that Betsy had prepared Seven-Day Gumbo for was worthy of her efforts, and the flavors were perfectly blended.
She might be talked into building you a Seven-Day Gumbo for your next Big Event, if of course you provide the ingredients – that’s her provision. But here’s mine: we ain’t building any more Seven-Day Gumbos around Brownspur. I lost nearly ten pounds just smelling that Big Pot for a week, before she let me put a spoon in it. No doubt the flavors were blended; but I’m gonna at least taste yours!