Happy Hunting Ground
Since moving to Central Alabama almost nine years ago, when hunting season rolls around I almost feel like I am in heaven. Where I grew up in South Baldwin County (yes, there is a difference) the most available hunting for me was dove hunting.
I spent many hours in recently harvested soybean fields and fired many shotgun shells at the little feathered rockets and enjoyed every minute of every hunt. It is with great sadness when I now go home to visit to see golf courses and subdivisions on the very same fields I hunted as a boy. Turkey hunting in South Baldwin was unheard of and deer hunting was available to the special few who either knew someone in the north end of the county or were members of the few clubs that existed in the area.
When I graduated high school and attended Auburn University, my friend and I attempted to hunt deer in the Tuskegee National Forest, with little or no luck (my roommate did manage to kill a raccoon, but that is a whole other story).
When I graduated from college I worked for a while in Dale County where a family in Skipperville befriended me. I was invited to deer hunt on their property and managed to kill my first deer there in 1983. Later on, I left Dale County but I kept in touch with my friends and they graciously allowed my brother and me to come back and deer hunt. Usually, we were able to go opening weekend and that was it. My brother was on active duty in the Air Force and had two growing sons and I was farming. We managed to pack an entire season into one weekend and had a lot of fun doing it.
When hunting season draws near these days, it is a difficult choice as to where I will go hunting on opening weekend, if I manage to go at all. Those days of being in the woods only two or three days a year seem like a bad dream. I feel like I am in heaven now because I get to hunt almost all I want to every year.
Whenever my brother and I get together we usually end up speaking of the days when we hunted the river bottoms of Dale County.
Many memories were made in those hardwood bottoms but one stands out in particular that tested the bonds of brotherhood and hunting "buddy-dom."
I hope my dear brother will forgive me for telling this ….
This particular year, my brother was riding his horse, a cantankerous old gelding with a mean streak a mile wide and forty miles long. It had been a while since ‘Ol Bill had had a saddle on his back and having caught the horse for a visit from the vet, my brother decided to throw a saddle on him and ride the kinks out of him. After all, it was a pleasant November day, the horse was already caught and the saddle and bridle were only a few feet away.
I’m not sure exactly what happened next but suffice it to say that when the dust settled, Bill was back at the barn and brother was not. When his wife found him, he was cradling an injured arm. Subsequent x-rays revealed a fractured elbow. When I saw him later I reminded him that our annual trip was very near and quizzed him as to whether we would have to cancel the trip. He resolutely said that nothing as minor as a broken elbow was going to keep him from our hunting trip.
Our departure day came and he picked me up after having to watch his dear wife load his gear in the SUV we took every year.
As we made our way through Northwest Florida, our discussions (in between Jerry Clower albums - our traditional travel entertainment) centered on the logistics of getting tree stands put up, climbing said tree stand and actually shooting with a broken elbow. He assured me that he had tested his elbow by raising his rifle to his shoulder and had no doubts that he could shoot with his bum arm. Thoughts of recoil ran through my mind, but I decided not to burden him with reality.
Finally we arrived at our destination and proceeded to set up camp. Usually this was a job us two former Boy Scouts accomplished in minutes if not seconds. It took a little longer than normal due to the fact that my young nephew and I had to do all of the unloading and tent pitching without my brother’s help. Now when I was a little kid, I occasionally got to go on a big time camping trip with my brother’s scout troop and I remember watching in awe, as my big brother would cook our meals over an open fire. (I was really impressed when he told me to go stick the canned milkshakes my mother had bought us in a nearby Wyoming mountain spring to cool.)
With that in mind, I figured that I owed my brother that much.
Having taken care of our camp first (good old Boy Scout training) we then set upon putting up our tree stands. This particular year, it was my brother’s turn to hunt the honey hole that never failed to produce a buck. He decided where he wanted his stand and, with his arm in a sling, directed me on how to put up his ladder stand. I’m not that comfortable with heights but we got it up and I got that little warm fuzzy feeling you get when you are able to help out someone, not to mention your big brother.
Having gotten everything in place for the next morning, we headed back to camp and proceeded to amaze my nephew with our camping skills.
Sunrise of opening day found us trekking to our stands. It was clear, cold and shaping up to be a glorious day to be hunting. Ordinarily, there would come a point where I would head off to my stand and he would head off to his. This morning we both went to his so I could help him up into the tree.
The plan was simple, he would climb into his stand and I would bring him up his pack and rifle and then go off to my own stand. I may be wrong in my memory but I seem to remember something along the lines of climbing up behind him with my shoulder under his rump to support him when he had to use his bad arm to climb, but I may be wrong. I got brother into the tree and then I made the numerous trips up and down to hand him all of his stuff.
My last words to him before I left were if he got down for any
reason, he was on his own getting back up. If I thought the hardest part of this trip was getting him into his stand and back down again, I was wrong.
Around seven-thirty I heard the sharp crack of his trusty Remington and I knew that when brother shoots, brother hits. (I have seen him head shoot a running doe and drop her.)
I sat for a little while to see if anything would show up where I was and finally my guilt got the better of me and I climbed down to go check on him.
As I approached his stand I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my brother as he sat lonely and helpless atop his ladder stand waiting for help. Sure enough his deer lay about 150 yards from his stand and the poor fellow was unable to get down and get his hands on the animal.
Arriving on the scene, I climbed back up, got his rifle and gear and then went back again for him.
We got the deer cleaned and back to camp, somehow.
The rest of the trip was uneventful; I have the theory that it was the Lord looking out for me.
Our last morning came and went, with the same procedure for getting him in and out of his stand. It was time to strike the camp and head back home to Baldwin County.
We got everything done and loaded. Finally we made it to the last chore, loading the deer. If one was driving a pickup truck this would be an easy matter, but we were in an SUV and had to get the deer to the top of the vehicle. (I don’t think those Hitch Buddy things were invented yet.) Having done this before, it is no small chore for two healthy strapping reasonably young men, but when it has to be done by one short fat guy and his seven-year-old nephew, it gets tougher.
After several different methods were tried that challenged the two college graduates, the deer was loaded and we headed home, bringing home the bacon, so to speak.
I’d have to ask my brother, but I think the venison was just a little tastier in those days.
Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.