Our Veterans Deserve a Thank You: Fishing with Legends Help Provide That

Life has plenty of ups and downs. Last week, we experienced one of the strangest weeks of baseball that I’ve ever been a part of. On Wednesday, we took a beating in what is probably the most lopsided loss of my career as a player, or coach. On Saturday, we returned the favor in one of the most lopsided victories that I can remember. That’s how life, and baseball, goes sometimes. I’m proud of our guys with the way they bounced back for the weekend series. To me, that’s the mark of good character.

Since I mentioned good character, I’d like to introduce you to some guys that are doing something tremendous in our neck of the woods. I had the great pleasure to sit down with Adam Brewer, of Ellisville, for a podcast on Sunday. Adam is the founder of the organization, Fishing with Legends. If you haven’t heard of them, what they are doing is pretty darn special. Adam, along with a group of volunteers, take American Veterans on bass fishing trips around the state of Mississippi. If that doesn’t get you fired up there’s no need to check your pulse, you haven’t got one.

Adam founded the organization in 2017 and it has been growing ever since. I first heard of the group through my neighbor, Master Sergeant Dave Brooks, who went on a trip with them a while back. I was blown away when he returned and told me about the organization. What better way to serve our local community, which is chock full of veterans, than to take them outdoors. During the podcast, Adam spoke at length about the organization and creating relationships. These guys aren’t just loading up the boat and going fishing, they are intentional about forging a relationship with each veteran they take out. Isn’t that what being in the outdoors is all about? Mix in some combat veterans, and you’ve possibly created the best fishing experience out there.

Whether you believe it, or not, PTSD in our veterans is very real. It’s widely advertised that 22 veterans per day are committing suicide in 2022. That’s what makes what Adam, and the guys at Fishing with Legends are doing that much more special. They are pouring into our veterans, and I have no doubt that they are making a difference. Often, I have made mention of how being on the water, or in the woods, is like hitting a reset button in life. For me, there’s nothing that puts me more at ease than being in the outdoors. It’s good medicine. The guys at Fishing with Legends are giving out that medicine to those that need it most.

Listening to Adam talk, and seeing him light up when he talked about the work that they are doing, let me know real quick just how passionate he is about helping people. He talked about the hours spent on the boat just conversing with his guests. Folks, it takes some special people to spend a bunch of time on a boat with strangers. You can’t just walk away and go do something else when you’re in a boat. We talked about different groups that take vets hunting, an obvious good thing, but when you’re really wanting to connect, fishing made more sense. You don’t have to be as quiet, and you can really get to know the other person in the boat.

Not only does the organization take veterans fishing, they provide them with the gear necessary to keep fishing, thanks to some very generous sponsors. I feel the need to mention a couple of the larger companies in case you’d like to know who places a high value on our veterans. Fishing with Legends is sponsored by Huk Fishing, Lew’s, and Strike King. Those are the larger companies, but there are also plenty of local ones that are listed on their website (fishingwithlegends.org). It’s nice to see some larger companies supporting them, but it’s the smaller, local ones that really make you tingle inside. Adam and I both agreed that Mississippians certainly love two things: the Lord and our veterans. Those local sponsors prove that theory correct.

They’ve also got a big tournament coming up for anyone that is interested. On April 23rd, the 3rd Annual Battle on Barnett will take place, launching from Tommy’s Trade Post. According to Adam, this is their largest fundraiser each year and goes a long way toward allowing them to continue to help our veterans.  If I remember correctly, there will be a $2,500 prize for the winning boat, and a lunker prize, as well. For more information, or to sign up, visit their website, or email Adam directly at fishingwithlegends@gmail.com. While you’re at it, check them out on Facebook and Instagram, then go listen to our conversation with Adam on the Pinstripes to Camo Podcast, which is available on Apple or Spotify.

Is Turkey Hunting in Mississippi on the Decline?

Pollen covers virtually everything you can see, and a large portion of the state is gearing up for potential tornadoes. I think we can finally say that spring has arrived in Mississippi. By now, I’m hoping that most of you have bagged your first bird of the season. Judging by what I’m seeing on social media, it seems like a good start to the year. I’ve also seen plenty of big bass being caught, lately. With cold weather hopefully behind us, this is truly a special time of the year for outdoorsmen.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had more than a few different conversations surrounding turkey hunting in our state. Obviously, I’m no expert on the matter so I’ve spent more time listening to those that are, rather than talking. Almost each conversation has included some kind of concern on the population of turkeys in Mississippi. I’ve mentioned before of ways that we could make our state a better destination state for deer hunting. With turkeys, it kind of already is…or has been. Folks come from all over to hunt turkeys in Mississippi, which is a good thing. But, how do we keep Mississippi a turkey hunting destination?

First things first, we have to do a better job of collecting data. We need to know how many turkey hunters we have, as well as how many birds are killed. For now, hunters are supposed to report any harvested bird through the MDWFP app, or by paper copy of the harvest record. Those harvest reports must be filled out by 10:00 pm on the day that the harvest occurs. Tip: check in your bird before posting a picture of it on social media to avoid a ticket, as well as avoid being the next “Idiot of the Week” on the Pinstripes to Camo Podcast.

As for knowing the number of actual turkey hunters that we have in the woods, as of now we do not have a system. A Mississippi Sportsman’s License covers a wide variety of hunting opportunities, thus not giving us a true number of how many folks are in the woods during the spring season. A recent suggestion from Preston Pittman was to have a “turkey stamp”. Similar to federal duck stamps, the turkey stamp would give us a good idea of just how many turkey hunters we have in Mississippi.

If you’re like me, the first thing you just thought of was “Oh, great! Another way to milk money from hunters.” Let’s put those thoughts aside for a moment. Just spit balling here, but maybe we could reduce the overall cost of a Sportsman’s License by adding the turkey stamps. Not that the government has ever reduced the cost of much of anything once they figured out we’d pay for it, but this could potentially be a way to do that, and get a number of turkey hunters at the same time. The more likely scenario is that turkey stamps would cost you a few extra bucks added to your Sportsman’s License. In the end, the data provided is probably worth a couple of extra dollars.

Another idea that was brought up to me was reducing the number of birds you can harvest from three to two. This is another idea that will probably make you boil over. It’s not one that I’m fond of, either. As a rebuttal to this idea, it was brought up that how many people actually kill three gobblers in a season. I’m not nearly into the turkey community as much as I am the deer hunting community, but I can count on one hand of how many people I know that kill their allotment of turkeys each year. Again, knowing how many turkey hunters we have in the woods would provide a better argument either for, or against, reducing the number of birds we can harvest.

One more thing we’ve talked about is the season itself. Does our season start and finish too early? Are we a little late? Or, are we right on time? Personally, I don’t think you can judge this one based off of one or two years of data. This is a question that would have to be studied over a longer length of time. I’ve heard of gobbling birds as early as Valentine’s Day, and I’ve heard of birds gobbling toward the end of May. To me, it’s almost like judging the rut during deer season. Sometimes it’s a week or two early and sometimes the season is darn near over before you see a buck chasing. For now, until there is more data (which the NWTF and Turkeys for Tomorrow are constantly working on) there is no need to change the dates of the season.

Speaking of deer hunting, it’s been brought to my attention the possibility of an early archery season in Mississippi. From what I’ve read, archery hunters in Mississippi could potentially get a three day season in September to hunt whitetail deer. My initial thought of this was it’s hot enough in October to cook eggs on the sidewalk, so I can’t imagine how miserable it would be in late September. But then I thought of having the opportunity to stick a buck in full velvet, something I’ve never been able to do. That being said, it seems like a pretty cool idea to me…even if you risk getting West Nile doing it.

One More Cast in My Pond

For most people, moving to a new house is an adventure. There is an excitement about making changes to a new house to make it your own home. Different bedroom views, a different house plan, landscaping, and meeting new neighbors are all part of the adventure. For me, most of the moves that I’ve made have brought that same excitement. We are currently in the process of selling our house and buying a new one, but excitement and adventure are not the words I’d choose to describe the process. It’s not that I’m not excited about moving, the timing has just been tough. For me, this is the busiest time of the year, and that has made this move a little more stressful than the previous ones.

We’ve made this house our home. We brought two of our three children from the hospital to this house, and made some fantastic lifelong friends with our neighbors. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that felt a little melancholy about it. In all of the moves that I’ve made in my life, and there have been plenty, there is only one other time that I remember feeling this way about the prospect of leaving.

As most of you know, I was born in Laurel, MS. Until I was about three years old, we lived in a house in town. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember when we moved. We moved outside of town to a little three bedroom house in the Myrick community. The house was situated on a little less than five acres, if memory serves me correctly. It had a shop across the driveway from the house where my dad kept his mower and tools. It had a wood burning fireplace that was very cozy to lay next to during the winter months. There was plenty of yard for a young boy to play with his dog in, as well as a pasture next door. However, for an only child (my sister was born years later), the best feature of the property was the pond in the backyard.

The pond wasn’t very large, and technically we only owned half of it. There was a barb-wired fence that ran through the middle of the pond separating us from our neighbors’ cows. To me, at the time, that pond was plenty big. I credit this residence for sparking my early interest in the outdoors. We’d see the occasional deer, or turkeys, in the backyard every once in a while, but that pond is what molded me. I can remember standing in the driveway with a Zebco 33 Classic learning how to cast with a practice plug. When Dad thought I’d gotten the hang of it, he turned me loose to the pond. I also remember trying to learn how to cast my dad’s Abu Garcia Ambassador baitcast reel. That one took a little more time to figure out, and it’s likely the cause of Dad having high blood pressure due to untangling all of the bird nests that I created.

I spent nearly every waking moment during the warmer months fishing in that pond. I never want to say that I taught myself how to fish because that wouldn’t exactly be true. However, I figured a lot of things out through trial and error at our pond. I learned how to present my lure based on the weather and temperature. I learned what baits worked best for certain times of the year. I also learned that we have leeches in Mississippi after riding my Labrador into the pond one time. To this day, I think that’s the maddest that I’ve ever seen my mother. At night, there were times that I’d sleepwalk as a child. My parents had to deadbolt the backdoor after they caught me heading out fishing in my sleep one night.

My favorite memory of the pond came when I was four years old. I’d recently gotten my cast off after suffering a broken leg when a mirror fell on me in JC Penney. To this day, I still don’t know why we don’t own that store. When the cast was off, it was time to fish. Not that a broken leg stopped me from fishing, it didn’t. I just had to sit down on the pier, which was far too tame for me. With my cast off, I was free to roam the banks. My dad was at work and my mom was cutting grass so I grabbed my rod and went down to the pond. Using a purple Culprit worm, I made a cast toward the dam. As soon as the bait hit the water, the bass sucked it down. I was in the fight of my life, and thankfully my mom was watching. She hopped off the mower and helped me land the fish, which weighed 5.5 pounds.

After calling my dad at work, she snapped some pictures, and we took my catch to a local taxidermist not too far from our house. She sent the picture in to the local newspaper, the Laurel Leader-Call, and they published it not too long afterward. Little did my folks know, this was the start of an outdoor obsession.

We lived in that house until I was eight years old before moving to Jacksonville, Florida. I’ll never forget pulling out of the driveway for the last time. Even with the excitement of moving to a new place, my heart was broken having to leave my pond. Sometimes when I’m visiting Jones County I’ll slip out to that area and ride by our old house. From the street, the land doesn’t look so big anymore. The pine trees that I helped my dad plant are all grown, and the driveway where I used to ride my bike seems so short. As I pull away, all of the memories flood my mind and bring tears to my eyes. I’m not sure who owns the house now, but I’d pay more money than I’m willing to admit for one more cast in my pond.

Circa 1989

Hang On, We’ll Get You There

In my line of work I get the pleasure of meeting all kinds of people. Between baseball and outdoor adventures, there aren’t too many types of people that I haven’t been around. The really cool thing is when you meet folks that can relate to both. I’ve known plenty of coaches that enjoy hunting and fishing when they aren’t in their particular seasons. But possibly my favorite people, out of everyone that we encounter, are our bus drivers. Jackson Browne once wrote a song titled “The Load Out” as a tribute to his roadies…here’s mine.

When you spend as much time on a bus as we do, you tend to get to know your drivers pretty well. There’s nothing worse than being on a road trip with a driver that you can’t hold a conversation with, or one you don’t completely trust. Fortunately, over the years, that hasn’t been a problem for us. Not only have our drivers been fantastic, they have also been pretty darn good people. Since being a bus driver is an often underappreciated job, I’d like to take the week to give thanks to a few of the one’s that we’ve had over the last 20 years.

I couldn’t do this list without beginning with Grover Cruise. Mr. Cruise drove for our team for well over 10 years. I’m not entirely sure about all of the jobs he’s had throughout the years, but I know he used to be our mailman when I was growing up in Laurel. I always enjoyed his gentle temperament when he drove for us. On late night trips he’d often hum while driving, and for whatever reason, it always felt comforting. We’d share stories of fishing, and he loved to talk about trips with his son to Bluegrass concerts around the Southeast. Mr. Cruise was the first driver that I ever felt like I had a friendship with. To this day, he and another of our former drivers, Ray Nelson, still come to home games at William Carey.

Speaking of Ray Nelson, he took over most of our driving after Mr. Cruise retired. Ray is also a Jones County native so I felt an immediate connection to him. One of my fondest memories of Mr. Ray is of him trotting through a line of players high fiving all of them after dinner one night in Georgia. It’s an easy one to remember because it was also on my birthday and we’d picked up a big win earlier in the day, followed by topping it off with a great catfish dinner! As a driver, you know you’re doing something right when the entire team loves you. Unfortunately, Mr. Ray was forced to stop driving shortly after this due to a bad back, if I remember correctly. It always brings a smile to my face to look up into the stadium at Milton Wheeler Field and see Mr. Ray and Mr. Cruise there together watching us play.

Next on my list is Foxworth native, Bobby Nichols. Mr. Bobby and I hit it off immediately, mostly due to our mutual love of fishing. On a recent trip to Alexandria, Louisiana it became evident pretty quick that Mr. Bobby has fished in dang near every hole of water between Hattiesburg and Alexandria. Story after story of catching bass in this lake, bream in that lake, and crappie in that river. It was truly almost unbelievable! Sitting directly behind him and listening, I wouldn’t have been more impressed if Bill Dance would have been driving the bus! He’d point to an area while going down the road and say, “Behind that levee over there, there’s a pretty good pond to fish in.” I’d look at the map on my phone and sure enough, there’d be a small lake right where he said it was. None of this was visible from the road. You know how some people give off that “know it all” vibe and you just roll your eyes and go along? That’s not Mr. Bobby…he actually does know it all!

We talked about fishing different areas, then he began asking all about our alligator hunting. We were so immersed in outdoor conversation that we missed our exit on the way home! Once he realized it, he laughed it off saying, “We were having too much fun catching fish and killing gators!” These types of conversations are what make being on the road for all of those hours bearable. And I’m sure it makes driving that much easier being able to connect with your passengers, as well. Mr. Bobby has driven less for us than the aforementioned, but I enjoy his company, and most certainly his stories of fishing all over South Mississippi and Louisiana.

Finally, Johnny Graham. Johnny might as well be family by now. His fun-loving disposition and wittiness is appreciated, and loved, by our entire team. Johnny does most of our driving these days, and I’ve got to say, our record is pretty dang good when he’s behind the wheel! He’s also not afraid to poke fun at Coach Halford, which makes it that much better! If you don’t know Johnny, you’re missing out. He should probably stop driving and run for Mayor of Magee. I don’t think I’ve met a single person from Simpson County that doesn’t know him, and think highly of him. Johnny is another driver that’s spent his fair share of time in the outdoors over the years, though not as much lately. The difference in Johnny and Bobby is that instead of telling the stories, he wants to hear your stories. He is a “put others first” kind of person, and I’m delighted each time I see him pull up in our parking lot to pick us up.

I know my column is usually more to do with the outdoors than anything else. However, without people like the men that I’ve mentioned, I’d never be able to do the things that I get to do. With the world getting crazier each day, now is a good time to reflect on the people that have made a difference in our lives. Each trip that we’ve gone on in the last almost 20 years, we’ve put our lives in these men’s hands…and we are better for it.

Talkin’ Turkeys with Preston

It’s no secret that the turkey has become my greatest nemesis (aside from myself) in the outdoors. Although, I’ve only had a few opportunities to harvest a bird, I’ve come up empty on each trip that I’ve made. I consider myself a novice when it comes to deer hunting, which means I have no idea what I’m doing when I’m hunting turkeys. What do you do when you don’t know what you’re doing? You call an expert.

One of the cool things about hosting a podcast is the people you get to talk to. So far, we’ve been fortunate to have some great guests that have a wealth of knowledge regarding the outdoors. Longtime friend, Tim Carley, did an episode with us regarding land management and being able to curb your expectations regarding hunting. Chad Lecompte was on the show a week before that and introduced us to Pine Belt Kayak Bass Fishing. More recently we hosted Brian Kittrell from Whitetails Unlimited and 2B Outdoors. Brian told us all about how to get linked up with hunts across America and even the globe. All were great guests with valuable information that any hunter or angler would appreciate. The episode that comes out this week, though, is something truly magical in the hunting community. We were able to talk about turkey hunting with the legendary Preston Pittman.

In case you’ve lived under a rock, Preston Pittman is THE turkey king. If you still don’t know who I’m talking about, he’s the guy that can call turkeys…with just the use of his mouth. He won his first turkey calling championship at age 16 and has held five different world titles. He’s been featured in tons of magazines and has been on several TV shows including: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, David Letterman, Mississippi Outdoors, and many others. His game calls are sold all over the country. Even with all of those accolades, perhaps the most incredible thing he’s accomplished, to me, is being the first person to ever complete the Double Grand Slam in one season. In the turkey world, this means he killed two of each of the four turkey species in America…IN ONE SEASON!

In all of the times that I’ve gotten to speak with Preston, the one thing that rings out loud and clear is his love for his home state of Mississippi. And why not? Mississippi has been one of the leading states in the country when it comes to producing quality outdoor content. Preston makes sure to plug the Mississippi Outdoors Hall of Fame, which is housed in Leland, right in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. He was one of six to be inducted in the initial class, along with another local outdoorsman, Paul Elias. Paul is the step-father to one of my old college roommates, so I feel incredibly fortunate to have been around some of the best outdoorsmen in the business. After showing Mississippi some love, we finally get down to business: turkeys.

Like I said, I don’t have a clue what to do to kill turkeys, and according to Preston, one phone conversation isn’t going to exactly change that. However, when I got off the phone with him, I felt like I’d learned more in 45 minutes than I’d learned in 35 years. We, along with Matt Langford, talked about calling turkeys. We talked about things that turkeys like to eat. We talked about travel routes. We talked about hunting in different weather. We talked about bag limits. Out of all of the things we talked about, the one thing that really hit home to me was painting a picture for the bird. I’d never really thought of it that way. Preston talked about how you want to paint a picture for what that bird wants to see. That goes from the sounds that you make to how you set up your decoy. It was almost like a light went off in my head. I’d never thought of making songbird sounds, or the sound of a squirrel barking. It all made too much sense. These are sounds you hear when animals are comfortable, and that’s what you want that turkey to be, comfortable.

Now it’s time for my usual disclaimer. As Preston said, I will also say, doing these things won’t guarantee that you kill a bird the first time out. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, that ol’ Tom will flip the script on you. That’s what makes turkey hunting so much fun. It’s hard to pattern an old thunderchicken the way you would a buck. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard. Maybe the best bit of advice that he gave regarding calling was to practice all of the time. You can’t buy a call today and go out and expect to kill a bird tomorrow. This is where I’ve fallen miserably short over the years. My lack of confidence with calling has been born out of my lack of practice. His last bit of advice was to be incredibly safe (he’s been shot twice).

With all of my newfound knowledge, thanks to Preston, I can’t wait for the opportunity to put it to test. Be sure to check out the “Pinstripes to Camo Podcast” on Apple, or Spotify, to hear our show with Preston before turkey season begins. There are only a couple of weeks left before the best sound found in the woods will soon begin and you might benefit from a tip or two. I feel like a Chicago Cubs fan at the beginning of the season thinking that, “this year is my year.” Hopefully, by the end of the season, I’m not still quoting Cubs fans saying, “Just wait ‘til next year!”

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

The old saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is making more and more sense to me with each passing year. At the time of writing this, we’ve already played 11 baseball games this season, having won eight of those. When I type that, I cannot believe that we are already that far into our season. I feel like it was just yesterday when we were starting our fall practices. Even more foreign to me is that fact that this is my fourteenth season as a coach. I swear I just arrived at William Carey a week ago.

Last weekend we had a four game series with Campbellsville University out of Kentucky. My dad made the trip up for Saturday’s games and it was the first time that I’ve seen him since last summer. After a short greeting during batting practice, I sat back down in the dugout and got a little into my feelings. My mind began to race thinking of all of the games he’s been to over the years. I wondered how many more games he’d be able to watch in the future (he now resides in Florida). My thoughts went back to something my grandmother said years ago. She explained that when you are in your teens, you want to press the gas pedal on life to get into your twenties. Then you want to tap the brakes for a while. Next, you press the gas to start a family before again tapping the brakes to keep them from growing up. When the kids are gone, you press the gas to get to retirement. After retiring, you want to slam on the brakes. As the late Bobby Bowden once said, “After you retire there’s only one big game left.”

I considered the conversation years ago with my grandmother and began to realize how accurate she was. For now, I’m tapping the brakes, but they don’t seem to work. The days are sometimes long, but the years are fast. Life is busy and being busy means time moves quickly. After the weekend series was complete, I once again began to think of time. Am I using it according to how I should be? Am I wasting it chasing dreams? Am I giving enough of it to my family? How much will I have left? All questions that I don’t have the answers to at the moment.

Now, I don’t consider myself old or “seasoned” by any means, but I began to think about things that I used to be able to do that are more difficult now. I just finished one of the most challenging deer seasons of my life. Was it challenging because I’m just getting older and have a harder time adapting to the elements? I know there were plenty of mornings that I woke up with an aching back and sore knees…something that certainly didn’t happen 10-15 years ago. Is that a byproduct of time, or have I gotten more domesticated? The older I get, the more I realize the importance of creature comforts. I pretend to ignore my body and act like I’m still 22, but I’m not.

I’ve had the blessing of having been around some of the best outdoorsmen that I know. Now, seeing that they aren’t able to hunt and fish like they used to sounds alarms in my head. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not too far behind them. Lord willing, I’ve got a few more decades left of being able to enjoy the things that I’m doing now. To many, that will seem like a long time, but thirty years slips by much faster than you think. I’m to the point in life now where I can remember my dad being my age and thinking that he was ancient. That scares the crap out of me.

On the flip side, there’s another old saying that I’m becoming fonder of, “with age comes wisdom.” That’s a saying that I’m clinging to these days. I’m certainly more careful of where I put my feet in the woods, and I take far less risks in the outdoors than I did 15 years ago. Then again, is that wisdom, or just me having to slow down for the sake of not hurting myself? Maybe it’s both. Either way, I’m still tapping the brakes.

Now, I know there will be a few that read this and go, “What the heck is he talking about? I’m way older than him and still going strong!” I’m not saying that I’m taking up a rocking chair and staring at the sky. I’m simply saying there are things that aren’t as easy as they used to be. For instance, I can still throw batting practice all day long (on a good day), but I can’t back up to the mound and strike guys out. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. If you know me at all, you’ll know that it’s tough on my ego, as well.

As time keeps pressing forward, my plan is to milk it for all that I can. I’m going to throw as many baseballs that my arm will allow, make as many casts as I can, and drag deer out of the woods until my knees can’t take anymore. I’m going to run trot-lines all night, grab catfish with my hands, and fight alligators on a deep sea fishing rod. I’m going to make sure my kids understand the value of time over money. I’m going to make as many memories as I can, and one day I’m going to sit in a rocking chair staring at the sky, and relive every one of them.

February is a Great Time for Small Game Hunting and Trapping

The warm breeze flowing through my truck feels incredibly nice. I welcome the sunshine beaming through my windshield that slowly tans my skin and forces me to squint in order to see the road. With my boat in tow, I sing along with Ronnie Van Zant as he proclaims, “a southern man don’t need him around anyhow” regarding Neil Young. I’ve got the windows down with my elbow hanging out in true redneck fashion. It’s a perfect summer day in South Mississippi. The river awaits my arrival. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the most gosh awful sound fills my head.

I roll over and hit the snooze button, disgusted that my alarm ruined my moment. I awake to realize it’s still February and it’s way too dang cold to go fishing. Oh well, summer will be here soon enough and I’ll be griping about how hot it is. For now, we will just have to settle for the fact that during the day it will be seventy degrees and that night it may, or may not, snow. With deer season now officially over for the entire state, I’ll allow our southern portion of the state to join me in mourning. There is good news, though! Even though February is rife with feminine undertones, there are still some masculine things you can get out and do.

Rabbit and squirrel seasons are still in full swing until the end of the month. If you’re like me, it’s hard to get excited about hunting for either of these tasty critters during deer season. I’m an opportunist, and deer are larger and taste better to me. However, since you can’t shoot a deer anymore, you might as well go limit out on the next best thing. With the hard freezes that we’ve recently had, now is probably the best time to get in your small game hunting. Those pesky little warbles (known more frequently around these parts as wolves) should be gone from the hides of squirrels and rabbits. Not that they really pose any harm to humans, but it always makes me feel better when they aren’t there. That being said, err on the side of caution if you feel the meat is potentially infected.

If you fancy raccoon meat, or want to look like Daniel Boone, you’ve still got time to hunt them, as well as opossum and bobcat. Before I go any further, I’ve never eaten any of the three aforementioned. It’s not that I’m totally opposed, or turned off from them, I’ve just never had anyone cook it for me. I’d do it myself if I didn’t think I’d mess it up. I probably wouldn’t eat a bobcat or an opossum, but I think I’d try a raccoon. We had a neighbor that would cook raccoon each year for the Super Bowl and he swore it was the best thing he ate. If I remember correctly, he described it as similar to a roast and would serve it with sweet potatoes. As for eating opossum, I saw one climb out of the innards of a dead deer once, so there’s no way I’m venturing down that road. And yes, I will judge you as a disgusting human being if you do.

Trapping is also in full swing this time of the year. If you’d like to partake in this, you’ve got until March 15th to do it. To me, that works perfectly because that’s about the time that turkey season begins. That’s the great thing about Mississippi, if you’re willing to do it, there’s always some type of hunting season going on. There are, however, some regs you’ll need to be aware of if you decide to run traps. First, you’ll need a trapping license. For residents, this will set you back 25 bucks. You’ll need an identification number that is registered with the MDWFP and permanently attached to each trap that you set. If you want to sell the fur, you’ll need a fur dealer’s license, which will cost you an additional $50 for residents. If you do not have the identification number on your traps, your traps can be removed by an officer. There are some other rules and regulations that you will need to be up to date with, and you can find them at mdwfp.com. As always, don’t put traps on land that you do not have permission to trap on, or you might find yourself as the “Idiot of the Week” on the “Pinstripes to Camo Podcast.”

Speaking of the podcast, we’ve got some great guests coming up soon. The show is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify for those of you that would like to check it out. I can’t promise that you’ll enjoy it, but I can promise that we are very real. The show is centered around hunting and fishing in Mississippi, and we do our best to showcase the great things our state has to offer. If you, or someone you know, has a great story that you’d want told on the show, or would like to be a guest, send an email to pinstripestocamo@gmail.com. In the meantime, don’t suffer from deerpression and get out and enjoy our Mississippi woods and waters!

Trying to Reason with Deerpression and the Joy of Baseball

Ah February, how I love and hate you. February means a few different things: winter is probably just now really arriving; baseball season is beginning; and hunting season (for me) is over. A few weeks ago I thought my hunting season was over, then an unexpected opportunity arose thanks to covid. Given the current climate of unknowns, I didn’t rule out another potential season ending hunt. Now, however, that time has come, and I can say with certainty that hunting season is over.

February brings a couple of different emotions. The first is one that I like to call “deerpression”. Every year I claim that I’m done hunting when we start preseason baseball practice, but deep down I hold out hope of making one more trip in the woods. When February arrives, my hope (whether practical or not) goes out the proverbial window. It also doesn’t help matters when you’re driving down the road outside of Hattiesburg and a buck chases a doe across the highway. Needless to say, I’m a little down in the dumps when the month arrives. The next emotion that I experience is excitement. February means baseball and baseball has been my life since I was five. Getting back on the field to compete each year cannot be bested. Having to quarantine and miss the first couple of weeks of practice drove me crazy. When February arrives, there’s no place I’d rather be.

February also usually brings bone-chilling temperatures to South Mississippi. One of the things that I appreciate about hunting over baseball is the ability to wear thick clothes while I’m out in the elements. If you’ve never put on a pair of baseball pants, be assured, they are not warm. Those thin pants will make you question your sanity on a cold February night. As a player, it wasn’t too bad since I was constantly moving around. As a coach, it’s just torture at times. My colleagues pick at me when I show up in the dugout bundled up in the thickest jacket I can find. I have no problem admitting that I’m a wimp when it comes to cold weather if I’m not in the woods. I’ve lived in two places in my life: South Mississippi and Florida. I’m not built for winter.

At the time of this writing, we are two days away from Opening Day of the 2022 college baseball season. Like each of the seasons before, I’m drawn to the smells of the ballpark. When I walk through the gates I’m like a buck chasing a doe in heat. That smell of the grass and the sounds of the park put an extra pep in my step. It’s my time to feel like a kid again. It keeps me young. I often look around at my friends that are around the same age as me and can’t help but notice how old some of them are starting to look. Then, I go home and look in the mirror and feel like not a whole lot has changed (with the exception of adding 20 pounds). This can only be attributed to one thing: baseball.

If you don’t believe that baseball is something similar to “Never-Never Land” from Peter Pan, look no further than my boss. Bobby Halford is approaching *blank* years old and he’s still like a kid. I won’t say his real age, but he’s been the head coach at William Carey University for as long as I’ve been alive. Before that, he was an assistant for ten years, so that should provide an idea for how long he’s been doing it. Top it off with the fact that he’s probably in better shape than I’m in, and you cannot possibly deny that baseball just might be the “fountain of youth” that Ponce de Leon was supposedly searching for.

People sometimes ask about the stress that goes along with coaching a college sport, especially in today’s world of stark crazed sports fanatics. The simple answer is usually, “what stress?” Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t times when I let my blood pressure get elevated in the spirit of competition. That’s self-induced.  But, seriously, what stress? This comment might be an indictment against what I do for a living, and I’m sure I’ll get some kind of backlash for it, but here goes…baseball is a game. When I get to feeling like what we are doing is uber-important, I remind myself, it’s a game. Baseball is a form of entertainment. We are in the business of entertaining. There are far more important jobs out there. We ain’t exactly curing cancer. Far too much emphasis and attention is put on college athletics. Remember, it’s a game being played by mostly young men that will go on to do something different with their lives once they’ve exhausted their eligibility. My job is to help see that they become good family men that can be productive citizens. That’s it. In a nutshell, that’s the job. Many will say that winning is the most important part of the job, but in reality, they are wrong. Winning is fun, and it usually keeps you employed, but it’s not the most important part of the job. Anyone that says otherwise has never coached, or won’t be coaching for long.

Look around you and you’ll see the world is falling apart at the seams when it comes to producing productive members of society. I think we could solve it with just a few things: take your kids to church on Sunday morning; get your kids involved in the outdoors; and teach ‘em how to play baseball. If we do those things the trickle down will be great. They’ll be better people, they’ll appreciate nature, and it will keep YOU young.

Political Overreach is Killing Hunting

Back in October, what seems like an eternity ago, I wrote a piece about deer hunting with dogs. While I do not currently partake in the hunting of deer with dogs, I do not condemn it. I continue to agree that the use of dogs should remain a legal way to hunt deer during certain parts of the season. Whether you have heard, or not, the use of dogs to hunt deer has once again become a hot button topic in the state of Mississippi.

The New Year always brings new bills to our state’s legislature. Some die in committees and some move on to be voted on. For the last two years, a couple of politicians in the state have been trying to kill the right to hunt with dogs. Why? Are there some dog owners that do a poor job representing the sport? Of course there are, but there are some doctors that do a poor job representing medicine, as well. Are there some landowners that get upset with dog hunters? Absolutely. Does that mean we should abolish an entire way of life? Absolutely not.

Since few other media outlets in the state dare expose those trying to take away the rights of a group of people that practice the longstanding tradition of hunting with dogs, let’s do it here. First up is Senator Angela Turner-Ford (D). Senator Turner-Ford represents District 16 which includes Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, and Oktibbeha counties. She’s an attorney with educational experience from five different outstanding universities. One problem…according to the information that this author could find, I see nothing regarding wildlife, aside from a Biology degree from Hampton University, which doesn’t exactly scream “outdoors guru”. She’s sponsored other bills recently including: the legalization of marijuana, online voting, the expansion of Medicaid, and student loan forgiveness. Why Sen. Turner-Ford is targeting hunters that use dogs is beyond me. Why she feels qualified to do so also alludes my thinking?

Second on the list, is Representative Gregory Holloway, Sr. (D). Rep. Holloway represents District 76 which includes parts of Claiborne, Copiah, and Hinds counties. Rep. Holloway is a former director of the Hazlehurst Parks and Recreation and holds degrees from Alcorn State University and Jackson State University. Once again, according to the information at hand, the sponsor of HB 177 has zero wildlife experience. He has done some important work during his tenure, though, by sponsoring a bill to ensure the color “blue” is the state’s official color. He’s also twice proposed the ban on hunting with dogs in Mississippi.

Now that we know the sponsors of the bills to kill a Mississippi tradition, let’s not be so naïve to think they are the only two that would like to remove the ability to hunt with dogs. There are plenty who would jump on board with this bill, including some that I consider close friends and hunting partners. We covered this topic in the most recent Pinstripes to Camo Podcast, and though none of us hunted with the use of dogs, all of us agreed that banning the sport was a bad idea. I also find it interesting that the sponsors of the bills in question do not represent areas that are heavily hunted with the use of dogs.

Mississippi isn’t the only state dealing with a war on different types of hunting. Lawmakers in Colorado’s state Senate recently introduced a bill to ban the hunting of mountain lions and bobcats. This is, once again, a gross overreach of politicians trying to interject themselves into a place they don’t belong. There is a mountain lion and bobcat season in Colorado for a reason. The damage done to livestock alone is reason enough to give hunters the opportunity to hunt these big cats. One would have to think the bill was introduced due to the “cuteness” of these cats. And I’m sure they are cute…until they are eating your cows, or worse, your kids.

Activists in California are currently trying to put the kibosh on black bear hunting. This comes even though the bear population in California has more than tripled in the last decade. Once again, you’ve got to ask yourself, “What is the reason for this, aside from it being a cuddly looking animal?” Bear hunting in America has been around longer than Nancy Pelosi, and for good reason. Hunters are the greatest conservationists on the planet, even though politicians think they are. Washington already lost its spring bear season due to political overreach and the cries from those in big cities that would rather save a bear than an unborn human.

Mississippi is my home. I love our state, our traditions, and our people. When I see politicians that want to take away those traditions based on the gripes of a few, it bothers me. There has to be a compromise of sorts with dog hunters rather than a ban. Dog hunters aren’t perfect, but I’d argue that they are much better now than they were thirty years ago. If we allow hunting with dogs to be banned, what’s next? Let’s not allow Mississippi to become a Washington, or a California. I’ve been to both of those states…Mississippi is far better.

A Cough Provides Another Hunting Trip

Over a week ago I was convinced that my deer season had come to a close. I packed up all of my gear from the camp and brought it home. Then began the annual cleansing of hunting clothing and rifles, packing away of gear, and the general sulking of being done. My spirits were lifted, though, with our first spring practice coming up on Monday. Without much time between my transitions, the down time wouldn’t be so bad, or so I thought. On Sunday, with a tiny cough and a sore throat, everything changed.

Our middle daughter didn’t feel so well on Saturday night. She tossed and turned throughout the night, but we just chalked it up as normal for someone with so much energy. She had a slight cough, but nothing to be overly concerned with. By Sunday morning, I knew she didn’t feel well. She’s normally very energetic and a generally happy kid. We kept her home from church and figured she’d be better by the afternoon. Shortly after lunch, we got a phone call from the school telling us that she’d been a close contact to someone with Covid and would need to quarantine. With that information, we decided to test her just to see. Just like that, our two year run escaping the China virus was over.

The CDC, and all of its wisdom, recently sent out new guidelines regarding Covid-19. If one is more than six months out from having been vaccinated, without the booster, they are no longer considered fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, I fall into this category which meant that I would have to quarantine, as well. With our entire family at home, and not feeling sick, an entirely new possibility was opened. My oldest daughter, who’s been fortunate enough to kill a buck the last two years, hadn’t been hunting yet this year. With her streak in jeopardy of being broken, now seemed like a good time to get back into the woods.

Some of you are possibly thinking, “Oh no, you’re supposed to stay inside and not go anywhere!” Well, that may be true, but I’m not sitting inside my house for 10 days after testing negative, having zero symptoms, and feeling perfectly fine. Is that selfish? You bet it is. Besides, I can’t give anyone a cold in the woods, so why not go? I unpacked some of our gear, loaded the truck, and headed to the camp to breathe fresh air and spend time with my daughter. Our time on Earth is short and I intend to spend it living rather than holed up in the house.

On the drive up, I could tell that my daughter was excited. She knew we were only going up and back for the evening, and not spending the night in a tent, so it was easy for her to be pumped up about going. The weather was great! Temperatures were hovering around the upper 40s and the sun was shining. It was a little windier than I would have liked, but otherwise, it was a perfect afternoon to get a hunt in. As we pulled into the gate at the camp I could feel my adrenaline flow. I’d been waiting all year to get her up for a hunt before the season seemingly ran out on us. Now, we were here, and that made me happy.

We arrived, quickly got our gear together, and headed to a box stand. She wanted to go to the stand that she killed her first ever deer in. I agreed that this would be a good spot for the evening. The stand is positioned along a food plot and is perfect for a north wind, which is what we had. After a short four wheeler ride, and a short hike, we got settled in for the evening hunt. She clamored about how good the food plots looked, and how pretty the landscape was. I couldn’t have agreed more. The green grass coupled with the blue sky behind it was beautiful. Now, we just needed some brown added to our canvas.

The first deer to enter the plot was a large doe. We had already made the decision to wait until as late as possible to shoot a doe in hopes of a buck giving us an opportunity. Mackenzie, just last year, pretty much refused to shoot a doe, but seemed willing to do so this year, if needed. Soon, the food plot began to fill up with deer. A couple more does and a couple of smaller bucks came in to feed for the evening. We spent time watching their mannerisms and how they alerted each other of potential danger. None of the bucks were mature enough to shoot, so we continued to wait. With the sun quickly fading, it was time for Mackenzie to make a decision on whether or not she could shoot a doe.

She assured me that she wanted to shoot the biggest doe, and we eased her rifle out of the window. She didn’t have a great shot opportunity, so she had to patiently await a clean shot. It seemed like forever for me, so I know it had be an eternity for her. However, she remained patient and calm, showing signs of a mature hunter at such a young age. When the doe finally turned and provided a broadside shot, she slowly squeezed the trigger. It was a quick death, which made us both happy. Mackenzie had killed her first ever doe, and kept her yearly streak intact.

The ride back was mostly quiet. We hadn’t gotten very far out of Vicksburg, and Mackenzie was already asleep. Essentially alone in my thoughts, I wondered what the coming days would hold for us. In a few days, would we all be sick? Would we all be fine? As my mind wandered, I also felt grateful for this unexpected trip. I’d written that my biggest regret from this season was not taking her hunting. With that being fulfilled, I can rest easy knowing hunting season is over…or is it?