Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The excitment of opening day

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Mickey Pope & I on his last elk hunt in New Mexico.

It is a cold November night in the Saline Swamp. There are seven of us in the camp house, 12-feet above the ground-Uncle Lester, Uncle Alphus, Uncle Lloyd, Uncle Bobby with Miss Jessie, Miss Lilly and myself. I am related to none of them but they raised me. It is the night before opening day of the Louisiana deer season.

I am so excited I can't sleep. I keep seeing visions of huge swamp bucks bounding over the palmetto, closely followed by the dogs. I get up to put more wood in the stove. I shiver in the cool and snuggle back under the heavy, down comforters.

It was my first ever opening weekend of deer season. I shall never forget it.

High in the Wind River Range above Dubois, Wyoming, 1967.

The elk were bugling in the dark as we fumbled with the camp stove. It was the opening morning of elk season and the excitement had us shaking like the aspen leaves.

Opening day of deer season, 1977. Mickey Pope and I sat in his car, parked on the side of a dirt road in Humphries County. We had 5,000 acres of land belonging to Inland Container to hunt. We were excited about the prospects. Back then, seeing a doe was a big deal.

In a black locust thicket bordered by cornfields in Pike County, Illinois, on a drizzly morning in 1987, I wait for daylight and the barrage of gunshots that I am sure will drive a buck my way. I check the muzzleloader and feel the excitement build.

The sun spreads over the bottom next to the Missouri River. Across the river, is Iowa and the rich cornfields that feed the big bucks.

It is opening morning of the Nebraska muzzleloading season. I watch the sun glint off the antlers as the heavy bodied buck slowly works my way. I fight down the excitement, bring the gun to my shoulder and wait for an opening.

This Saturday will be my 60th opening day. I wish I could recapture the excitement that accompanied so many of the earlier ones. Much of the excitement came from the camaraderie of hunting camps, the interaction with other hunters.

For many years, my opening days here in Tennessee involved going to my camp a day or so early to hang stands, cook some good food, tell some of the old stories and just enjoy the "hunt". It didn't make a lot of difference if I killed anything or not. I enjoyed the companionship. For over 20-years, I had my own deer camp. Some could come anytime they wanted, some only by invitation. It was a great hangout any time of year.

For the past several years, I have been a solitary hunter, almost always hunting alone.

After I quit my quest for "trophy" bucks, having decided I have enough on the walls, I hunted in a leisurely fashion, just going on the days the weather was right and only hunting for as long as I liked. You can do that when you hunt alone.

You see, what happened is this. It is simple. All my usual hunting companions are dead. As one by one, they passed away, I just didn't feel like "training" a new one.

So, I ended up hunting alone. I had no one to share the excitement with or joke with about a miss. The hunting camps were all of the past and truth be told, I began to enjoy being a solitary hunter.

Now, as age and health somewhat limit what I can do, my only real regret is that I have to do all the work myself.

I also regret I didn't spend more time getting my son interested in deer hunting. He went a couple times but just never quite took to it. And of course, for so many years, I was on the road during most of our hunting season. When you are writing for six or eight magazines and guiding other hunters, you stay gone a lot.

So, in three days, I'll enjoy my 60th deer hunting season. If the weather is right, I'll go. I even know what tree I'll be in and where I expect the deer to come from.

I am just a tad excited because for the first time in a few years, I have a line on a pretty good buck. For some reason, the farm I am hunting is torn up with buck sign and among the sign is a big track and some better than average rubs.

Our rifle season opens Saturday and runs through Jan.1. Our limit is three does a day and a total of three bucks for the year.

By law, you must wear a minimum of 500-square inches of blaze orange on the head and upper body.

Although it isn't a law, it should be that hunters who climb trees or any elevated stand must wear a harness type, fall restraint device. I know I will.

Now, I think I'll go clean my rifle again and make sure I have my hand warmers in the jacket pockets.

Hunt safe and good luck. Enjoy and share the excitement of opening day.

Contact John L. Sloan at jsloan1944@gmail.com.

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