No Catfish and No Catalytic Converter

If you haven’t figured out by now, I make some poor decisions. On Friday, I continued this trend. With a tropical storm heading toward Mississippi, I thought it would be a great time to go check a log on the river. In my defense, I figured the river was going to get too high for the next week or so to be able to go, so I thought I’d beat the weather.

Around this same time last year was when I pulled a 47 pound flathead catfish out of a log in the Bouie River, so I was anxious to return. I remember that it was around the same time of the year because catching that fish made me late for anniversary dinner with my wife. I decided to try and keep the trend alive on Friday and catch another fish before we went to dinner.

My neighbor, Master Sergeant Dave Brooks, has been wanting to make a grabbing trip with me, so I made a quick call to see if he wanted to try and beat the weather. He agreed and we loaded up and headed toward the river. I normally put in at the Pep’s Point landing on the Bouie for this particular trip, but when we arrived the ramp was completely covered in sand. There was no way to launch a boat from here, so we went to another ramp just off of Highway 49. The ramp was a little silted over, but I brought a shovel in anticipation of this. We took turns digging out trenches for the truck and trailer tires, and it wasn’t long before we had the ramp functional. I backed the boat in and we were free.

This is an area of the river that I haven’t been on in over 25 years, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The beginning of the trip was deceiving. The river was a little low, but manageable. After going around a couple of bends everything changed. The river got incredibly low in spots and other spots were almost impassable with debris. My boat is a little big for the Bouie River, but most of the time I can maneuver it up and down with just a few obstacles. This time was different. We got stuck on logs on more than one occasion, and at times I felt like there was no way we’d ever be able to make it back up the river. I kept checking my radar to see where the tropical storm was, while at the same time watching my clock to make sure I made it back in time for dinner. After getting stuck on a log for the thousandth time, I checked our location and we were nowhere near the fishing hole. Time was running out with the storm coming in and a potential ticked off wife at home. We made the reluctant decision to turn back and give it a whirl another day.

As we slowly picked our way back up the river, I became a little angry. I was angry that my usual ramp was silted over. I knew it would be. That’s why I brought a shovel. I’ve seen too many ramps in south Mississippi that aren’t taken care of. It’s a shame that our tax dollars are wasted on so many things, yet we can’t keep a half dozen ramps readily available to the public. Beating my boat to death back up the shallow Bouie River just added to my frustration. Little did I know, all of that was about to be the least of my worries.

In what seemed like three days, we made it back to the boat launch on Highway 49. We pulled the boat ashore and I walked up the ramp to get the truck while feeling defeated. I hopped in the truck and turned the ignition. It made the most awful sound that I’ve ever heard. There was a truck parked next to me, and I thought they cranked theirs at the same time thus causing the awful noise. Nope. Nobody in the truck next to me, so it was mine. I backed up into the dirt road to be able to get a better look at the truck. This is where my Friday meltdown really hits its peak. I crawled underneath the truck and noticed that something was missing. I don’t know much about vehicles, but I was pretty sure that the pipe leading to my muffler was supposed to attach to the rest of the truck. Some jerk had sawed off my catalytic converter while we were on the river.

I sat next to the truck for a second trying to process what I had just seen. I walked down the ramp and told David what I thought had happened, and he was just as shocked as I was. We called the Forrest County Sheriff’s Office, and they sent a deputy out to do a report. He told us that this was rampant right now, and many churches had converters stolen off of church vans. What in the heck is going on in this world when you can’t go to the river without your truck getting sawed on?!!

I hope this week’s article will bring some awareness to someone like me. The officer also told us that a boat trailer had been stolen in the last two weeks from that same location. These are things that I don’t usually think about when I’m heading fishing, but will be vigilant about now. If you see suspicious activity, make sure to report it to local authorities. Also, if someone tries to sell you a catalytic converter in the next few days, I’d probably take a hard pass. The good news in all of this, my wife let me slide on being late for dinner…this time.

Master Sergeant David Brooks guides us up the Bouie River

Hiking Provides Beautiful Scenery and Sore Legs

Exhausted. That’s how you usually feel after returning from a vacation. At least that’s how I feel. My wife’s family does it big each year for a family reunion, and this year was in the mountains of North Georgia. We loaded the car up late last week and made the trip up, and I’m glad we did.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some pretty cool places across the country. I’ve been to the West Coast multiple times and been pretty much all over the central and southeastern United States. Most of these trips have been due to traveling with college athletics and don’t provide much time for sight-seeing. Nonetheless, I’ve been able to see some beautiful places. Out of all of the traveling that I’ve done in my life, one area has pretty much eluded me, the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve been to the Cascades, and I’ve seen the Rockies, but I’ve never really been in the Appalachians.

As we started to get into the hills, my excitement level began to rise. I felt like I was looking at a potential “shooter” buck or getting ready for a big game. It probably sounds corny, but I was excited to finally get a glimpse of the beginnings of the Appalachian range. As we curved our way into the hills the scenery grew better and better. I tried to soak in each view as we slowly made our way toward the lodge. We arrived just in time to catch a nice sunset from the lodge, which was situated atop a ridge around 2,500 feet in elevation and holds Amicalola Falls.

Amicalola Falls is the third highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. As soon as we got moving the next morning, we made a point to go view the falls before doing anything else. It measures 729 feet in length and is breathtakingly beautiful. Since the lodge was at the top of the mountain, we began our view of the falls from the top. The kids wanted to hike down and get a look from the bottom, and a part of me wanted to do the same. This is where the trip fatigue begins. To get down to the bottom of the falls from the top, you take a long set of stairs down. This doesn’t sound very daunting, and it’s not. The problem with starting at the top and going down means you have to come back up. I consider myself to be in fairly good shape for a man in his mid-30s. Those steps on the way back up absolutely kicked my butt. My legs burned like they haven’t burned in years. I really began to question my athleticism when an older man smoking a cigarette passed me on the way up. The kids handled it just fine, with Collins asking to go back down and do it again. We did not.

We returned to the lodge with my legs and my pride hurting. I immediately laid down and took a much needed nap. Upon awakening, the rest of my wife’s family had arrived. They had already heard of our morning adventure from the kids and about my fatigue. Most of them hadn’t been to the falls to pick at me about how wimpy I was being. They just accepted that it must be pretty tough. That’s when my wife’s aunt finally spoke up. She lives in the area and had been to the falls many times. She shattered my ego even more when she let everyone know that she hiked the falls for her 80th birthday. Yep, I was still exhausted, and now humiliated.

The next morning arrived and I was determined to prove that I could handle the hiking world. We decided to go down to the bottom of the hill and hike a trail up to the bottom of the falls. This time my in-laws decided to make the trip as well. We hiked around a mile to the bottom of the falls. Along the way, there was a pond that is stocked with trout for catch and release fishing. A part of me wanted to try my luck, but something about a stocked pond full of trout just seemed too tame for my liking. We passed it and kept on hiking to the base of the falls. Also, along the way I heard a familiar little voice. Our middle child was hiking with some of the family and passed us along the trail. I was feeling good about myself and our hike, until she passed by us skipping along the way. My ego was once again shattered. (Side note: she hiked all the way up to the falls and back up the stairs again with no complaint)

When the trip was finished and we headed back toward the house, I began to wonder about hiking opportunities in Mississippi. I usually get my hiking fix traversing the woods of Mississippi with a rifle on my back in pursuit of deer. But what about people that want to enjoy the outdoors without attempting to kill something? I found a website that provides information about different hiking trails throughout our state. The site, hikinginmississippi.com, gives a detailed list of trails in each region of the state, as well as different events that one might be interested in. I’m not sure if I will ever get around to visiting these trails, but after this weekend my interest has definitely been peaked. In the meantime, I will continue to lick my wounds and work on getting in better shape to keep my six year old from running circles around me.

Memories of Summer Trips to My Grandparent’s House

Rain. One word pretty much sums up this entire week. Since returning from the river last weekend that’s all that it seems to have done. Each time I’ve thought I’d have a break to head back out on the water, the radar tells me to stay put. I know what you’re thinking. It’s just a little rain and it won’t hurt. In most cases, you’d be right. On the other hand, if you’ve read any of my previous articles you would know that I don’t need to be on the water in less than optimal conditions.

In the place of fishing for the weekend, we took the kids to a local blueberry farm, Sandy Run Farms. This isn’t exactly the adventure that I had envisioned for the weekend, but anytime you take a two year old somewhere it has challenges. We grabbed four small buckets and set out into the endless rows of blueberry bushes. If you haven’t been to Sandy Run Farms, I encourage you to go. It doesn’t matter if you have children or not, it’s a great place to kill an hour or so. The staff is incredibly friendly and the blueberries are delicious.

Do you know how you can catch a whiff of something and it takes you back to a memory that you couldn’t have possibly remembered without that particular scent? I’m not exactly sure what I smelled while we were picking berries, but it immediately took me back to summers at my grandparent’s house in Alabama. The memories were so clear and hit me so hard that it felt like they happened just yesterday. As I continued to pick berries, my eyes filled with tears at the thought of those summers.

My grandparents owned a home in-between Monroeville and Atmore in South Central Alabama. My grandmother still lives there to this day. This particular area of Alabama is similar to the Mississippi Delta. It’s an area scattered with modest homes and as much farmland as one can stomach. Our family owned around 100 acres that was mostly leased out to a local farmer to plant. The crops that were grown on the larger portion of land rotated between cotton and peanuts. As a kid, I loved to sit and watch the crop dusters fly over the house and spray the field, all the while my grandmother running outside quickly to get her laundry off of the clothesline. Speaking of scents that take you back, my grandmother’s towels always smelled the freshest, and still do.

Aside from the cotton field, my grandfather always had a section of land set aside to plant a garden. They’d plant corn, tomatoes, peppers, beans, potatoes, squash, okra, and egg-plant. I’m sure there was more that I’m forgetting. When I’d go to visit, it was always harvest season. We’d wake up in the mornings and go straight out to the garden to pick. I remember once as a kid we picked an entire truck load of corn. It was also the first and only time that I’ve ever seen a corn snake! I vividly remember walking behind my grandfather as he cut okra off the stalk. I can still feel the itch as we brushed through the plants! We’d fill our buckets with fresh produce and take it back to the house for grandma to clean.

That’s another thing that was, and is, great about my grandparent’s house. The food. There wasn’t a fast food restaurant within 25-30 minutes, so home cooked meals are what we ate. My grandmother is the best cook ever and that’s not up for debate. Every evening we would have an assortment of fresh vegetables from the garden. We also had fruit trees all around the yard. You couldn’t walk 20 yards without running into some sort of fruit tree. From fig trees, blueberry bushes, peach trees, to muscadine vines, there was literally something to eat everywhere you looked. It was like our own little Garden of Eden.

Our family also owned a parcel of land down the road a little piece where my grandfather had cows. We’d ride over there daily to check on them and do whatever work needed to be done. I’d help my grandfather mend fences, bust up beaver dams, or work around the barn. When the work was finished, we’d fish in the pond. This particular pond was perfect to take a kid fishing. You couldn’t hardly cast a line in without catching something. Granddaddy always made sure we made plenty of trips over to the pond while I was there because he knew that’s what I’d rather do than actually working. I know there were things that needed tending to instead of me fishing, but now that I have kids of my own I understand why he made the time for it.

I’m sure there are still kids today that get to experience this way of life with their grandparents, but there’s not enough of them. I really believe that those couple of weeks each summer when I was growing up helped mold me into who I am today. It’s a simple way of life, but simplicity is needed. We live in a world that is way too dang busy today. We need more weeks with grandma and grandpa where we pick peas and sit in the shade with a fishing pole. I never realized how important those days were until I got older.

The last time I spent a couple of weeks there was right before I left home for college. My grandfather was dying of cancer, and the weeks were filled doing the chores around the house while my grandmother cared for him. I tended to the garden, which was much smaller than usual, and made sure the yard was kept neat. It was a strange feeling doing those chores without him beside me. Now that he has passed, I do a garden for our girls. I love to watch them pick fresh vegetables in the evening and for my wife to cook them for us. I think granddaddy would be proud.

Boats, People Watching, and Catfish On the Pearl

The kids are out of school, baseball season is over, summer is here, and the fish are biting. A few days ago, I went ahead and pulled the boat out of its resting place, and prepared for the first voyage of the summer. I’ve periodically pulled it out, cleaned it, and cranked it to make sure when the time was here that I wouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines. Thankfully, she fired right up the first time that I turned the key. Anyone that owns a boat knows that this is a miracle in itself!

I had every intention of heading to the river as soon as my batteries were fully charged. Rarely do my intentions become reality. I watched painfully as my boat sat in our driveway for two days without being used. As soon as I thought it would be a good time to head out, the girls would come up with something that needed, or had, to be done. I put on a half-smile and agreed to their terms, hoping that my river trip would happen sooner rather than later.

Sunday afternoon would be the first time that we didn’t have something that just had to be done, or someplace we just had to be. Well, sort of. We had lunch at my in-laws and the river was calling my name. I didn’t think that I’d ever get the girls to leave so we could get back to the house. After hustling them into the car, it was decided that we’d all be going out on the boat for the evening. This may seem normal to you, or you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” I’ll tell you what the big deal is. Getting four girls into the boat, including a two year old, is big work. Fellas, have you ever noticed how your wife and children will pack the car for an overnight trip? There will be enough stuff in the car that you can’t even see out of the rear-view mirror. And that’s for one night. A day trip to the river usually isn’t much different. They will pack enough snacks, drinks, and towels to open up a bed and breakfast on a sandbar. Seeing that I don’t own a yacht, this over-packing usually makes for a pretty cramped boat ride. For some reason, though, today was different.

As I hooked the boat up to the truck and loaded up the life jackets for each person on board, I noticed Collins (middle child) carrying a small grocery bag of snacks. I wondered, how can this be? Is this all they intend to bring? They didn’t even pack drinks! I loaded up a couple of rod and reels and packed a small cooler with a few bottles of water. This trip is already looking better than previous trips! We loaded the kids up in the truck and headed toward the Pearl River.

When we arrived at the boat launch, I could have sworn I’d been conned into taking my boat to some kind of auction. There were more boat trailers parked in the lot than you’d see at the Bassmaster Classic. It dawned on me that it was Memorial Day weekend, and every boat owner in three counties was at the river. My patience was being tested at the launch, as it took at least 25 minutes before it was my turn to back my trailer in. I got the boat into the water, slipped and fell twice, and strained a quad before finally getting everyone in the boat. Thank goodness the boat fired right up or who knows who I may have killed! As we headed up the river, the pain in my leg went away, and my anxiety disappeared. I finally felt at home.

Speaking of feeling at home, when you go to the river in South Mississippi, especially on a holiday weekend, you see all walks of life. If you had time to just sit and look, it would be a fantastic place to people watch, much like an airport! My kids were probably a nervous wreck with some of the characters we encountered, but these are my people. I love how every boat you pass, or every person on a sandbar, will wave at you as you go by. Heck, you can pass a sandbar full of people waving, go two hundred yards past it, turn around, come back, and they will wave again! Fortunately, for me, this has always been the case. Folks on the river are happy and friendly because they are on the river.

We traveled up the river a pretty good piece and found a nice spot in the shade to fish for a while. Since this wasn’t so much of a fishing trip as it was a pleasure trip, we baited up one rod with a worm and cast it into the edge of the current. It wasn’t five minutes later the rod was almost jerked entirely out of the boat. I grabbed it quickly and began reeling. The kids squirmed with excitement as I landed the four pound channel catfish into the boat. The fish wasn’t huge, but daddy was seemingly a hero. I beamed with pride at the first, of hopefully many, catfish for the summer. We baited the hook again and tossed the line back in the water.

We didn’t catch any more fish, but I didn’t really care. Watching my girls enjoy the outdoors was more than worth the trip over for the afternoon. On the way back to the boat ramp I explained to Mackenzie (oldest child) how to navigate the river. She soaked up every bit of information like she was preparing for a test. Hopefully one day she will look back on days like today and smile, just like I do when I think about times on the river with my dad.

The Difficulty of Transitioning Seasons

There’s an old saying that goes “time flies when you’re having fun.” The last few weeks have been incredibly fun and have seemingly gone by like a shooting star. Having success is always fun, but falling short of your goal is gut wrenching, especially when you are as close as we were.

After returning home from winning our conference championship, we only had a couple of days to unpack a bag, wash our clothes, and head back on the road. There was barely enough time to squeeze in some family time and take care of some neglected yard work before leaving again. We were selected to play in the NAIA Opening Round, which is essentially the equivalent to what most call a regional. Our “regional” was located just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. The tournament consisted of five teams, four of which were ranked in the NAIA Top 25, including the 4th ranked team in the country, Central Methodist University. To get to the World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, we would have to play our best baseball of the year.

I haven’t spent too much time in the Midwest, so I really looked forward to seeing new things. The scenery on the trip up was a nice mixture of flat, farmland and rolling hills along the Mississippi River. The weather was nice on the drive up, but on Saturday that changed. We were hit with a brief rain and chilly temps on Saturday afternoon. That rain continued off and on all the way through Wednesday. It was absolutely miserable. Thankfully, the field that we were playing on was artificial turf so we didn’t have to worry too much about rainouts. However, it did rain so much that the tournament was backed up some.

We opened the tournament as the number two seed and played the number three seed, Benedictine-Mesa, out of Arizona. Fortunately, we were able so slide past them with a 2-1 win, putting us in the winner’s bracket. Next up was top seeded Central Methodist. After getting in a hole early, and facing a 6-1 deficit in the 9th inning, our top hitter launched a three-run homer with nobody out to bring us within two runs. We got the next two runners on base before the pitcher was able to work out of the jam, giving us our first loss of the tournament. Reality began to set in that we were one game away from our season being over.

We didn’t have much time to think about things, as we had to play again that evening. The rain from the previous days had the schedule backed up, which forced us to have to play two games on the same day. Our first elimination game of the season was against McPherson College, out of Kansas. They had fought through the loser’s bracket and were also on their second game of the day. We jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, eliminating them by a score of 10-2. However, with the win meant we would have to beat Central Methodist twice the following day in order to return to Lewiston.

Thursday provided the first sunshine that I had seen in the Midwest since arriving. The sun, coupled with the gentle breeze, made for a perfect day for baseball. However, what started out as a perfect day ended with heartbreak. Central Methodist took an early lead and held on for a 7-2 win, ending our season.

Watching the final out of the season is never easy when you’re on the losing side of things. I’m flooded with emotions at the end of the game. On one hand, I’m grateful for the success we’ve had and the opportunity that our younger guys had to play in postseason games. It should serve them well for the future. On the other hand, my heart breaks for the seniors who just played their last game of baseball. It stings to watch them hug one another with tear filled eyes, having come up just short of a goal. Their contributions to our program are certainly appreciated.

I hear coaches all of the time say things like, “Winning a national championship is the only goal”, or “the season will be considered a failure if we don’t win it all.” I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach and idea. Success can be measured in many different ways. I believe that making it through the season without being shut down due to Covid can be considered success. A conference championship is absolutely considered success. Having each one of our seniors complete their degree is considered success. If that mentality makes me a loser, slap an “L” on my back and tell me how many national championships you’ve won.

Now that the season is over, it’s time to transition. The new season has begun. This time will be filled with filling roster spots from players that are moving on to figuring out how returners will fit into the mix for next season. It’s also a transitional period at home. My wife has essentially been a single parent for a few months, and our kids have to learn my name again! The good thing is that summer is quickly approaching and school will be out soon. Maybe a couple of trips on the river is just what they need to remember Dad. It’s certainly what I need.

Baseball, Hunting, and Fishing Have Many Similarities

Wow. What a week! Postseason baseball is incredibly fun, even more so when you win, but it’s also pretty draining on the mind and body.  As I rested today after being on the road for a week, I began to think of some of the ways baseball, hunting, and fishing share some similarities. Of course, baseball shares similarities with many things in life, as do hunting and fishing, but I don’t know much about accounting or construction so I’ll have stick with what I know.

Going into our conference tournament this past week, I felt like we knew a pretty good bit about the opponents that we would face. We’d seen most of them during the regular season, and I didn’t expect too many surprises in the tournament. In the days leading up to the tournament we look over statistics, tendencies, and make out scouting reports. If we do it right, we should have a decent idea of what our opponent can and cannot do. Then we put together a game plan of what it will take to win. How is this any different than hunting?

In the months leading up to the beginning of deer season, many of us will scout the animals we want to pursue. We will prepare food plots, put out cameras, and plot areas on a map of where we think gives us the best opportunity for success. By the time the season gets here, we will have a pretty good idea of what our opponent (the deer) are doing and when they are doing it. We will know how the deer will move in certain kinds of weather. We will know where they sleep and what they are eating. We will know which stands will give us the best chance for success depending on the direction of the wind. In essence, we will have our own little scouting report to give us our best chance to harvest that buck we’ve been lusting after. Just like baseball.

Before I go to a lake or river to fish, I usually like to take a look at some type of map. If it’s a public lake, there is usually a map somewhere online showing the different depths of the lake. It’s always good to know ahead of time where the deeper water is and where it begins to drop. If I’m fishing a river, I like to look at a topo map. This gives me a decent idea of steep drops in the land that usually coincides with a drop off in the river. After getting a general idea of where to fish, the next step is how to catch the fish. I equate this to trying to get a hitter out. If you’re a pitcher, you need to know what pitches a hitter hits well and what pitches they don’t hit well. Can I get this guy out with a slider? Can I catch this bass with a spinner bait? What pitches do this team feast on? What baits do these fish feast on? Just like baseball.

Next is the equipment debate. I’ve seen baseball players with crummy bats and ragged gloves whip the tails of kids with brand new stuff. They are just better players. I’ve also seen fishermen that were in boats held together by duct tape and prayers win tournaments while guys buzzed around in forty-thousand dollar rigs catching weeds. They are just better fishermen. However, my mother in law often chides me about being the best dressed hunter in the woods, and I am. I’m built for comfort, not speed. There are also a heckuva lot of guys out there killing booners in blue jeans and flannel shirts, while I snooze away an afternoon in the best Under Armor jacket you can imagine. They are just better hunters. However, I do believe that having updated equipment gives you an edge in the woods and on the water, just as it does on the baseball field. If you put two equal teams on the field, give one the best equipment and the other old equipment, I’d bet the guys with the new digs win the game. If my uncle had the gear and clothing that I have, he’d likely be able to sit in the woods for 3-4 days without making a twitch. Regardless of gear, some hunters/fishermen are just better…just like baseball.

Finally, how about the joy and heartache that each bring? After hours of preparation and work, how gut wrenching is it to miss that buck you’ve worked so hard for? Or better, how much happiness does it bring you to catch the bass of a lifetime after fishing a particular lake for an entire summer, day in and day out? Fortunately for our team, we got to experience the happy side of things this past weekend. After an entire year of uncertainty with Covid, and a regular season filled with ups and downs, we were able to raise a trophy on Sunday and proclaim ourselves conference champions. It’s a good feeling when hard work pays off! Just like hunting and fishing.

It’s Postseason Baseball Time at William Carey

With the beginning of May comes the beginning of postseason baseball. For the moment, it’s time to put aside outdoor adventures and lay focus where it belongs, on chasing championships. The month of May is filled with opportunities for players to etch their names in record books and extend their seasons.

The William Carey Baseball team has had a season full of streaks. After starting off the season at 2-2, the Crusaders reeled off 14 straight, including a Friday night win over the 5th ranked team in America. Then, the Crusaders dropped the next 5 games to fall out of the NAIA rankings. The next streak…5 wins in a row, followed by 3 straight losses. To keep with the theme of the season, Carey won the next 9 games before having three games canceled due to an opponent having Covid. Next up, the SSAC Tournament in Mobile, AL.

Carey enters the tournament as the 5th overall seed in the Southern States Athletic Conference and will play the University of Mobile to open things up. The Crusaders were only able to play 15 conference games during the regular season due to Covid cancelations, but hold a 30-10 overall record. Play beyond the tournament will largely depend on how the week goes for the Crusaders. Have a good showing in Mobile and likely keep playing, play poorly and the season likely ends.

Whether or not the season continues will largely depend on senior leadership within the team. The top two pitchers are seniors, as well as a few of the top position players. There are four or five first team All-Conference guys on this roster, and if they play well, we will keep going. This team has a great mix of young and old. There are more than a couple of freshmen that are major contributors on the mound and at the plate. Of course, when it gets to this time of the year there is no such thing as a freshman any longer. By now they have logged enough time to no longer be considered rookies.

Experience always plays a key role when it comes to postseason play. The good thing the Crusaders have on our side in that category is Head Coach Bobby Halford. In case you live under a rock, Coach Halford won his 1,200th game a couple of weeks ago. I don’t care if you’re playing backyard whiffle ball, that’s a heckuva lot of wins. To give you some scale of just how many that is, the next closest coach in the SSAC has a little over 700. If you ask Coach about it, he’ll just say that it’s because he’s been doing this for so long that eventually you get to this number. Hate to say it, but that’s just not true. Rarely anybody gets to this number, no matter how long you do it. I’m fortunate to have been here for quite a few of those and hope we can keep it rolling. It’s fun winning.

No matter the outcome of the tournament this week, it’s been a season for the ages. Never have I been a part of a team that had to jump through so many hoops just to get on the field. In 2017, when the tornado ripped through campus and knocked down our lights, we still knew that eventually we’d get back on the field and everything would be alright. Now that we’ve reached the postseason, these guys have to wake up each day hoping that there aren’t any positive tests that could derail the rest of the season and shut things down. We watched our women’s basketball team have to endure that in the fall and it’s not something that I would wish on any team. So here’s to hoping for a healthy finish to 2021 and another postseason of chasing a dream.

Here’s To a Camp That I Have Loved

Today (Sunday) is the day that I’ve been dreading for over a month; my last trip to our deer camp. The land had been for sale for the last year or so, and a buyer finally came through. Since the day that I got the news, I’ve been trying to find a window of opportunity to enjoy one final outing on the property before closing. That chance finally came through this weekend.

We finished our weekend series (a sweep) a little early on Saturday evening, and my desire to skip town and head to Vicksburg was overwhelming me. When I mentioned a quick trip to the camp to try my luck at killing a gobbler, my wife, although annoyed, was complicit in my desire to give it a shot. Of course, there is no such thing as a quick trip to Vicksburg and back, but my selfish desires had overtaken my ability to be logical. After dinner on Saturday evening, I quickly loaded the truck and headed toward camp for one last time.

Upon entering the house late Saturday night, there was a somber feeling. The house is now mostly empty and devoid of the beautiful deer, duck, and fish mounts that decorated the walls. The only things remaining were the living room and bedroom furniture, which I presume are staying. It was quiet, too quiet. Not like the deer camp environment that I’ve come to love so much over the years. It’s not that I don’t enjoy peace and quiet every now and then. I live with four girls, trust me I enjoy some quiet time, I just didn’t enjoy this moment of solitude. I grabbed a quick shower and climbed into bed to get some rest because tomorrow is my first last chance to kill a turkey this season.

The alarm goes off in what seems like ten minutes since I laid my head down on my pillow. I fight the urge to hit “silence” and go back to sleep. Reluctantly, at first, I drag myself out of bed and try to wake up. Realizing that time is not a luxury that I have, I hurriedly throw my camo and boots on, pack a granola bar and some water, and head out the door. As I begin my walk, I let out my best hoot owl impression, anxiously hoping for a response from a roosted gobbler. Silence. My long walk begins, stopping periodically to hoot, but still no response.

I take my time and make sure I’m not putting my foot down on any kind of serpent. I’ve killed entirely too many rattlesnakes on this property to be careless this time of the year. I get to a spot that I’ve seen turkeys in the past and get set up. I let out a few calls almost expecting a gobbler to fire up the woods. Nothing. I wait a while and call again. Nothing. After sitting a while longer, at the urging of my cousin who is texting me, I change locations. Along the way, I walk the sole of my boot clean off. Not exactly the way I envisioned my first last day of turkey season.

I sit, wait, call, and sit some more. Wash, rinse, repeat. The sun is well up into the sky and there’s a gentle breeze. I’m in the shade and the mosquitoes aren’t too bad, so at least it’s relaxing. My eyes get heavy and I dose off a couple of times. That’s my cue to begin the long walk back to the house. I need another bottle of water anyway, so the timing is perfect. I’d also like to catch one more bass out of the lake, so this is a good time to head back. I make the walk back, grab a bottle of water, and drive down to the lake. Within 10-15 minutes of fishing I’ve landed four small bass, which makes me happy. A small alligator swims by me offering his goodbyes, as well. It’s time to head out for one last hunt.

Once again, I make a pretty lengthy walk to my hunting spot. This time I’m even more deliberate about where I put my feet. Not because I’m worried about snakes, but because I want to remember each step of this walk. I walk a little slower and take in everything around me. The honeysuckle is in full bloom and the scent fills the air. My scent also fills the air, and the deer let me know they can smell me. I get set up and relax under a sawtooth oak for the evening hunt. I make a few quiet calls and just sit and wait. Nothing calls back and nothing shows up. The sun begins to set beyond the tree line, and just like that, my last hunt is over.

As I closed the gate for the last time and took off down the road, a flood of memories come over me. Things that I hope I never forget. Memories like Mackenzie killing her first deer, Collins catching her first fish, and time well spent with friends and family. No matter where I hunt next, or what lakes I fish in, this particular piece of land will always have a special place in my heart.

Bowfishing is the Key to a Successful Bachelor’s Trip

My wife is a pretty tolerant woman when it comes to my outdoor exploits. Of course, she should be, giving she knew what she was getting into when she said “I do.” At least she should have known. Shortly before our wedding in 2010, I had a few friends that were adamant about throwing me a bachelor party. Now, I’m not the bar hopping type, or the casino type, and certainly not the gentlemen’s club type, so our options were pretty limited. The only reasonable choice was some kind of fishing trip. We decided on a bowfishing trip in the South Delta.

Amy’s family owns a house situated on Eagle Lake, just north of Vicksburg. Her aunt was gracious enough to give me a key for a few days, provided we didn’t burn it down. Myself and three other friends loaded up boats and gear, and headed toward the Delta. You know how we all go through phases in life where we get really caught up in a particular activity or hobby? For me, during this phase of my life, I was absolutely eaten up with bowfishing. I was first introduced to it by Ben Tharp, and I had gone on a few trips with BJ Lynchard. Both of those guys were bowfishing experts, having both grown up along the Mississippi River and its oxbow lakes. The two of them became our guides, and we let Michael Fuquay tag along for the trip as well. It’s the least I could do after sinking his boat.

We arrived at the lake house and quickly threw together a plan for the first night. That’s right, I said the first night. This bachelor trip was going to last for at least three nights of fishing. We rigged up our equipment, dumped the boats in Eagle Lake, and began to search for fish. The boats were both equipped with large casting decks up front that had lights hanging on all sides to shine the fish. Ben had a custom built center-console fan boat made specifically for bowfishing. It wasn’t long and we were shooting fish left and right. The targeted species were catfish, gar, buffalo, and carp. We would throw the catfish into a large marine cooler and the other fish into a large barrel.

The air on Eagle Lake was hot and muggy that first night. We shot fish all night long and made it back to the dock as the sun was coming up. I don’t know how many fish we shot that night, but I know we didn’t have any space left in either boat the next morning. I can imagine we smelled fantastic with the combination of sweat and fish guts. We trailered the boats and headed back to the lake house to clean our fish. After the work was done, we washed the stink off and caught some much needed sleep, however, we didn’t sleep for long. The plan for the second day was to head over to Steele Bayou in the afternoon and try to shoot some big gar in the daylight hours. Sleep was something we’d just have to get once the trip was finished.

The second night was much like the first. While we were unsuccessful in landing a large alligator gar during the day, we still filled the boats up with fish that night. The only real difference were the alligators. As we slipped through the flooded areas surrounding Steele Bayou, the number of alligators we encountered were staggering. I stopped counting after I surpassed one hundred different sets of red eyes shining in our lights. Chills ran down my back thinking of what might happen if one of us were to fall out of the boat. We’d shoot a fish and have to quickly reel it into the boat before a gator stole our catch. In all of my life, I’ve never been anywhere else with that many alligators that wasn’t some kind of alligator farm.

Once again, we came in with the morning sun. On the way back to the house we stopped at a gas station just off of the lake. A gentleman was sitting outside having a morning smoke when we pulled in to grab a snack. He asked how many fish we shot that night, and when we showed him I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head. Our conversation turned to cleaning the fish, and we let him know we most likely wouldn’t clean the carp and buffalo. He walked over to an old Buick sedan, popped the trunk, and instructed us to throw whatever we weren’t going to clean into the back. Look, it’s June in Mississippi. It’s hot and I know what that drum full of fish smelled like. He didn’t care and told us to just dump it in there and he’d take care of the rest. When he slammed the trunk shut, full of bloody fish, he turned to us, grinned, and said he’d be right back here the next morning if we wanted to give away some more.

After a shower and about 6 hours of rest, we were headed back to the water for a final night. This time we went to lakes Chotard and Albemarle. Once again, we filled up two boats with enough fish to feed a small army. The next morning we stopped at the same gas station on the way back to the house, and the same old man was sitting there waiting for us. I don’t know what he did with all of that fish the previous day, but that Buick was empty. We happily filled his trunk up for him again and headed back to the house.

Upon returning home, I slept for two straight days. I don’t recall ever being so exhausted from doing something that is supposed to be relaxing. If I wasn’t convinced that Amy was a keeper before this trip, I was surely convinced afterward. She never gave one negative smirk or comment regarding the dreaded bachelor trip. I was also convinced of another thing after this adventure, I have the best friends in the world.

How Much Longer Can the 2nd Amendment Hang in There?

I am a hunter. I do not apologize for it. My family shoots guns. We do not apologize for it. We eat meat that we harvest with our own weapons, unapologetically. That’s the beauty of living free in America. No matter how bad of a day that we might have, we’ve all won the lottery already by living in this country. But, for how long?

Before you click “next article” or close your browser, understand this, I am not going on a political rant. There are far too many “tweeters” and “facebookers” doing that already. It’s exhausting to get online and be bombarded with the political opinion of every idiot with a keyboard or a smartphone. The question and conversation that I have in mind is quite simple: Can the 2nd Amendment, as we know it, hang on, and if so, for how much longer? If you’re an outdoorsman, I believe this is a question that you should be pondering. Our way of life could potentially be hanging in the balance, determined by some politician that’s never held a firearm before. This troubles me.

Any time a politician, on either side of the spectrum, starts spouting off about things “you don’t need”, it bothers me. Who are they to decide what a free man needs or doesn’t need? Before I pass judgement on these people, I try to remind myself that, most likely, they were once human beings too. They were people, just like us, until someone told them they were important and needed to rule over the working class. Remember when the mayor of New York City tried to ban large sodas? The nerve of people to dictate how others live is appalling at times. That brings us to the next point…how much longer can the 2nd Amendment hang in there?

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, let me enlighten you. There are people out there that don’t believe you should own a gun. Sounds crazy when you read that, right? After all, why are guns considered such a problem? Before I lost all of my guns in a boating accident, they had never fired the first round at a human being. I know what you’re thinking, guns in the hands of the wrong people become a problem, and you’re absolutely correct. Guns in the hands of the wrong people are a problem. So are knives, baseball bats, axes, and gasoline. And in case you’ve forgotten 9/11, so are airplanes.

Let’s just say, for the sake of entertainment, that our beloved government bans weapons with magazine capabilities of more than 10. Will those “wrong people” that we mentioned before abide by this? I keep listening to people say that by banning these types of weapons that we will cut down violent crime. In what utopian world are you living in? Bad people are bad people and they aren’t worried about your magazine restrictions. Now, why in the world does anyone need a weapon with 10 or more rounds? To me, it’s one of two things: 1) I’m a really bad shot at times and need all of the help I can get; or (2) Because I have the constitutional right to protect myself and my family in the event of government overreach.

Now, as a hunter, I often ask myself, “If there was a sudden ban on semi-automatic weapons with high volume magazine capabilities, how would that affect me?” As a deer hunter, I can confidently say that it wouldn’t affect me in the least. I have never used a semi-automatic weapon to harvest deer and do not have any intention of doing so. It also wouldn’t affect me as a turkey hunter, duck hunter, or any other game that is legal to harvest in Mississippi. So why is it important to me? It’s important to me because just like the citizens of New York City with their soda, I don’t like the idea of a group of people telling us what is good for us and what is not. I’m not lost to the fact that there are likely hundreds of people that will die this year due to gun violence. I think that it’s tragic and pray that my family and friends never have to experience that kind of pain. I just don’t believe that it’s right to punish the good along with the wicked. I also wonder, if we allow the government to set these new restrictions, what will be next? Will we lose our right to have high powered rifles to harvest deer at long distances? Will we lose our right to teach our children how to properly use a firearm? Will we lose the ability to defend ourselves, our family, and our property from those who seek to destroy it?

Guns have been around longer than any of us have been on this earth. Guns will be around well after all of us are gone. People have been killing each other since Cain killed Abel with a stone. People will continue to kill each other long after we are all buried. Folks, we don’t have a gun problem in this country, we have a people problem. Washington DC can stomp its foot and get rid of all of the guns it wants to, and we will continue to be violent because we have a people problem. If you want to really solve violence in this country, don’t start with the tool, start with the handler.