Today is Sunday, August 20, 2017

The time of pre-dawn

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The fog rises like steam off patches shallow water.

I was early. Early for me.

By the time I got my safety harness hooked up and settled in the ladder stand, it should have been near dawn. It wasn't quite there. In fact, it was still black dark. I could still see a piece of moon. Looked like maybe God had clipped his finger nails and one of the clippings was hanging in the sky, maybe flicking the stars around a little.

I slipped a sugar coated orange slice in my mouth and studied on things. It wasn't the kind of sky you see out in the western Rockies where the stars are scattered like grains of salt, lighting up the whole sky. Here, they were just flecks of light, clumped up, here and there. Soon, they would be winking out. Makes me think of the old town of Tamuien, Mexico, where an old man, every night at 8:30, would extinguish the lamps along the main street. "A las ocho y media. Todo es bein." Eight-thirty and all is well, he would sing out. Wasn't much of a town for nightlife. Good duck hunting, though.

I took a deep breath and when I exhaled, the vapor fogged up my glasses and that put me to thinking about foggy mornings in various places.

The super best time to think and reymember is just before dawn, sitting in a treestand, sucking on an orange slice from the Wilson Bank and Trust. I steal em when Miz Key aint lookin.

I recalled the morning, so many years ago, sitting in a slender tree at AEDC. It had just gotten daylight when the fog rolled in and you could not see the ground. I could hear squirrels under me, couldn't see them. Then, the sun began to burn some of it off and there was a young, 5-point standing broadside, 15-yards away. He too was fogbound, the fog covered him almost to his belly. Made him look like he was floating on a cloud. The old Bear recurve, light as a feather in my hands, came to full draw and I heard that sound like when you thump a watermelon at Kroger to see if it is ripe. With a bow, it means a solid, boiler room hit. He vanished into the fog and a barred owl called to me for more patience. He did not go 50-yards, best I recall.

What was that, 40-years ago?

Tree limbs were just starting to make silhouettes when he came from somewhere behind me, not making a sound. I knew I could not get away with it but I reached for the gun anyway. I saw a flash of his long, bushy tail as he hit the brush. I know predators have a place in the woods. But we don't need any more coyotes in Wilson County. If you get my drift.

I hung the Savage Model 99, back up. Gosh, how many deer had it killed? Maybe 75, and the Parker-Hale at least twice that. But the Savage has always had a special place with me. It has had, since I bought it in 1976. I sat back and remembered other firearms I have owned.

The owls were arguing and gargling that morning, long ago in the Great Cocodrie Swamp. In the dark, I had waded out to a clump of higher ground and settled in amongst some cypress knees.

As dawn came, wisps of thick fog filtered through the swamp, rising off the patches of standing water like steam. The limbs of the great cypress trees, draped in Spanish moss made it spooky as all get out. My job was to call in and collect the dogs as they came through. And, kill a deer if I happened to see one.

It was just grey-light when I heard the pair of wood ducks come ricocheting and screeing through the trees and then the plip-plop of something slowly walking in the water.

At less than 30-yards, he appeared out of the fog. The first barrel of the L.C. Smith, put enough double-ought buckshot behind the shoulder of that 10-point, swamp buck to drop him in his tracks. The dogs had not even been released, yet. Big deer.

I blew three long notes on my dog horn. It was a hollow goat horn, crafted to blow like a trumpet. I listened as the last long note signaling I had a deer down faded into the swamp. Then, I promptly stepped in water over my hip boots, in my excitement. I still have those antlers somewhere. I can still see the fog on the water. I've only killed one swamp buck larger.

It is light enough now, I can see the two fence crossings. One at 35-yards, the other at 50. If a deer crosses either one, I can make the shot easy. I contemplate which way would be best to drag the deer out. Maybe-so my woods walker/lawn mower can get back to one. If they make it to the thicket, I probably won't have a shot. It is just too thick.

I see an ear. Just that. One ear.

I have enough faith in my experience to know it is not a squirrel or a bird. I saw an ear, just one, flick. Now, looking for it, I can't see it, can't see anything but brush. But I know I saw it. Then, I see two ears and a nose slowly come into focus. She is standing 40-yards in front of me, totally covered by trees and brush, facing from my left to right. Straight in front of her is an opening that will give me a clear shot. Behind her is another, small one. If she turns right and comes toward me, I have a shot. If she turns left, forget it.

The Savage is off the hook and resting across my safety bar. She takes one step forward and I find the opening in front of her. I rest the crosshairs in the center, slip the safety off and wait. In my peripheral vision, I see her enter the scope and then, the crosshairs are right behind her shoulder, three inches above her belly line. The gun jars my shoulder. I don't even bother to chamber another round. I hang the gun up and stand to stretch.

In the big walnut tree behind me, Herk the Twerk and Gomer commence scolding me for making so much noise. The two grey squirrels have been my hunting companions for three years. They are glad I don't squirrel hunt anymore. Herk tells Gomer, "That old man can still shoot."

I consider my options. I can drag her 100-yards or try and drive the Woods walker to her.

Either way, it won't take long. I think of who I will give this one to. My freezer is full but I have several folks wanting meat.

I'm thinking I might have tenderloin with biscuits and gravy and football for Thasgiving afternoon. Might even have that instead of turkey. Probably, I'll "nibble" my fill at the big feed at The Fellowship House. I'm making shrimp gumbo. Right now, I have a deer to gut and drag out.

The sun is sending beams through the thicket and one spotlights the doe. I hear a star-the Music City one. I think it ironic it no longer blows the horn at the Horn Springs crossing. Must be just after seven

I'm early.

Happy Thanksgiving y'all.

Contact the author at jsloan1944@gmail.com

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