By JOHN L. SLOAN,
It closed for business two years ago. The door slammed shut to the public. Over 25 years of tradition was over. White Oak Plantation as we all knew it was no more. Gone. However, you cannot close a reputation for excellence.
The boots of 16,000 hunters had trod the wood steps leading to the big lodge and the bedrooms and dining hall. Lord, the lies told and the memories created in the great room. Mounted heads looked down in amazement, antiques begged to be admired, all gone, now.
I worked and played at White Oak for some 25-years. I was part of the start of the largest bowhunt for women only. What a success that was. For 13-years Does and Bows was one of the highlights of the season. I helped with the first hunt for juveniles. Both those hunts started with conversations between Robert Pitman and me on the front porch.
I killed a few deer at White oak, too, including the biggest one ever killed there with a bow. I killed a turkey or two and Lord at the fish I caught, bass and bream. Over the year, I spent a lot of time down there. It was where I went to recover when I was sick. It was a place I could kick back and refill my swerve.
I watched the sunrises and sunsets from the large front and back porches. I swapped lies and facts and enjoyed the camaraderie of the hunters and especially Robert and Hilda Pitman, the owners. The doors are shut to the public, now. No more groups of 30 hunters creating a din of stories in the dining hall. The vast acres chopped up and sold.
Maybe not all gone. There are still 1,200 acres surrounding the home place. The main lodge and out buildings are intact. Robert and Hilda still live there and Matt, their son and his family, wife Mary, and their two kids. Matt put in some green fields this year and made sure some stands were up just in case a few old friends stopped by to hunt. There are some stands back in the swamp where a creek I can neither pronounce or spell runs through the thick cypress, tupelo, hardwoods and pines. There are still a few fish left in the home lake…some big ones, too. Course, the drought this year hasn’t helped.
Mark Campbell, known locally as Big Bird and I will be visiting January 13-16. It will be a bit of a homecoming for me. We will fool with the deer some because there are some big bucks that haven’t been hunted for two years. See, it is the peak of the rut down there, prime time to hunt. There are plenty of does that need thinning. If one of those cussed hogs steps out, he is toast. We might fish a little, too. I have been saving a special backstrap from a dry doe I killed here for at least one meal.
The afternoon hunt on January 15 will be a special one for me. I have been asked to guide one Ryan Donald on special hunt for deer. Ryan, age 23, has a severe form of cerebral palsy. This may be his last hunt. Robert, Hilda, and them, are going all out to make it special. Matt built a stand to accommodate his wheel chair. Various companies have outfitted him in the latest hunting clothes and equipment. I am honored that he asked me to guide him and more than happy to oblige. I’ll try hard to get that young man a deer.
I know, there will be some porch activity complete with big glasses of the best grapefruit juice I have ever had and a lie or so punctuated with some “I told you so’s”. We will recall years past, going back over the special memories from special hunts, the great meals.
The bucks will be trailing if not actually chasing the does. Since the entire place was under a strict management plan for a quarter century, the buck/doe ratio is great and the age strata are about the best around. Therefore, the chances for a mature whitetail buck are better that average.
The Bird might have a chance for the biggest buck of his life. Won’t take much. For years, this week has been known as the premiere hunt of the year. Many families reserved this week for their hunt. I wonder how many young people have killed their first or maybe biggest buck on this week.
White Oak is closed to the public. No more 500-600 hunters a year. Those days are gone. The big lakes are sold, gone. No more racket from hunters messing with their turkey calls. Those days are gone. Walking in a straight line all day and never, leave the property will not happen again. Much of that property is gone.
White Oak is mostly no more. What is left, excluding the memories, is for sale, too and one day it will be gone. But not quite yet. Right now, it is not quite…
You just had to be there -- Picture it. Jeanne in the kitchen with pots and pans everywhere. The ham just ready for glazing. So, Jeanne goes to take her shower, leaving the ham on the edge of the counter. My good dog Libby, can easily reach the edge of the counter.
I have to giver her credit, Jeanne; she did not melt down as she might have a few years ago.
There was enough left that with careful trimming, it was okay. In fact, it was downright hilarious.