By Gary LewisIt was a mile to the tall oak tree and the ladder stand backed up against the cypress swamp, far from the club’s greenfields and plywood shooting houses.
Alabama has an estimated 1.75 million whitetail deer, far more deer than we have back home in Oregon, but there is little public land. A long hunting season makes it feasible for hunters to band together in hunt clubs, leased on private ground.
The Pioneer Hunting Club has been together since Sam, a retired District Attorney, Buddy, a retired professor, and Larry, a retired mining engineer, were young men. My friend Brian Smith, a financial planner from Birmingham, is one of the younger members.
We sat our stands in the morning and evening. At midday we made lunch or drove into town. One day we ate catfish, mashed potatoes, chicken-fried steak and coconut cake at a place in Moundville called Miss Melissa’s. The sign on the wall said, ‘Southern cookin’ makes you good lookin’.’ There was some evidence in support of the statement and more evidence that outweighed it.
It is hard for a Westerner to sit still. But much of hunting runs counter to our impulses. Shadows shifted and light revealed. To the right, the ground sloped up, tangled with head-high pines and briars. To my left, was a shallow basin filled with brambles and beaver dams. 150 yards away, a creek wound unseen, beyond it, railroad tracks. If a deer showed, it would be visible for a moment. I oriented the rifle with the barrel pointed left.
Blue herons left their nests and glided on silent wings. Egrets wheeled above the water and perched in cypress. A turtle rested on a log, his head moving side to side. The swamps and the woods behind the stand were alive with small movements and bird cries.
Movement. A deer walked on the far side of the bowl.
In a moment it would be behind a tree, then concealed by the briars. Cheek on the stock, crosshair in focus, I thumbed the safety to ‘fire’, found the pocket behind the foreleg and touched the trigger.
After fighting my way through the brambles, I liberated the meat from the bones then loaded it in my backpack for the mile hike to the road.
Back at the house, the boys were on the porch. They’d heard the shot.
“Where’s your deer?” Dean asked.
I pointed at my backpack. Buddy took a picture of me with my load of meat.
“Ahmontellyouwhut,” Larry said. “Nobody around here does that. “Ya’ll are welcome back any time. We could use somebody in the club that can cut meat. We just haul it whole to the processor and let them handle it.”
Here, outside a little town in South Alabama, I remembered a line from a Hank Williams, Jr. song, A Country Boy Can Survive. “What’s all this about, you guys can skin a buck and run a trotline and a country boy can survive,” I asked.
“These days a country boy takes his deer to the processor,” Larry said. “Ya’ll come back next year and maybe you can show us how to run a trotline.”