|Reliving the Thanksgiving tradition|
|Wednesday, December 7, 2011|
By JOHN L. SLOAN
Thanksgiving morning we would deer hunt for a few hours, make just one drive, and then head to camp to start the hog roast. The fire was already burning and coming to cooking coals. For one of the first times, I had the duty of handling the dogs. That meant I had scant chance at seeing a deer but I thought the job held great responsibility.
Uncles Lloyd, Lester, and Alphus dropped the dogs and I off on the Muddy bayou road and I sat shivering in the dark waiting for the first light to start. It would be a foggy morning, clear with patchy fog laying close to the ground, spooky in a way but I liked it, made the swamp mysterious. I would drive through the swamp about two miles until I hit the Alligator Bayou swamp road, just a mud track.
In a drive, you walk quickly, directing the dogs.
The goat horn the driver carried had a distinctive sound that carried through the swamp and kept the other hunters and dogs advised as to your position and progress. It took some practice to blow it right. The jeep would be parked on the swamp road. The standers spread out in likely travel corridors. I remember that morning clearly.
Dawn finally came, just slithering in and I blew the goat horn one long blast to signal I was starting. We set out, me and Squealy and Buster and Madame Old Folks. It was coming good light when Squealy struck and he struck hot, no cold trailing, just a jump and run. The dogs were gone in a clamor and I set off behind them, hip boots flopping.
I have no idea where he came from, the four-point. He came by me in a series of high, long jumps flying through the fog. At 35-yards, I caught him in midair with the front bead, right-hand barrel and did not need the second barrel. I was some proud, I can tell you.
Over the years, it became traditional for me to hunt a little on Thanksgiving morning. In Wyoming, I stepped out of the ranch house at Newcastle and used my Winchester Model 12 to drop two Rio Grande turkeys.
One year in Texas, I rode a good, grey horse into a big pasture and set up by a small lake. Just past good sunup, I put the buckhorn sight of my Winchester 30-30 on a fat, eight-point, hill country buck. I was back at the ranch before breakfast was over.
There was a skip of a few years when I was mostly on the road. I was usually in some big, eastern city promoting a rodeo. Then I settled back here in Wilson County and I resumed the tradition. I remember well a morning on the north side of highway 70 W, less than a half mile from where I now live. A good Tennessee eight-point posed long enough for me to let the Savage .308 do its job. It was where Jack Bell cleared all the trees and now runs fat cattle. There was also a crisp morning in Alabama when I killed a nice buck with a borrowed rifle.
Then another break in the tradition as illness set in. It hit the Saturday before Thanksgiving, four years ago. I missed a few years due to health problems. Then I started getting better. I got so much better that this year, I felt well enough to renew the tradition.
Thanksgiving morning brought the kind of weather I love to hunt. It was cool, 34 degrees here at the house. Maybe you recall, there was a patchy layer of ground fog. I like that in some ways. It was just like that morning in the swamp in Louisiana. Where I was hunting this year, the fog was just like low hanging biscuits. Just flat lumps, scattered here and there.
Just dawn, light enough to see 30 yards. I see a doe coming toward me at a fast walk. She walks directly under me and vanishes in the patchy fog before I can get the rifle up. I know she is moving for a reason, not just traveling and I get the favorite Parker-Hale, .308 in position. Three, maybe four minutes go by.
I can just see the edges of the thicket. He steps out and the crosshairs begin to settle. He takes two steps and stops again. He was warned. I gave this buck a pass two times during bow season. He does not listen and the rifle jars my shoulder.
I have no idea if I hit him or not. He just vanished in the fog. It is early and I decide to sit a while longer and wait for the sunrise before looking for blood. I listen to turkeys and watch the sun begin to battle the fog. It is a pleasant morning and I am comfortable and in no hurry. I admit, I did think once of the dogs, the uncles and the hog roast.
She is behind my right shoulder, 62-yards. I know the exact distance because I have hit the tree she is under with my laser range finder many times while bowhunting.
She is staring straight-ahead, intent on something. I slowly stand and let the rifle settle, as it should, just letting the weight of the barrel slowly push my hand down. The crosshairs stop and the gun cracks. Again, I have no idea what happened. I saw her take one big jump and disappear. I do know it is time to get down.
I climb down and shed one layer of clothing. Not far, maybe 30 steps into the brush, I see a down deer. I have no idea which one. It is the doe. She went less than 20 yards.
The shot was perfect. I look around. The buck is only 25 yards away. He is the object that had her attention.
I know the dragging job is not going to be easy but still I have a sense of satisfaction. Those two make six deer for me this year, three with the TenPoint crossbow bow, one with a muzzleloader and two with a rifle. I may be done.
I have them dressed and loaded, straining my back in the process and I am absolutely soaking in sweat. I am home by 8:30. The Thanksgiving tradition is restored.
I have a trip to Alamaba planned for later this year and will probably go a time or two here before the season is over. I hope I can go next Thanksgiving. I plan to. Mostly, I am done. It has been a good year. I hope yours has too.