Today is Friday, May 26, 2017

‘Bout fifty years ago

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John L. Sloan about 50 years ago

I don’t reckon I have ever seen a tree like it since. It was a standard ironwood but it had two limbs bent over just right, eight feet off the ground. You could sit on one and put your feet on the other. That is, if you can climb up to start with. I was young, could and did. This was some years before anyone had a climbing treestand.

So, there I sat with my 12-gauge Model 12 resting across my legs, listening to the dogs coming toward me. I knew there was a deer somewhere in front of them -- no telling how far in front. They were still some ways out but coming steady, no losing and finding. I was shaking with excitement . . . shaking hard. Dogs running a deer will do that to you . . . unless you are dead. The mosquitoes were bad. There was a half-cloud of them around my head but I refrained from swatting at them. Most likely, I swallered a few. Then, I saw him coming. I saw the antlers first.
We were camped on the banks of Red River Ditch just where it runs into Cocodrie Bayou back in the old Cocodrie Swamp. I say old because today’s version does not resemble it at all. Now it is mostly beans and a small WMA. Back then, it was just open swamp, a good spit from the Red River and a moderate walk from the Mississippi. It was a hideout, so they told it, for bandits and such from Natchez. They said some of them never came out. I could believe it. You could walk a long time and never see anything you recognized. The swamp was dotted with sloughs and drains you could not cross. It was, in a word, wild.
We had a big, army surplus, mess tent and had it put up right. Four of us were camped there for 10 days. It was a big tent. Four days had passed. Me, Uncles Lester and Lloyd and Mr. Alphus said it was a second home. We shot ducks that made a great gumbo, squirrels that made a super jambalaya, caught fish that were some good fried (especially the brains) and now needed some deer meat. With a little luck, I was about to supply that.    
He come with his head low, as a swamp buck is apt to run. They tilt their heads back to keep the antlers from snagging in stuff hanging from the low tree limbs. They have a sorta blue tint to their hair, too. He was coming at a dead run, right at me and coming fast. I had me a fair case of the buck augers.
I put the copper bead right between his shoulders as he ran right at me. At six yards, I pulled the trigger and nine of the 12-double ought buckshot took him dead on and sent him into a forward somersault. He landed below me, eight feet under my footrest, graveyard dead and that is as dead as it can get. We now had plenty of roasting and frying meat. I was still shaking like a dog passing peach pits.
By the time Uncle Lester got to me, he was on stand 150 yards away, I almost had him gutted. That’s what we called it back than, none of this field dress stuff. I set the heart and liver aside; we ate that, too and commenced to dump the pooled blood out of the body cavity.
“What do you reckon to do this afternoon,” said Uncle Lester. I opined that I thought I would motor up Cocodrie a ways; drift-fish back down and catch a mess of bass. Well, Lester, he gave that some thought and said he would just come along for the ride. Said we might orter take our shotguns in case we got attacked by ducks. I knew right where they was likely to attack, too.
By lunchtime, we had that buck washed out and hanging from a pole between two trees. It was just in the 40’s so we all reckoned he would keep just fine with it getting frosty at night. Lunch was what was left over from supper and didn’t take long to heat up or get around the outside of that. We pretty much kept a bitter pecan fire smoldering just for heating things up.
Lester, he cut the 7.5 Evinrude off and let the boat swing about in the slight current. I had me a yellow, H&H spinner bait tied on and slid a cast up close to the bank. I was fishing a Shakespeare Direct Drive casting reel with black line. Back then, I could cast that thing pretty well. In addition, I was running the sculling paddle. No trolling motors for us.
We drifted down about a mile and had over a dozen bass on the stringer. Nothing of any size, maybe two pounds tops but just great eating fish. Lester just kind of motioned with his chin to a place we could get to the bank and I sculled us in. I caught hold of a buttonwood limb and pulled the boat up close enough to jump out on the bank.
We put on our shell vests, pulled up our hip boots and shouldered our shotguns. Less than a quarter-mile walk had us on the large flooded slough and the woodies were already starting to filter in. A big duck or two often mixed in. Few things are more fun than shooting ducks coming to roost in flooded timber. Few things much harder to do successfully, either.
By nearly dark, we had 14 ducks, squealers, mallards and a few teal. We drew them as we picked them up and as cold as it was getting, there would be no problem hanging them until tomorrow.
Back at camp, a big fire was going and I could see a second deer hanging from the pole and hear the laughter a couple Ancient Age and ice will produce.
Dinner that night was fried fish, grilled deer tenderloin, potatoes and onions, rice and semi-cold Falstaff beer. We all pitched till we win and then did a quick cleanup and hit the beds. Sleep came easy and quickly when you have a good sleeping bag on top a fine foam mattress. That is especially true with a belly full of good food and couple Ancient Age lightly diluted with ginger ale.
Every day on Cocodrie was not like that but enough were that you dreamed all year of that December campout. Four men in three bateaus-flat bottomed boats-with dogs and equipment motoring back into a piece of real estate that no longer exists. Not once did we see or hear another living human being. We lived pretty close to the land, eating what we killed or caught with some staples we brought in. Usually, the ice only lasted a day or so and there was no running out to the store. It was like going back in time and not all that far, either.
Dadgum! I would sure like to do that again. Heck, I’d just like to be that age again.

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