Kicking Off November With a Bang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End of October Brings Crypts and Cryptorchids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deer Hunting with Dogs: Should We or Not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Camping/Hunting Trip Provides Plenty of Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Never Forget Your First Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture Taken October 22, 2010

The Easy Way Out is the Quickest Way to the End

Written by Brandon Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be safe, aim straight and keep them lines tight.

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

Plans May Change, Good Teammates Don’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Bogue Homa: A Trip Down Memory Lane

As we enter the second summer in South Mississippi, I hope you enjoyed your fall. The good thing that second summer signals is the beginning of whitetail archery season. Next weekend, for those north of Highway 84, archery hunters will be sweating in stands and swatting mosquitoes in hopes of bagging the first deer of the year. Lord willing, I will be right there with them, Thermocell on full blast, in the thinnest clothes that I can wear. If the mosquitoes aren’t too bad, I’m not opposed to stripping down to my skivvies in the stand. If memory serves me correct, the last deer that I killed with a bow I more closely resembled Ted Nugent in a loin cloth than the modern day hunter. Half naked, or not, I plan on being in the woods Saturday morning. The wait has been far too long.

Speaking of “far too long” and Highway 84, my fishing buddy and I took a trip down memory lane this weekend. Ashamedly, I haven’t actually ran my boat in a while. The last time that I took it out, I forgot to put gas in it. Mackenzie and I had to troll around Lake Bill Waller rather than use the outboard. This weekend seemed like a good time to remedy that, especially after I’ve shot my bow a few times and feel pretty confident. Sometimes the hardest thing for us is choosing where we want to go. We decided on Lake Bogue Homa.

Before we decided where we were going, I started naming off lakes within reasonable driving distance for the afternoon. I’d detail where they were and the size of the lake. Most of them were within an hour from the house and around 60-80 acres large. That’s not really big enough to open up the motor and let it fly, but I let Mackenzie have some input on our destination. To my delight, she was immediately intrigued with the name “Bogue Homa”. I told her that the lake was 882 acres, which peaked her interest even more due to it being much larger than the previous ones mentioned. When I told her that it was just outside of Laurel (my hometown), she was sold.

We loaded up the boat and our implements of destruction and headed north on Interstate 59. She was excited to be going fishing, I was excited to be going home. Bogue Homa holds a special place in my heart. Before moving to Jacksonville, Florida, we lived only a few miles from the lake. My dad was an avid bass fisherman during those days and would frequently take me with him. We’d usually end up at Bogue Homa or Maynor Creek in Waynesboro. As Mackenzie and I pulled into the lake, my heart felt like it would leap out of my chest. She was amazed at the beauty of the lake, and it is beautiful. Memories flooded over me with the sight of the lake. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was at home.

Stepping out of the truck and breathing the air took me back 30 years. It hasn’t been quite that long since I’d been to the lake, but this time felt different. This was the first time that I’ve taken any of my children to this special spot. I began to think about trips that my dad took me on years ago. I can still remember always stopping at Lakeside Grocery for bait, or a snack, before we’d fish. Dad would carry on conversations with Bill Culpepper, who owned the store, while Ms. Gladys would encourage some sort of sugary snack for me to get for the trip. These were simple times that I yearn for in my life.

I remembered to get gas this time, so we had no problem cranking the boat. I opened the throttle up and we were moving! The warm breeze on my face felt so good that I wished I could freeze time in this moment. The lake was relatively quiet with only a few other boats on the water. When we stopped to rig up our lines, Mackenzie asked me, “Do you hear that?” I’m pretty much deaf in one ear so my reply was, “Hear what?” She said, “Exactly” with a smile on her face, once again proving that she is indeed my child. It was a perfect afternoon to be at Lake Bogue Homa.

We ended up doing more riding and exploring than we did fishing, which was alright with me. My good friend, and former colleague, Reggie Richardson and his wife, Blair, joined us for a while on the water. He needed to run his boat, too. As per usual with us, the conversations mostly amounted to baseball and our kids. I didn’t feel an urgency to fish and Mackenzie didn’t seem to mind, which was good because 882 acres of water feels a bit overwhelming without a depth finder or lake map. After Reggie and Blair left, we trolled around, stopping to fish briefly. We encountered two rather large alligators toward the back of the lake and saw numerous different species of birds. As we moved about, Mackenzie kept clamoring of how pretty everything was, and I couldn’t disagree.

The sun began to set so we headed back toward the ramp. We opened up the motor one last time before trailering our boat. As we pulled off, I took one last glance at the lake. The remaining sunshine left sparkles across the water as if there were hundreds of diamonds floating along. Pulling away, my heart began to ache for days of old. I know we aren’t supposed to live in the past too much, but this trip really tugged on my heart strings. I even took Mackenzie by our old house before we went home. The yard that once seemed so big now looked small. Maybe one day she will visit one of our lakes and have the same fondness that I have for Bogue Homa.

Having the Right Tools for the Job

Last week, I wrote about being prepared before deer season. One thing that I haven’t gone into much detail about is what type of gear I use. There’s rarely a conversation involving hunting or fishing that doesn’t include something about what type of equipment we are using, or wish we had. My gear list often changes, depending on the time of the year, and what I am hunting. Some people do better with less gear, some better with more. I like to think that I’m somewhere in the middle based on conversations that I’ve had with other hunters. This week, I wanted to talk about some of the gear that I like to use and their particular function.

I’m somewhat of a gear snob when it comes to what brand of equipment I use. The older I get, the more I enjoy creature comforts. This gets tricky at times for those of us hunting on a budget. If you don’t have an unlimited amount of money to throw at gear, then sooner or later you’re going to have to improvise. Some things, though, are worth spending a little extra to ensure they do the job. One of the things that I won’t hesitate to spend a little extra on is the clothing and boots that I wear.

There’s nothing that can ruin a hunt quicker than being absolutely miserable. If you can’t stay dry, or you’re shaking the entire time, you’re not going to be as zoned in on the hunt. Being able to sit long hours in the stand requires some level of comfort while doing so. Personally, I get cold with the slightest north wind. Under Armour makes a great pant and jacket that should get you through a mild, Mississippi winter. The pants are lightweight and lined with wool for extra warmth. The jacket is also lightweight and wool lined, while at the same time, fitting snug enough through the arms to be able to comfortably shoot a bow. They are both water and wind resistant, as well as quiet. Putting these on over a mid-level baselayer should be sufficient for most of the winter conditions that we experience here. From a price standpoint, the jacket will run you around $180, while the pants are around $120.

Boots are another essential item that I don’t mind splurging on. Once again, I believe it’s a matter of preference depending on what keeps you comfortable. For years I’ve worn a Scentblocker boot for most of my early season hunting. They aren’t insulated and wear more like a tennis shoe than a normal boot. However, they are now discontinued. I’ve enjoyed my insulated Under Armour boots for late season hunts and terrain where I might encounter water. UA now makes a lightweight, early season boot that appears to fit like the old Scentblocker boots. Since I walked my sole clean off of my Scentblocker boots during turkey season, this will likely be the new early season boot that I choose. Again, if your feet hurt, you aren’t going to press yourself to go that extra 300 yards that might put you in a better position to bag your buck. If you can spend a little extra money, this is where you do it.

Next, is our weapon of choice. Choosing the right weapon can be an area that you spend as much, or as little as you want. Obviously, you want something that is going to be functional, but the good thing is there is a wide range of options as far as price. Long before the invention of the compound bow, people were killing big game with homemade archery sets. Bow hunters today can spend as little as $100 on a cheap compound bow and go kill deer. On the flip side, you can spend well over $1,000 on the latest and greatest. I shoot a Mathews Drenalin that was made in 2009. It’s not the latest model by any stretch, but this is one area that I see no need to upgrade at the moment. It still does the job and that’s all that matters to me.

The choice of what rifle to use is a hotly debated topic. Choosing a rifle is another area where the budget conscience hunter can save a dollar. I’m currently shooting a Christensen Mesa .308, but if I had to choose one rifle to hunt with for the rest of my life, I’d go a different route. When I was 10 years old, my dad bought me a used Remington Model 700 chambered in .243 for Christmas. It’s a beautiful rifle with a shiny woodgrain stock. In Mississippi, it’s capable of killing anything you’re going to see. It shoots flat and fast, and it’s as accurate as any rifle that I’ve ever owned. I’ve never even upgraded the scope, which is some kind of terrible Tasco, but I can drive tacks with this rifle. Speaking of optics, having a good pair of binoculars will save you the hassle of raising your rifle all of the time. I use Bushnell Autofocus binoculars that have plenty of eye relief. You’re going to spend a lot of your time looking through these, so get a set that feels comfortable.

The final piece of gear that I’ll talk about this week are knives. I usually take two knives in my pack on any deer hunting trip. I prefer an Outdoor Edge fixed blade with a gut hook for caping out my kill. It’s an inexpensive knife that holds an edge pretty well. I use a Cutco Clip Point knife for skinning. It’s hard to beat a Cutco when it comes to sharpness and durability. Even better, they have a lifetime warranty and will send you a new one if you break it. Always be sure to keep your knives well sharpened. It makes the task at hand much easier, and believe it or not, safer.

No matter whether you have expensive taste, or require the bare minimum, just about anyone can hunt deer affordably. Having the right equipment may make the job easier, but when the time comes to pull the trigger, or let an arrow fly, it’s up to you.

September is the Month for Preparation

The great thing about living in Mississippi is there is always a different outdoor season in full swing. Summer fishing turns into late summer alligator season. Gator season turns into dove season. Dove season takes us into the fall hunting season, in which we can harvest multiple species. Rarely is there a time when we don’t have something to hunt or catch in our great state.

September signals the alarm that deer season is just around the corner. If you haven’t sprayed out summer plots and began preparation for winter plots, now is the time. In baseball, we always say that championships are won long before the season ever begins. The same rings true for bagging that big buck. A little work and preparation will increase your odds of putting meat on the table and horns in your trophy room.

This month is also a good time to strap some cameras out in high trafficked areas. With opening day just around the corner, it’s good to know what bucks are traveling through and which bucks make your “shooter” list. Cameras have become somewhat of a hot button topic lately in the outdoor world. A few western states have put more stringent laws in place regarding camera use. A couple of years ago, Nevada banned the use of trail cameras on public land for certain time periods of the year. This year, the state of Arizona banned the use of trail cameras altogether. Montana has banned the use of cellular cameras, and New Hampshire has prohibited harvesting an animal on the same day trail camera pictures were taken.

I’m personally on the fence when it comes to cellular cameras. I appreciate the convenience of them, and not having to enter the woods and disturb the wildlife has to be an advantage. Obviously, the less scent you take into the woods, the better. The other side of me views it as a lazy way to track wild game. The evolution of various types of hunting equipment have made it easier than ever to track and kill deer. Cellular cameras, perhaps, give the greatest advantage of all new gear. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not for the future of hunting, but until Mississippi adopts laws against it, feel free to take advantage.

If you are an archery hunter, September is your last chance get your bow out and dial it in before the season begins. Up until now it’s been entirely too hot to shoot, unless you have an indoor range, of course. I’m beginning to see more and more people posting pictures practicing for the upcoming season. The worst feeling is going into opening weekend not being confident in your equipment, or yourself. Now is a good time to set aside a few evenings a week to shoot. Make sure you test fire your arrows with the broadheads you plan to use, as well. Although your broadhead might be the same weight as your field tip, they will often fly differently. Not practicing with your broadheads can result in poor shot placement and a lost, and wounded, harvest.

Another thing to make sure you work on is shot distance. This drives me crazy with archers. I’m no Fred Bear, but I feel very confident out to 40-50 yards. Knowing your limitations is equally as important as your gear selection. I often see hunters practicing shots of 75+ yards and I don’t understand it. That target is going to stay still through the entire flight of your arrow. A deer is not likely to do the same. I’ve had deer duck my arrow and “jump the string” many times at various distances. Shooting a target from 75 yards is much easier than shooting a deer at 30 yards. Also, isn’t the point of archery hunting to see how close you can get rather than how far you can shoot? When presented with the choice to take a sketchy shot versus letting that animal walk, use good judgement and get him next time. If left undisturbed, you’ll likely see him again. If you wound him, the odds are high that you’ll never see him again.

Finally, just because hunting season is almost here, don’t forget that this is still Mississippi and there are things crawling around that will injure or kill you. The majority of rattlesnakes that I’ve killed in my life have been killed during the month of September. It’s just cool enough to get them to stir during all times of the day. They are also feeding to store up for the winter months that are ahead. Be sure to wear snake protection when out doing food plots or working on your target practice. Nothing can ruin a good outdoor adventure worse than limping to the local hospital with a snake bite. Given my track record of ignorant injuries, this is one that I’ve fortunately not experienced…yet.