The Best Camping Trip Ever

So far this deer season, each trip that I’ve taken to the camp has been a solo trip. I’ve had a different learning experience each time. I’ve proven to myself that I’m capable of going out into the woods and surviving on my own, not that there will ever be a time that calls for that. When you’re alone in the woods, especially at night, you hear each little sound. Your senses are a little sharper than usual. However, even as much as I’ve enjoyed my solo trips, deer camp is much more fun when someone else is there to share it with you.

On Thursday, we had a Thanksgiving meal that can’t be beat. True to my word, not a single piece of turkey was consumed. This year, with my last article a topic of conversation, there was no denying my “No turkey on Thanksgiving” protest. That said, nobody was overly excited with my idea of “Swampsgiving”, but my mother-in-law allowed me to make the deer rolls. The rolls didn’t disappoint and complimented the rest of the meal very well. At least I thought they did, and nobody complained so I’m taking it as a win. Shortly after lunch, I began to prepare for a weekend trip to the deer camp. I packed all of the usual gear and planned to head out the next morning. This time, however, I wanted to do one thing differently.

Chris Coulter, who I’ve mentioned in my articles before, is one of my favorite hunting buddies and is also co-hosting a podcast with me. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, we have a podcast now. Here’s my shameless plug for you to tune into Apple Podcasts or Spotify and listen to the weekly “Pinstripes to Camo Podcast.” On the show, myself, Chris, and my cousin, Hunter McCool, discuss all things outdoors in a lighthearted, conversational way. Back to the story. I called Chris and asked if he’d like to join me on a camping trip to Vicksburg to kill a little time in the woods. To my delight, he was just as excited as I was. Chris and his eight year old son, Mack, would be joining me for my first rifle hunt of the season. Since I had most of the necessary equipment for the trip, they provided the groceries for the weekend. I’m incredibly grateful that they got the groceries instead of me. We ate so much better than we would have.

After we all arrived at the land and set up camp, we headed out to hunt. We both chose box stands on food plots for the evening hunt, and we both saw plenty of deer. The temperature began to drop quickly as the sun faded and deer began to fill up my food plot. Unfortunately, none of them met my standards for the evening. When darkness fell, I picked up Chris and Mack, and we headed back to the camp. Chris lit our fire and began to go to work on dinner. He whipped up some steaks in a skillet and sliced them like fajita meat. He then added bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and brussel sprouts and served it over diced up potatoes that he cooked over the fire’s coals. I don’t know if I was just hungry or if this was the best camping meal that I’d ever eaten. I’m leaning toward it being the best camping meal of all time.

The fire is exactly what I’ve been missing in my solo camping trips. There’s something, other than it keeping you warm, that is comforting and relaxing about a campfire. We sat around the fire for a while talking about our hunts and laughing about experiences from previous years. I enjoyed watching Mack and his father share this moment, and it reminded me of camping experiences with my dad as a kid. This trip was going to be unique, though, because the temperature was going to drop well below freezing for the night. Mack’s sleepy eyes told us it was time for bed so we headed into the tent for the night. The two of them bundled up on an air mattress, and I bunked on a cot that Chris brought. It didn’t take more than a few minutes and I could hear Mack breathing heavy. Chris and I laughed at how easily he went to sleep.

Sleep didn’t come so easy for me and Chris. After finally slipping into a deep sleep, I was suddenly awakened by the sound of an owl. He was so close it seemed like he was on top of our tent. That normally soothing “hoot” was about as annoying as it could possibly be. Finally, the owl left and I drifted off to sleep again, but not for long. I had set up our camp on a ridgeline and later discovered that a buck had made a small scrape just down from the tent. Around 2:30 in the morning, that buck must have come to check it. He couldn’t have been more than 10-15 yards from the tent when he began blowing and stomping. It woke Chris and I both up. The annoyed buck did his thing for a few minutes before finally trotting off into the woods. Back to sleep we went.

My alarm went off and the morning greeted us with ice and frost on everything. We cranked the portable heater up as we got dressed for the morning hunt. The cold air stung as we rode the four wheeler to our destinations. After our morning hunt, we returned to camp and Chris cooked another meal that couldn’t be beat. This time we feasted on deer sausage with peppers and onions. For the first time ever, I gained weight while camping. The trip was topped off when my buddy, Brad, and his friend, Frank, showed up to hunt. The only thing that could have possibly made this trip better would have been one of us killing a big buck.

Alone time is good, and is often needed. The solo trips that I’ve taken have been as much therapeutic as they have been anything else. On the other hand, this is probably my favorite hunting trip that I’ve taken in a long time, if not ever. Good food, good friends, and watching a father teach his son about the outdoors is hard to beat. I hope there is more of that going on than I realize, because the world needs more dads taking their kids camping and hunting.

Life Is Too Short to Eat Something I Don’t Want

Why? Why do we continue to push turkey and dressing on Thanksgiving every single year? It doesn’t even make sense. It’s not even turkey season in Mississippi. If we can shut down entire oil pipelines, the least we could do is get rid of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. Around this time last year, I wrote an article about my disdain for turkey on Thanksgiving. A year later, and hopefully a year wiser, my feelings haven’t changed. The mere thought of meal after meal of turkey makes me want to fast for the entire week. So, guess what? I’m protesting turkey for Thanksgiving again this year, except this time everyone in the family is going to know.

Last year, I detailed a few recipes for venison to substitute the traditional turkey for your family meal. However, I failed to cook any of those dishes and had to settle for ham. My protest didn’t gain any traction, and I’m not even sure that my family even realized that I didn’t eat the turkey. This year, things will be different. I’ve already planned to grill my deer rolls for our Thursday meal and have even thought of adding some other items to the menu just to prove my point. You’re probably thinking about how selfish that is…and you’re right. Life is too short to force myself to eat something that I don’t want to eat. I had to do that for eighteen years while living with my parents. Now, I’m going to eat according to the wishes of my palate.

Thanksgiving provides a unique opportunity to showcase different foods to family and friends. You’ve got a captive audience, and the entire day pretty much revolves around the meal. So why would you want to waste the opportunity cooking the same old traditional thunder-chicken? Most anybody can whip up a turkey for their Thanksgiving meal. Now, that doesn’t mean it will taste good or keep you from burning your house down. I still have visions of the fire department having to show up to extinguish a fried turkey gone wrong. Regardless, cooking a turkey can’t be that difficult or fewer people would do it. That being said, I need to cook something on Thanksgiving that would be the polar opposite of turkey and take my protest to the next level. It needs to be something that my wife’s family leaves thinking that I’m either crazy or a genius.

 The grilled deer rolls are a given. Not only are they a great substitute for turkey, they are delicious and there’s never a wrong time to cook them. It’s also deer season so it makes even more sense. As a bonus, I know my kids will eat them and not go hungry for the day. If you aren’t exactly sure what I’m talking about when I mention deer rolls, it’s very simple. Soak some strips of deer meat in Dale’s Seasoning for a while, roll them up in bacon with a slice of jalapeno pepper in the middle, and toss it on the grill. Some folks use cream cheese in the middle, as well, but I do not. If you decide to cook these, make sure you tend the grill or you will surely burn them. I cook mine low and slow in order to keep them juicy.

Deer rolls aren’t quite enough to convince my in-laws that I’m crazy, or genius, so I need something else. What screams that I’m making a “turkey protest” louder than anything else? Seafood. Hopefully, in the coming weeks I’ll be filling the freezer with more deer meat for the year. With the price of beef going through the roof, and with my wife’s blessing because of this, I plan to kill as many deer as the state allows. Am I being selfish, again? You betcha! To be able to make room for the incoming barrage of freshly procured venison, I’ve got to empty out some of the current contents of the freezer. This week is the perfect opportunity to do it.

Currently housed in our deep freezer are bags of fresh gulf shrimp, redfish, catfish, frog legs, and alligator tail. This week just feels like the perfect time to thin the crowd and introduce my in-laws to some of Mississippi’s tastiest critters. They aren’t “city folk” or uppity by any stretch, but I’m willing to bet they’ve never had a swamp Thanksgiving before. Neither have I, but this year is the time to change all of that. Wouldn’t it be a proper Thanksgiving to cook a meal that is made with the things our state provides us? Actually, it would be downright hypocritical to not use wild game from Mississippi for our Thanksgiving meal. I’m thinking grilled shrimp and redfish accompanied by fried catfish, frog legs, and alligator tail would be a feast fit for a…Mississippian. When the Pilgrims had their supposed celebratory meal for Thanksgiving, I’ll bet you that they weren’t eating pronghorn. As for the vegetables, I’ll be a little more lenient. There’s a vegan somewhere that can make that argument. Whether you decide to break tradition and join my protest, or not, I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving. And if you do eat turkey, I hope it makes you too sleepy to hunt…that way I can kill the deer.

Finally On the Scoreboard

This weekend is usually reserved for taking my oldest daughter hunting. However, she decided to go to a birthday party for a friend instead. I wasn’t sure if I should be happy for another solo hunt with my bow, or if I should be sad that I wouldn’t get the pleasure of watching her hunt. Turns out that I experienced both feelings. The ability to go to any location on the property without having to account for another individual is freeing and easy. The time alone to meditate and take in God’s creation is hard to beat. On the other hand, I sure did miss the bonding time I usually have with my eldest. We don’t get to do many things with just the two of us, and this is our thing together. With almost every deer I saw, I caught myself thinking, “Mackenzie could shoot this deer if she were here.”

The other thing about being alone that is tough are the nights. When the wind isn’t blowing, the stillness of the night can be deafening. The silence was so loud that I had a hard time going to sleep. Thankfully around 9:30 the wind picked, or I might still be awake. Those were the times that I think I missed her the most. I believe it’s a good thing to have alone time and quiet time, but human beings were made to be social creatures for a reason. Companionship while hunting is just as important as alone time in the woods. Either way, thanks to a birthday party, this trip was going to be another solo one.

Last weekend, if you read, I had a tree get the best of me. I didn’t appreciate being stuck in that tree and I was determined to conquer it this time. So for my first hunt of the trip I returned to the tree that whipped me last weekend. I strapped my stand to it and began my climb to a suitable position to hunt from. A little more than half way up the tree, my stand got snagged. I couldn’t believe it. No way was I going to let this happen to me again. Instead of trying to bump my bottom piece off of the snag, like last time, I worked my way around to the back of the tree. I was able to get around the snag and continue my climb without any issue. Lesson learned.

With the first objective of the trip seemingly out of the way, it was time to tackle another issue from the week before. I needed to successfully harvest some meat. Last weekend I wounded one deer and completely whiffed on another. I returned home feeling pretty defeated and thinking that maybe I’ve lost my touch with shooting a bow. Fortunately, when I got back home I set up my target and found that my bow was shooting eight inches low at twenty yards. It was a relief to know that my equipment failed and not my ability to shoot straight. After discussing my problem with the archery coach at WCU, we both decided a new string and new sight should fix the issue.

With a new string, a new sight, and feeling confident, I just needed one more thing…a deer to come within range. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. The rustling of leaves perked me up less than an hour into my hunt. Soon, I could make out the silhouette of a deer entering the plot. It carefully stepped into the food plot, looking all around before it began to feed. My heart was pounding as I grabbed my bow. Upon further inspection, there was one problem. This deer had tiny little horns on its head. I watched the spike feed in the plot for over twenty minutes, well within bow range the entire time. It was painful to be so jacked up and ready to shoot something to have a deer that wasn’t legal teasing me. Finally, the spike jerked his head up and looked down the plot. He was transfixed on something approaching.

I turned and looked in the direction the spike was looking. A mature doe was making her way down the plot and was almost to my shooting lane. I hurriedly grabbed my bow and stood up. I’d already ranged different sections of my shooting lane so I didn’t have to worry about doing that on the fly. She stepped into the lane at 30 yards and stopped. I drew back, took a breath, and let my arrow fly. The sound the arrow made upon contact was just the sound that I’d been waiting for. The deer kicked and hopped into a thicket just out of the food plot. She stood still, like she didn’t know what happened, then took a couple of steps and disappeared. I wasn’t sure whether she went down right there or disappeared into the woods. I grabbed my binoculars and quickly saw my arrow lying on the ground. From what I could tell, it was soaked in blood. It was still early, but I felt very confident in the shot, so I climbed on down. There was a blood trail that Ray Charles could have followed. The deer didn’t go thirty yards from where I shot her. This was the clean, quick kill that I’d hoped for. I loaded up the deer and made it back to camp long before the sun went down.

I finished cleaning the deer, cleaned myself up, and laid down for the night. I was grateful for the meat, grateful for another opportunity after last weekend’s mishaps, and grateful for being able to spend time in the woods. It was a nearly perfect afternoon. The only thing that could have made it better…if Mackenzie had been there and killed it, instead of me.

Kicking Off November With a Bang

My November attire usually consists of athletic wear and camouflage. Who am I kidding, that’s my year-round attire for the most part. Yet, here I am on the first Tuesday of November, wearing a sport coat and slacks, awaiting the arrival of a man I’ve long admired. Dr. Benjamin Carson is set to speak at our annual scholarship dinner at William Carey University, and I’ve been given the privilege of having lunch with him and his wife ahead of the evening’s events.

I’ve never been “star struck” in the presence of someone famous, granted most of my encounters have generally been with athletes. I’ve always viewed these folks as just like the rest of us. However, being in the room with Dr. Carson feels entirely different. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was amongst someone that was incredibly important on a global scale. Not only is Dr. Carson one of the most accomplished neuro-surgeons in the world, he is someone that I once hoped would be the leader of the free world. I’ve told a number of people that when we vote for a leader on a national level, we really don’t know what they are like face to face. It was refreshing, and a relief, to learn that Dr. Carson is everything I thought he was, and more. He’s a gentle voice of reason in a chaotic time, and this country could use more leaders like him.

After the luncheon, and the scholarship dinner, it was time for me to slip back into more suitable attire for November. On Thursday, I packed my truck with the necessary implements of destruction and headed northwest toward the woods. Archery season is in full swing, and the price of beef ain’t getting any cheaper! We’d just finished off our last pack of deer burger from the freezer, and with the encouragement of my wife, it is beyond time to restock. The pressure is on!

If you read my article a few weeks ago, you’d know that my first hunting/camping trip was quite the learning experience. I found there were things that I needed, but didn’t have, and things that I had, but didn’t need. The first order of business was making sure I didn’t freeze to death during the long nights. I invested in a better sleeping bag, and took a propane heater that was donated by a close friend. I’m a bit leery about leaving the heater on while I sleep, but it came in handy before I called it a night. The sleeping bag made all of the difference, and I didn’t get cold a single time while sleeping. I also took a seven gallon water container with fresh water for drinking and hand washing. It’s a little much to lug around, but was nice to clean up.

After arriving and setting up camp, I hit the woods for a late evening hunt. After being in the stand less than an hour, two does approach my position. I drew my bow back and made a noise to stop the largest doe, providing me with a clean, broadside shot. I let the arrow fly and heard the almost immediate “whack” sound. This is not generally a good thing because it means you’ve hit bone, most likely the shoulder blade. The doe high tailed it out of the plot and disappeared into a thicket. After climbing down and finding my arrow, I found the first trace of blood. It wasn’t a lot, and I followed the blood trail into the thicket. Being dark, and there not being hardly any blood, I decided to back out and look again in the morning, not confident in my shot.

The next morning arrived, and back to the blood trail I went. I found a little more during the daylight than I had the previous night, but not much. The trail finally went cold, and my heart sank at the thought of wounding an animal. I feel like the wound isn’t mortal, but I find little comfort in not making a clean kill. Later that evening, I hunted another stand on the property. Three more deer approach, and once again I let an arrow fly. This time, my arrow visibly misses the deer beneath her. Something is not right. I’m not the greatest archer that ever lived, but I don’t miss 19 yard shots. I chalk it up to my sights being off on my bow. Both shots seemed to be low, so the next shot I will just aim high to compensate until I can get home and check the sights. The next opportunity never came.

My last evening sit of the trip was an exciting one. I had two young bucks get within spitting distance of me before they winded me and alerted all of West Mississippi of the danger in the woods. As darkness fell, I began my climb down. This is where things get sketchy. My bottom piece of my climber got hung up and I attempted to free it. It came loose and in the process, fell ten feet below me. I was dangling fifteen feet up in the tree with no clear cut way of how I was going to get down. Fifteen feet may not seem that high, but it’s a long way to jump at my age. I made a quick call to my cousin, Hunter, who is well versed in outdoor calamity.

We tried to think of ways for me to get down, but none seemed reasonable. Finally, I dangled myself from the top piece and dropped down to the lower piece without it falling farther down the tree. Never have I been so happy to put my boots on the ground. I also realized that I must have hit the age where God endows you with “grown man strength” because there is no way I should have been able to hold myself up. This event should serve as a lesson for everyone to be careful when hunting from any elevated stand. As I drove back home, all I could think of was if the rest of November is like the first week, what an adventure it will be.

The End of October Brings Crypts and Cryptorchids

Ah, Halloween. The time for all things spooky to roam our neighborhoods. It’s the one night of the year where it’s pretty much acceptable to dress up in the most taboo thing you can find and hit the town. That is, unless you are on Bourbon Street, then it’s just another regular night. Costumes this year seem to have been scarier, or weirder than usual. Maybe it’s just that I saw a couple of people dressed up like the president that freaked me out. Either way, Halloween isn’t the only time you’ll see some weird stuff if you look.

If you hunt long enough, you’ll come across some strange things in the woods. I once saw a three legged coyote chasing a rabbit. I spent the rest of the evening wondering if he ever caught his prey. I’ve seen animals with gruesome wounds, from gunshots and other animals, foraging through the woods. I’ve seen alligators that were missing eyes, and a fox with mange so bad that I almost didn’t recognize that it was a fox. All that said, one of the weirdest things that I’ve ever seen in the woods is probably more common than I realized.

A few years ago, I got an early season picture of a buck in velvet. This isn’t uncommon, but the deer in the picture just looked different. His antlers didn’t resemble a normal rack, but seemed to grow almost straight up. He had all kinds of gnarly stuff growing from the antlers, almost like how barnacles will grow on a bridge pylon. I knew he was different, but it was still early season and a lot of deer were still in velvet. I just figured he was deformed and most likely a buck that we should probably cull. I left my cameras out through the season and didn’t check them again until early December. I couldn’t believe what I saw when I pulled my cards.

The “barnacle buck” was still in full velvet in December. How could this be? I called a few friends to tell them about it, and they all had the same answer. This buck was a cryptorchid. At the time, I’d never heard of such. After a little bit of research, it turned out that it wasn’t nearly as uncommon as I thought. Cryptorchid is a condition that occurs when the buck’s testicles remain in the abdominal cavity and fail to drop into the scrotum. I immediately thought that the deer had some sort of disease for this to happen. Not at all. It can happen to a perfectly healthy buck. All it takes is some sort of trauma to its nether-regions. Once this happens, the buck has a dramatic drop in testosterone levels.

The “barnacle buck” immediately became a hit-list deer for me. Unfortunately, I never saw him that season. Fast forward to the next season, and I’m checking cameras again. Guess who shows up? The “barnacle buck” was back, and his still velvet antlers were much larger than the season before. I began to hunt the area where I’d gotten the most pictures of him. Finally, just before dark one evening during archery season, I put my eyes on him for the first time. He appeared perfectly healthy and had well over 115” of antler on his head. I waited impatiently while he fed on clover just out of bow range. Just as I thought he was going to work his way into range, an old doe sniffed me out and began blowing. It startled the “barnacle buck” enough to push him well outside of my comfortable range. I shrugged and thought, “Well, there will be other days.” I didn’t realize this would be the only time that I’d ever see him on the hoof.

The following season came with no pictures of our cryptorchid buck. My best guess was he either died of natural causes, or someone else killed him. I got my answer during a late December hunt with friend, Ben Tharp and his son, Reid. We’d been hunting for a couple of days without any real good luck. We’d all seen plenty of deer, but nothing worthy of slinging lead at. After an evening hunt, without burning any powder, we met back at the camp for dinner. Ben was almost giddy when I walked in the house. He said, “Man, you won’t believe what we saw this evening. We saw a giant buck that was still in full velvet and had crap hanging off of his antlers everywhere!” The “barnacle buck” was still alive and well. He proceeded to tell me that the buck amassed well over 130” of antlers and that Reid couldn’t get his gun up quick enough to take a shot. I was both relieved and a little depressed at the same time. I was glad that the buck was still alive, but really wished that Reid could have killed him. That was the last time that anyone saw the “barnacle buck” on our place.

My cousin, Hunter, recently sent me a picture of another cryptorchid buck. When he told his dad about the deer, his dad mentioned that he’d killed one like that years ago. What I once thought was incredibly rare, and strange, turns out to not be that rare at all. Then again, there isn’t much that Barry McCool hasn’t seen in the woods. It’s been almost two years without a sign of the “barnacle buck” on our place. If he’s still alive, that would put him in the 6-7 year old range, which might be rarer in Mississippi than being a cryptorchid. If by some chance I get a picture of him this year, he will definitely be #1 on my hit list. Until then, I’d gladly shoot any normal deer that gives me an opportunity to fill the freezer!

Deer Hunting with Dogs: Should We or Not?

As much as I’d like to fool everyone into thinking that I stay in the woods or on the water 24/7, I don’t. I’m pretty much like most everyone else. I have a job that requires quite a bit of time and a family that I enjoy doing things with. However, being in the outdoors is certainly a passion and my mind often wanders at times during the aforementioned. I’d also like to fool everyone into believing that I’ve got the whole hunting and fishing thing figured out. Once again, I don’t. I learn something new pretty much each time I go. I’ve also had the privilege of being around some guys that have forgotten more about the outdoors than I’ll ever know. A topic that I know very little about, and one that leaves me with all kinds of questions, is hunting deer with the use of dogs.

As I kid I would get to tag along with my great uncle from time to time on deer drives. At the time I’d never killed a deer, so each trip brought on excitement that this might be the day. We’d wake up early and load the dogs up in his truck in a special made aluminum box. Uncle Elvin had quite a few dogs back in those days. He had a few Beagles for rabbit hunting and three other dogs for deer hunting. Two of the three that he used for deer were also Beagles. The other one was a Blue Tick Hound, named Blue. If I’m not mistaken the two Beagles were named Charlie and Randy. Each dog was equipped with a collar with his contact information on them. Back then, we didn’t have GPS locators for dogs, or if there was such a thing, we certainly didn’t have the money to afford it.

Uncle Elvin was in a hunting club that bordered the Bienville National Forrest, so most of the time we’d go there for dog hunting. There were a bunch of members of the hunting club that would meet up for the hunt. A few of the other guys had dogs, as well, but Uncle Elvin’s dogs were usually the talk of the group. They had a reputation of jumping and running deer all across Smith County. I can remember on more than one occasion leaving the woods without ever retrieving the dogs. It always bothered Uncle Elvin when he couldn’t catch the dogs at the end of the hunt. He’d usually get a call later in the day, or a couple of days later, from someone that found the dogs. The two Beagles were especially bad about running deer for a couple of days at a time.

As a kid, I didn’t understand why Uncle Elvin would be so disappointed not to get the dogs back that morning. They always turned up later on, so what was the big deal? Now that I’m older, I understand it entirely. Uncle Elvin knew those dogs would end up on other people’s land, and that was never a good thing. Fortunately, he was pretty well known around Smith County and respected as a man that tried to do right by people. I’m sure he had a “run-in” or two over the years with angry landowners about the dogs, and I’m sure he did whatever was necessary to make things right. Now that I’m older, I probably relate to the landowner more than the dog hunter.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I’m in no way against the sport of hunting with dogs. I have some very fond memories of hunting with those guys as a kid. At times, I can still hear that old hound trotting through the woods on a crisp morning. His howl was music to my ears when he was on a hot deer trail. When it worked and a deer was killed (I never killed one), it was a very cool experience. On the other hand, I can absolutely see how it is bothersome to other hunters in the woods. One of the pleasures that I get from hunting now is silence. Living with four girls, the last thing I want to hear when I’m hunting is some yapping dog.

Hunting with the use of dogs, like everything else, has evolved over the years. Now the handlers have GPS tracking devices on them creating the less likelihood of not catching the dog after the hunt. Even with those devices, though, you can’t entirely be sure you’ll keep the dogs from venturing onto property not meant for dog hunting. There has been more than one occasion that I’ve been “still hunting” only to have dogs from a neighboring property push the deer right off of me. It’s frustrating when that happens, but there’s a lot of frustrating things that happen while hunting.

I’ve heard people speak of banning the use of dogs for hunting deer. While I’m not a fan of using dogs, it would be sad to see a ban take place. Mississippi has a long tradition of hunting with dogs, and the idea of getting rid of hunting traditions is worrisome. There is a Facebook group dedicated to hunting dogs in Mississippi and it has over 8,000 members, so getting rid of it isn’t a viable option, nor should it be. What has to happen to keep the cries for a ban from growing louder is a mutual respect of one another.

As we approach the season where the use of dogs is allowed, a couple of things have to be done right. For those, like myself, that choose not to hunt with the use of dogs, we have to understand that we aren’t the only ones embracing our way of hunting. Second, those that hunt with dogs must respect adjoining landowners that do not want dogs on their property. The State of Mississippi has arguably the most “hunter friendly” regulations in the country in regards to deer hunting. Let’s each do our part to make sure we keep it that way.

First Camping/Hunting Trip Provides Plenty of Lessons

Each time I go hunting or fishing, I’m hoping for a number of things to happen. I’m obviously hopeful that I’m successful in bringing something back home to eat. I’m hopeful that I return home without injury. Last, I’m hopeful that I learn something new from my trip. Some trips are more fruitful that others for all of the aforementioned. This trip provided me with plenty of information to use for the future.

I’ve been looking forward to this since early summer. I made the decision to do most of my hunting this year while spending my nights in the friendly confines of a tent. To some, this will seem like a foolish decision. Even some of my own friends think that I’m crazy to want to stay in a tent during deer season. Others will look at it as an adventure, which is how I view it. This weekend, I learned just what an adventure it can be.

I made it to our camp just in time to set my tent up before dark on Friday. I purchased a new tent this summer just for the upcoming deer season. I also sold my wife on the fact that the kids can’t go camping with my one person backpack tent, so we needed a new one. When it arrived in the mail, I set it up in the backyard to air it out and make sure I knew how to assemble it alone. The kids ended up helping a little bit, and at the time I didn’t realize how detrimental that would be for future solo trips. Putting up the oversized six person tent alone in the sweltering heat was a challenge I hadn’t considered. It took more time than I planned and the sun had completely faded by the time I was finished.

I set up the rest of my “base camp” and cooked a quick meal on my gas stove. I was expecting rain Friday night, so I made sure that I had everything that I didn’t want to get wet covered. I put the rain fly on the tent for the first time so I was keeping my fingers crossed that I did it right, or my night was going to be a miserable one. Cell service was pretty scarce so I couldn’t pinpoint the exact timing of the rain. If you know me, I’m a little bit of a weather snob and like to be precise about the where, when, and how much. Just before 10:00, my questions of “when will the front arrive” were answered. The wind picked up and there was a noticeable change of temperature. Shortly after, the wind really picked up. I estimated that there were gusts approaching 50 mph, and I began to wonder just how stupid I really was for doing this. Fortunately, I received very little rain with the storm, so I’m still not sure that the rain fly works.

When the winds eased up and the initial front passed, I relaxed and went to sleep. The temperature began to drop after midnight and my sleeping bag wasn’t quite warm enough. I put on an extra layer of clothes and dozed back off. Do you know that feeling that you’re being watched? At 4:00 am, I found myself wide awake. I could hear footsteps just outside my tent door. After the rain had passed, I had unzipped the door window for ventilation while I slept. Now, something, or someone, was right outside the door. I carefully reached for my flashlight and shined it at the door. I think I caught her by surprise as much as she caught me. The big doe freaked out at the light and started blowing at me. If neither of us had a heart attack then we both should be alright.

When daylight arrived, I hit the woods. The day was absolutely perfect. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and a breeze kept me cool throughout the day.  My only issue was I couldn’t get a deer within bow range. I saw a few, but none provided me with a shot. During lunchtime, I ran into town to grab a blanket and a couple of other items that I forgot. The previous night taught me that my sleeping bag wasn’t going to cut it alone. That evening, I laid out extra clothes next to my mattress, just in case. It’s a good thing that I did. With temperatures dipping down around 40 degrees, I once again found myself awake and shivering around 2:00 am. My blanket wasn’t cutting it. I reached over and put on my cold weather hunting clothes and got back inside my sleeping bag. I even put on a beanie and neck gaiter. It was possibly the coldest night of my life.

The morning sun couldn’t have come at a better time. I fear that I was close to my breaking point. I headed out to hunt one more time before I had to go home. My stand was situated on an old fence row between bottomland and hills. As the sun got higher, the deer began to move. Once again, I saw a few, but the only one that presented me with a shot opportunity was a young buck. I watched him graze along and disappear into the thick brush. It was so good to be back in the woods.

On the way home, I thought about the lessons learned from the trip. The biggest being, take a better blanket, or get a better sleeping bag. There were a number of items that I brought that I realized I don’t really need, and others that I should have brought, but didn’t. After getting back and unpacking, I am already plotting the next time out. Deer season is finally here.

You Never Forget Your First Time

The chase never gets old, but the first time it actually works is the best. Hours are spent figuring out what they like to eat most. You also try to figure out their favorite places to have a drink. At times, you’ll catch yourself wondering where they are sleeping. Then, the date is set. Before your rendezvous, the anticipation is so high you’ll hardly be able to stand it. I could be talking about courting your significant other, but I’m not. That first time is pretty unforgettable too, but I’m talking about bow hunting.

The first time you stick a deer with an arrow is an experience that you’ll never forget. The tingling in your arms, the weakness in your knees. You feel like your heart is going to explode in your chest. It’s pure euphoria. To be honest, I still get this feeling when I’m able to put a broadhead through the pump station of a whitetail. Bow hunting provides a sense of satisfaction that a rifle can never match.

I don’t claim to be a bow hunting guru by any stretch. Even after 12-13 years of bow hunting, I still feel like a novice. I know guys that refuse to pick up a rifle during the season. I’m not one of those guys. Usually, by the time that rifle season arrives my frustrations have mounted high enough that I’m more than happy to blast away with the boomstick. Bow hunting is hard and that’s what makes it so special.

My first archery kill came much later in life than my first rifle kill. I’d already graduated college and gotten married before I ever brought a deer down with my bow. To be fair, I didn’t begin bow hunting until I was in college and I was never very serious about it then. I had a crappy bow, crappy hunting land, and not a whole lot of patience for it. I was just unaware about what I was missing. My friend, Ben, is responsible for changing that mentality.

Late one afternoon during the summer I got a phone call from hunting buddy, Ben Tharp. A guy he knew was going through a divorce and was selling all of his hunting and fishing gear. I don’t know what he did, or why he had to sell his stuff, but at the moment I didn’t mind being a benefactor. I wasn’t much of a bow hunter, but he had a Mathews Drenalin that he was practically giving away. I told Ben that I’d buy it without ever really thinking I’d use it much. I won’t even mention what I paid for the entire setup because it will just make you mad, but it made me ponder whether or not I was buying a stolen bow. As soon as I got it, Ben and I started shooting pretty regular. This bow was actually fun to shoot, and I began to think that just maybe I could kill a deer with it.

That fall, Ben and I bushhogged a little piece of property down the road from my grandmother’s house in Smith County. I had permission to hunt it as long as I provided a little meat of my kills to the family that owned the land. Seemed like a more than fair trade to me. Clearing a food plot was an adventure in itself. We borrowed my uncle’s old tractor and took off down the road to the property. Ben drove the tractor while I followed behind in the truck. The old tractor would get to swaying and I’m not sure how he kept from side swiping vehicles passing by, or how he didn’t wind up in the ditch upside down. To this day, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever watched. The mere thought of Ben panicking on the highway brings a smile to my face. Somehow we managed to clear a nice strip of a cutover next to a stand of timber. This was going to be where I made my first bow kill.

Bow season arrived and we loaded up and headed back to Smith County. The golden rod was in full bloom and I can remember having the worst headache of my life. I didn’t even want to open my eyes on the ride over. It wasn’t too hot, but it was still plenty warm enough to work up a good sweat just walking in. We strapped our climbers on our backs, grabbed our bows, and headed toward our hunting spot. Ben climbed a tree directly on the lane we cleared in the cutover. I worked my way into the edge of the timber and found two nice trails that converged. I found a suitable tree on the trails and climbed up about 20 feet. I was excited to be in the woods, but that dang headache just wouldn’t subside. This was shaping up to be a long, miserable afternoon.

With my head still pounding, the sun was beginning to set. Suddenly, the sound of crunching leaves had all of my attention. I knew immediately that this was too big to be a squirrel. I went ahead and stood up with my bow ready. Mere seconds later, a doe stepped into view coming down the trail. My heart began to pump quicker than I ever remember. She made her way to me and stopped within twenty yards of my tree. She was broadside and standing completely still. I drew the bow back, took aim, and let an arrow fly. Whack! The arrow made the unmistakable sound of a hit as the doe kicked and took off running. The blood was rushing so fast through my head that I couldn’t hear her crash. My legs felt like jelly, and I was shaking uncontrollably. I climbed down and ran straight to Ben. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.

We quickly recovered my deer as she didn’t go 60 yards from where I shot her. It was the kill of a lifetime, even if it was just a doe. I finally felt a sense of accomplishment that I’d been missing for so many years. I had a new understanding for love of hunting. If you’ve never killed a deer with a bow, or do not bow hunt, I urge you to do so. It will completely change you. We don’t get many “first times” in life. This is a first time that every hunter should experience.

Picture Taken October 22, 2010

The Easy Way Out is the Quickest Way to the End

Written by Brandon Parker

If there was a magic bat that gave anyone who swung it the ability to hit a baseball over 400 feet, eventually baseball would not be worth watching…or that much fun to play. Well, that’s what is happening to hunting.

The almighty dollar and social media attention are the driving force behind this problem. That statement is not directed at those who are truly hunting to put food on the table. If wild game is relied upon to keep the family fed, then it doesn’t really matter what means a hunter uses to harvest it.

Here in Mississippi, baiting laws and options for legal hunting weapons are steadily getting more liberal. The number of children under the age of 8 killing mature bucks over a pile of feed within the first few days of archery season is staggering. Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 15 years, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s no secret that deer are the easiest to pattern when they aren’t pressured. Feeding deer in the same spot all summer long, monitoring with them cellular trail cameras and taking advantage of the first opportunity the wind allows you to hunt over the bait often results in an arrow or bolt driving through the lungs of a mature buck.

When I was a child, I didn’t look at archery season as unfair to those who weren’t strong enough to shoot a bow with enough kinetic energy to efficiently kill a deer. I COULD NOT WAIT until I was strong enough to join the men who were getting to hunt 60-70 more days in a season than I could. It was a rite of passage. It literally separated the men from the boys. I’m not being discriminatory toward female hunters…they were just few and far between. It was very difficult and a heck of an accomplishment to get a deer within 40 yards, keep your nerves in check and execute the shot. It was far from the “point and shoot” easiness that a crossbow provides.

Odd as it may seem, I also knew nothing about baiting. I didn’t even know people did it. I was taught to look for the natural food sources deer were feeding on during that particular time of the year. I can identify every tree that provides food for deer on the properties I hunt and can do the same on pretty much any piece of ground in Mississippi. I know that deer love dewberry and sweet gum sprouts. I know all of this because I had the drive to want to be as good at hunting as I could possibly be. I have spent countless hours on foot in the woods as well as up a tree. Before the internet killed paper print, I had a subscription to pretty much every hunting and fishing publication available and I read them all cover to cover. I wasn’t in an overly obsessed, subgroup of hunters. It was normal to put that kind of time in if you truly loved the outdoors and chasing the creatures that it provides.

There were also no trail cameras. It’s hard to say what my opinion was on something that wasn’t invented yet. As a child, I’m sure the thought of getting pictures of the deer I’d be hunting would be enticing. And honestly, I can’t see anything wrong with a regular camera. They give hunters an idea of what they’re working with. Although it is a technological advantage, it’s not an ethical issue. That much I feel confident about. But cellular cameras…not the same situation. I’ve tried them. And I felt like I was cheating. I understand that they help limit pressure in the woods. But you can check a regular trail camera right before a rain and do very little damage as far as pressure.

Going into my 34th season to chase whitetails, I feel confident that I can be dropped off on a piece of property I’ve never laid eyes on and by the end of day one, I can have multiple spots picked out that will give me a good chance of getting a shot at a deer or where my best bet for getting on some gobbling turkeys is.  My gut feeling is that some of these children who are learning to hunt with bait, cameras and weapons a 3-year-old can efficiently hunt with won’t be able to do the same when they are older…and they probably are not going to want to. This brings us back to the baseball analogy.

What drives most athletes is their competitive nature. I always wanted to be the best I could be on the ballfield. If there was someone I played with or against that I felt was better than me, I put in the work to try to get to their level. Kids these days have SO MANY more options/activities to spend their free time enjoying. If they find success in the woods with no effort put into it, then eventually it will get boring. We don’t want to find out what the hunting world will look like if there is hardly anybody doing it. Hunting will be something future generations read about in history books. Gun laws will become more stringent. But the wildlife we love to pursue will be hurt the most. Hunters are the world’s greatest conservationists. Take it away, and the millions of dollars spent annually to improve habitat for these animals will go somewhere else. I’m not trying to shame anyone by writing this. I’m simply encouraging the mentors out there to make hunting a lifelong passion, not an instant gratification hobby.

Be safe, aim straight and keep them lines tight.

Brandon Parker and his two children, Anna Payton and Brandon Hal

Plans May Change, Good Teammates Don’t

It never fails. Each year I have dreams of climbing up a tree for opening weekend of bow season. In my dream, there’s a gentle breeze on a cool, crisp October morning. The sun rises and burns off a light fog revealing an array of autumn colors in the trees. Squirrels chase one another and knock acorns from a large white oak. Suddenly, the sound of a breaking twig interrupts the busy morning. From seemingly out of nowhere, a large buck appears under the white oak for a morning snack. The wind is in my favor, and the buck has no idea I’m even there. Slowly, I raise my bow and take aim. The buck is broadside at a mere 30 yards. My hands are steady and my breaths are light. I release my arrow and…I wake up.

Every single year on the eve of my first hunt, this is what I envision happening. And every single year I’m left completely disappointed. I’m sure that somewhere some fortunate soul is living out my dream. However, as long as I continue to open the season in Mississippi, it will just have to remain a dream. In my defense, it was only just barely over a week ago that the weather was almost perfect for bow season. Then, in true Mississippi fashion, the humidity shot up and I was reminded that summer is still upon us. Good weather or bad weather, I still had every intention of being in a tree for opening weekend.

The older that I get, and I’m not old by any stretch, the more that I understand there’s no such thing as a concrete plan. I believe being a parent has taught me this as much as anything else. You may make plans, but they are always fluid. Kids get sick. The weather forces changes. You have car problems. Something comes up at work. Stuff happens. It’s a part of life that is hard to accept, but the quicker you learn to adapt, the better off you are.

For weeks I’ve been planning my opening weekend. I’ve shot my bow, inspected my climbing stand, aired out my tent, and put together a gear list that would make Janis Putelis blush. My initial plan was to go up on Friday as soon as we finished fall practice (remember, I’m a baseball coach first), set up my tent, and hunt the following morning. I’d mapped out a general area of where I thought I’d have success that morning, and another area for an evening hunt. As long as the weather cooperated, my plans for a grandiose opening weekend were falling nicely into place.

Amidst all of the planning and visions of what I hoped would be a bang of an opener, I got an unfortunate phone call. I’ve been blessed over years of playing sports to have had some great friends and incredible teammates. When you lose one, especially unexpectedly, it really puts things into perspective. Opening weekend all of a sudden didn’t seem so important.

On Friday, we had practice, just as planned. However, when practice ended, Vicksburg was not the direction that my vehicle was pointed, as formerly planned. My wife and I drove down to Robertsdale, Alabama to pay my final respects to my teammate and his family. The line at the funeral home wrapped around the building, a true testament to the type of man he was. Joe was a good ball-player, but an even better person. Needless to say, the world will be a much lesser place without him.

On the ride home, I began to reminisce on my days of playing college baseball. It warmed my heart to see the outpouring of support for Joe’s family from my former teammates. I may be biased, but I think those guys were the best. Not only were they winners; they were, and still are, high quality individuals. The loss of Joe is a reminder to get the most out of each day, and no matter what, be a good teammate.

Saturday morning arrives and I’m tired. The week’s events coupled with the drive on Friday night have me moving slowly. Instead of an opening weekend hunt, my plan is to go up and put some cameras out. If I have time to get an evening hunt in, I’ll do so before heading back home. By 9:30 a.m., it’s already hot, and the weather is showing rain off and on all evening. I, almost reluctantly, load up the truck and head to Vicksburg.

Pulling up to the land has a totally different feeling than in the past. We now only possess about half of the land that we had last season. I get out of the truck and the air is so thick you could almost slice it. There’s been a light rain, and it’s threatening again. Quickly, I jump to work to get cameras out to ensure that I have time to make a quick hunt. On my route to put out camera number one, I make brief stop on top of a big hill that I like to just sit and relax on. It’s good medicine for a day like today.

With three cameras deployed, I have time to make a hunt before the rain and darkness end the day. I strap my climber to my back and hike uphill a good ways before finding a suitable tree. The scenery, nor the weather, come close to my dream for opening weekend. I’m pouring sweat, the mosquitoes are eating me alive, and there’s no giant buck feeding under a white oak. Actually, I’m pretty certain that every deer within a three mile radius can probably smell me.

I sit for a couple of hours until darkness falls. A light rain begins to come down as I walk out of the woods. While hiking out, my mind races. I think about my camera placement and whether or not I got them in the right spots. I think about the long ride back home. I think about Joe. I don’t know what the season will have in store for me. Things happen and plans change. The one thing that I do know is that I will give it my best effort, no matter what…because my teammates taught me that’s the only way to do it.