It all started with cousin Doug

Back in the day — I’m talking eight decades or so ago — kids raised out on the rural route did it differently. When it came to entertaining yourself, there were no wi-fi gadgets; no cell phone; no video games. Why? It takes electricity for these things to work and it was years before the wires were strung and lights came on in Goldonna. 

I grew up in a four-room house my daddy built – a living room, kitchen and two bedrooms. Bathroom? Forget about it; it took water piped into the house to make it work. Our bored well, bucket, pulley and rope in the back yard was the water supply. Indoor plumbing consisted of what some folks called a thunder mug or slop jar. The serious stuff took place down a path out back that led to the outhouse.

My brother, Tom, was two years younger than me and we, just the two of us, would no doubt have run out of outdoorsy things to do had it not been for our first cousins, Doug and Sambo who lived on the next hill over from us. Doug and Sambo were like brothers to Tom and me and we did virtually everything together. I was the oldest, Doug a year younger than me, Tom a year younger than Doug and Sambo bringing up the rear, a year younger than Tom.

What did kids do for entertainment way back then before electricity and such came to us? If youngsters growing up today had been deprived of all the gadgets and widgets available now, chaos would no doubt ensue. Not for the four Harris boys; none of the other kids growing up in the community had anything modern either, so we didn’t miss what we never had.

What we did have was the tank pond lying adjacent to the L&A railroad track that furnished water for the steam engines that chugged and labored up Oshkosh Hill after filling tanks.  Just over the track was Molido (pronounced Molly-dough) Creek that coursed through the woods half a mile in back of our house. We learned to swim in the tank pond. Molido with its resident red perch, goggle eye, bass, jackfish and mud cat population was the perfect training ground for boys just learning to fish.

The passage of time has a way of changing things. We all grew up, married, had kids and lived in homes with electricity and indoor plumbing and all the amenities these afforded. Tom and I moved away while Doug and Sambo remained in the little town where we grew up. It’s sad but it’s true; when the realities of life separate you from those who were once so important to you, you grow apart, not because of problems but that’s just the reality of life.

Several years ago, I got a call from Doug. He had retired from a successful career in the petroleum industry, had purchased land and constructed a nice pond near his home and he stocked it with bluegills and bass. Like me, he had missed the times the four Harris boys had growing up and he suggested that we meet on his pond, catch, clean and cook fish and relive some of the special times we had growing up.

On June 29, 2007, the four of us met up on the pond, did those things he suggested, had so much fun and enjoyment we decided we would meet together every year and do it all over again. The Cuz’n Fish Fest was born on that day 15 years ago and has continued ever since.

Changes are inevitable with the passage of time and eight Aprils ago, my brother Tom passed away. That left the three of us to continue what Doug started in 2007. We continued to meet and it became obvious that Doug’s health was in a slow decline.

On January 11, I drove to Goldonna to attend the funeral of Doug, the one who started it all. This leaves just Sambo and me, the oldest and youngest of the four Harris boys, to pick up the pieces of our childhood. Will we continue the tradition? I suppose time will tell.  

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Nursing student follows hubby’s urging to tag big buck

A nursing student at Louisiana Tech, 20-year-old Jordyn Clayton followed her husband Zac’s advice to shoot the shoulder of a deer that had its head and massive antlers hidden from her by brush. She did as he instructed and ended up with a huge 12-point buck that scored 180 3/8 inches.

Jordyn and her husband live in Clayton in Catahoula Parish and they hunt on a 100-acre tract of land owned by her father, land that lies just across the highway from their home. On the afternoon of Dec. 26, the duo decided to walk across the road and head for their box stand located in an area overlooking an opening with heavy timber on each side.

“We left the house about 3 o’clock and walked to our stand. After about half an hour, we began hearing lots of noises coming from the thick woods and suddenly, a doe came out running across the clearing and she was followed by two bucks chasing her. I told my husband that if one of them came back out, I might try and shoot it as they were both nice bucks,” Jordyn said.

Zac suggested that she hold off because it was only 3 o’clock, leaving plenty of daylight to have a chance at an even bigger buck, should there be one in the area.

“Five minutes after the doe and two bucks came across, another deer came walking through the woods where the three had come from and it stopped before getting to the clearing. All I could see was a big body as its head was behind some trees. Zac could see the head and whispered to me to quickly get my gun out the window. I still had no idea what sex or size the deer was because all I was looking at was the shoulder,” she continued.

Following her husband’s urging, even though she had no idea what she might be looking at, she got her .270 out the window.

“At first I couldn’t find the deer in my scope but Zac pointed it out to me and told me to hurry up and shoot before the deer took off. He knew it was a fine buck but I still had no idea since I had only seen the shoulder. So,” she said, “I shot and the deer took off like it wasn’t hit.”

In order not to disturb her sister who was hunting on a nearby stand, Zac suggested that they wait until legal shooting time was over to begin the search.

“After sitting for an hour, my thought was that I had missed because the deer took off so fast. We walked down to where the deer was standing and could find no blood. Then Zac walked another 25 yards, found blood and we followed it to where the deer was piled up 15 yards further,” Jordyn said.

The buck was a fine one, weighing 285 pounds. It was about 5 ½ years old and carried a rack of 12 heavy points. Inside spread was 17 inches, main beams reached out some 25 and 26 inches each with bases approaching 6 inches each.

The buck was taken to Simmons Sporting Goods in Bastrop to be entered in that store’s big buck contest and the rack was measured at a whopping 180 3/8 inches.

Not a bad deal at all for a young lady who couldn’t tell what she was shooting at. Thankfully, her husband knew, she followed his command and ended up with a buck that could very well win the women’s division in Simmons Big Buck contest.

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When red wolves roamed north Louisiana

I felt extra special there in elementary school at Goldonna. My dad had the coolest job in the world and it made me one of the most popular kids in the sixth grade to tell my buddies gathered around all big eyed about my dad’s latest adventure.

My dad, T. E. “Doc” Harris, worked in predator control for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He was a “wolf trapper.”

It was especially neat when my brother, Tom, and I got to go along with him to run his traps and see what had been caught. Sometimes it was a possum; sometimes a coon; sometimes a skunk; sometimes a fox or bobcat but the real thrill came when we found the trap gone with a wolf track next to it.

When he set his traps – he used heavy-duty No. 4 Newhouse – he didn’t stake them down. Instead, he attached and buried a chain of about 8 feet in length to which he had attached what he called a “drag hook,” a two-pronged hook with one side pointing up and the other down. This enabled the trapped animal to take off dragging the chain and hook behind rather than jerking a foot out or losing a toe in the staked-down trap.

The trail left as the wolf took off with the trap dragging the hook behind was easy to follow. Usually, the animal would be found tangled up in a nearby thicket.

Finding a red wolf in a trap was especially exciting because of our exposure to these creatures on warm summer nights when dad would take us to a pipeline or power line somewhere over in Winn Parish to make them howl. He would let loose with a long mournful howl and if wolves were within earshot, they’d answer and I still get chills in thinking about those hauntingly deep-throated howls.

Dad taught me to howl and once when Tom and I accompanied him on a week-long trapping venture to Madison parish, I got to put my new-found howling skills to the test.

Dad had located a wolf den deep in the swamp and he and the caretaker of the hunting lodge where we stayed that week, a wiry little fellow named Drew Denton, came up with a plan. Dad would park his Jeep a couple hundred yards or so from the den’s location, he’d leave Tom and me at the Jeep while he and Drew would take shotguns and sneak half-way between the Jeep and the den. The plan was to waylay the wolves as they came in response to my howling. He left me his watch and told me to begin howling 20 minutes after they departed.

The plan worked to perfection. As soon as 20 minutes had passed, I tilted my head back, cupped my hands around my mouth and let out a howl that must have sounded sweet to the wolves at the den. They immediately answered and then all was quiet. I waited to hear the blast of a shotgun and when no shots were heard, I decided to howl again.

Something unplanned happened because instead of hearing shotguns blasting, I heard wolves howling 50 yards away as they had skirted dad and Drew and they were closing fast. In a matter of seconds, here came three loping wolves toward where two scared little boys were sitting on the hood of the Jeep.

Tom remembered dad’s pistol he kept under the seat, grabbed it and fired a shot, not trying to hit one but to let them know they needed to skee-daddle, which thankfully, they did in a hurry. 

Memories of my dad and his association with red wolves have become just that, distant memories. Red wolves are no longer running wild in Louisiana, having been hybridized out of existence with the burgeoning population of coyotes. Only a few captive pure blood red wolves remain in a protected area in North Carolina.

Eventually, the expense and sagging interest to try and save the few remaining will fade like the last mournful note of the howl I heard as a boy on a summer night in Winn Parish. 

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Spider bites can be serious, so here’s a couple hints to avoid them

A couple of hours after working in her flower bed at her home near Dodson, Lori Boyett noticed a small red spot on her finger, an area that was somewhat painful to touch.

“I went to bed and woke up two hours later with lots of pain, and some swelling. I took some Ibuprofen, went back to bed and woke up at three in the morning with extreme pain and a huge raised blister that appeared black,” Boyett explained.

The following day, she noticed that the pain and swelling had become worse with red streaks beginning to spread up her arm.

Lori Boyett had experienced the bite of a brown recluse spider, later confirmed by her doctor when she went for treatment. She didn’t see the spider nor did she feel the bite.

I had a similar experience several years ago when I was bitten on the forearm by what my doctor assumed was a brown recluse spider. After treatment, the painful site returned to normal and today, there is a barely detectible scar on my arm.

My experience and that of Boyett prompted me to do some research on these nasty creatures and find out what I could about their modus operandi. While neither Boyett nor I suffered serious consequences from being bitten, others have not been so fortunate.

“While the majority of brown recluse spider bites do not result in any symptoms, cutaneous symptoms (affecting the skin) occur more frequently than systemic symptoms,” according to Wikipedia.

“In such instances, the bite forms an ulcer that destroys soft tissue and may take months to heal, leaving deep scars.”

I’ve seen photos of some of these more serious bites that can literally turn your stomach with the damage an untreated bite can cause.

Where do these nasty rascals hang out and what is the best way to avoid coming in contact with a brown recluse spider?

“They frequently build their webs in woodpiles and sheds, closets, garages, cellars and other places that are dry and generally undisturbed,” according to the site I visited.

When dwelling in human residences, they seem to favor cardboard, says Wikipedia, possibly because it mimics the rotting tree bark when they inhabit naturally.

Here’s one site that invites these spiders, one I have to be careful about. Sometime during hunting season, rather than hang each article of clothing, I’ll place them on the floor in the bottom of my closet. That, I’m learning, is a no-no; brown recluse spiders love to hang out in stacked or piled clothes as well as inside dressers, in bed sheets of infrequently used beds and inside work gloves.

If I persist on leaving my hunting clothes on the closet floor, I hope I’ll have enough gumption to give them a good close exam and shake before putting them on.

How do you know a brown recluse when you see one? They’re relatively small – a photo I observed showed a penny next to a brown recluse and the spider was just a tad larger. The most telling mark is to examine one closely if you dare and note the outline of a fiddle on the back.

Brown recluse spiders are shy creatures and scurry away when disturbed. However, as Boyett and I can attest, make one feel threatened and that sucker can and often will bite.

OK, gotta run and hang up my hunting clothes. Just in case.

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The evolution of the deer hunter

On November 24, 1967, I went deer hunting for the first time. My venture with friends to Summerfield in Claiborne Parish resulted in my downing the biggest buck, antler points wise, I have ever taken. Bill Bailey’s hounds pushed a 10-point buck past me and I got him. I have killed bigger deer since but none with more points.

So much has changed since that day more than half a century ago when I was introduced to hunting deer. Back then, it was “bucks only” hunting and it mattered not if the buck had a nice rack or sported a pair of spikes on its head; to down a deer with any headgear, no matter how small, was quite an accomplishment. Sometime later, a “doe day” was added which allowed hunters to take a doe on that one day.

There were few if any hunting leases back then and all you had to do was receive permission from a property owner to hunt his land or hunt one of our wildlife management areas. Still later, owners of large parcels of land, mainly timber companies, were paid by groups interested in having exclusive rights to the property.

My first experience with a hunting lease was a sweet deal. The owner of 500 acres was a friend and he approached me with an offer I couldn’t pass up. Get a group of my hunting buddies together to help him keep an eye on his property that had been abused by having fences cut and trash dumped in exchange for exclusive hunting rights free of charge. We enjoyed several years of hunting, taking quite a few deer, including my personal-best 140-inch 8-point.

After the property owner’s death that eventually led to us losing our hunting rights, I joined another club. After having rather loose restrictions at the outset, as to what deer we could take on that club, we eventually adapted a minimum size for bucks; it had to have at least 6 points with a 12-inch inside spread.

By allowing bucks to get more age on them before being targeted, our club of roughly 1,000 acres evolved into one with a growing number of mature bucks above the “6-12” limit.

Gordon Whittington, retiring editor of North American Whitetail, one of this nation’s highest rated deer hunting magazines, recently shed some light on what he has noted among the deer hunting populace across the country.

“Back in the early 1980s, deer hunters had the ‘if it’s brown, it’s down’ philosophy, sort of a meat hunter mentality,” said Whittington. “People might want to down a big buck but nobody was managing for them and they weren’t being very selective. Today, there has been so much of an evolution of being more selective, realizing what the potential is for growing big deer.”

Whittington noted that the increased use of trail cameras has allowed hunters to gain knowledge of just what is out there on their club, allowing them to be more selective, letting young bucks that are showing potential be bypassed with the aim of their becoming trophies.

“A problem may be that some are getting heavy-handed when somebody shoots a young buck, especially when it’s a kid or new hunter, with criticism that has the potential of turning off these hunters and driving them away from the sport,” said Whittington.

No doubt, today’s deer hunter is a far cry from the hunter of half a century ago, one who was dressed in jeans and flannel shirt, wearing an Army surplus jacket and sporting a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot with an eye out for a deer — any deer.

Thinking back, I think it may have more exciting and enjoyable back then.

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Like father, like son, 36 years later

I had the privilege of writing a story 36 years ago of an impressive buck taken by the late Tommy Simmons of Ruston. On November 13, 1986, Simmons was hunting in northern Lincoln Parish when a buster of a buck stepped out and he dropped the 12-point. I still recall the emotion Simmons shared with me as he told his story. Although this was before antler score and measurements were in vogue, his buck was likely in the 160-inch class.

Tommy’s son, Joe, not yet born when his dad nailed the big buck, took up where his dad left off.

After an extended illness, Tommy passed away in 2020. Joe, age 29, encountered another big Lincoln Parish buck this season and was successful in bringing the big 13-point trophy to the ground on November 27.

“When you write the story of my buck,” Joe Simmons said, “please include the fact that my dad set the stage for my success. In fact, he got his big buck within a couple of miles of where I currently live in the Pea Ridge community of Lincoln Parish.”

Joe Simmons was hunting on a 53-acre tract north of Choudrant in Lincoln Parish. The day before his encounter with his buck, he was bow hunting from his lock-on stand when he heard a fierce fight between two bucks.

“They were fighting in a thicket next to my stand and it went on for five or six minutes. I’d hear antlers clashing, brush breaking and deer running when finally a small 8-point stepped out. I felt the other buck was likely the big one several of us had been after, but he didn’t show. I decided that tomorrow, I’d be in my box stand with my rifle because I felt like he was in the area and I might have a chance at him,” Simmons said.

It had rained the day he was bow hunting but the rain had stopped and the morning of November 27 dawned cool and damp. Simmons’ stand overlooks two shooting lanes where wheat, oats and rye are planted. The woods were previously a mixture of pines and hardwoods that had been cut some 15 years ago, leaving the area a dense thicket — perfect habitat for a big buck.

“I got out early and had to walk through corn I had scattered on one of my lanes. I used an Ever Calm scent cover on my boots and every 50 yards or so, I put out some Code Blue estrous doe scent before climbing into my stand,” he recalled.

After not seeing any action the first hour or so after daylight, a buddy hunting nearby texted him about a nice buck he had just shot with his bow.

“Since I wasn’t seeing anything and my buddy was excited about his bow kill, I shut the windows on my stand, called him to hear his story and we talked for maybe 15 minutes. After we finished talking, I opened the windows again and half an hour later, I looked up to see a big buck walking across my lane at 65 yards. I couldn’t be sure if it was the big one I was after, but since it was bigger than any others I knew about in this area, I put my Browning BAR .270 short mag on the window, grunted to make the deer stop and I took the shot. The buck crumpled but then disappeared into the woods,” said Simmons.

Walking to the site of the shot, there was no blood and Simmons considered going to get his blood-tracking dog. There was no need for a tracking dog because he took two steps into the woods and saw antlers. The big buck had only run 15 yards before collapsing.

The buck sported 13 points with an inside spread of 17 5/8 inches, bases around 5 inches each with main beams stretching to near 27 inches each. The buck, which was rutted down, weighed 170 pounds and was determined to be around 5 ½ years old. Simmons took the buck to Greg Hicks, official scorer for Buck Masters, and the rack measured 174 3/8 inches.

“It’s hard to express what I feel,” Simmons said, “about getting another Lincoln Parish trophy buck 36 years after my dad got his.”

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Sabine Parish hunters benefit from Midwest-style deer management

There is an area in Louisiana capable of naturally producing habitat amenable to growing big, healthy bucks and does. Land along the Mississippi delta is rich in nutrients with plants growing naturally there that are highly nutritious. Deer that feed on such a bountiful buffet tend to grow larger bodies with bucks sporting impressive racks.

The northern part of the state, for the most part, consists of rolling red clay hills and pine trees, not the type of habitat where deer can reach their maximum potential.

Sabine Parish is just such a location with habitat basically that you don’t expect to see deer grow to impressive weights and antler growth.

Ten years ago, something began taking shape to change the production of deer in a portion of Sabine Parish from piney woods averages to eye-popping characteristics. A group of hunters, who own and lease some 3,000 acres in Sabine Parish, decided to see if their piney woods could do something to produce higher quality deer. Ryan Masters was one of the group who set out to see if it could be done.

“Ten years or so ago, I was fortunate to be able to hunt in the Midwest. I began wondering how those guys up there had much bigger deer than we had here in our part of Louisiana,” said Masters.

“I began realizing that up there, they were allowed only one buck tag per season and bucks must be five years old or older. It started dawning on me that I get six tags and can hunt deer for over two months and there is no restriction on age or antler size here,” he said.  

Masters and his friends decided to try and do something about it. Could bigger bucks be raised in Sabine Parish? They were determined to try to find out.

“We developed what we’re calling the ‘Midwest Style’ of management. We changed our regulations to allowing members to take only one buck a year and the one they can take has to be at least five years old. Our property is in the piney woods with not much quality natural deer food. We keep food plots out all year and we developed our own protein blend of supplemental food we have been using on our club.

“We studied up on things that can help any area produce more quality animals and learned that the amount of sunlight, the amount of minerals, the availability of water sources along with genetics are keys to raising deer that are above the norm,” Masters said.

By the 2018 deer season, Masters and his friends began seeing positive results from their more aggressive approach.

On a personal note, I write stories of big bucks taken around the state for LA Sportsman magazine and just about every year, I’ll be hearing about and writing about one the Masters’ group has produced. The current 2022-23 season has produced one when Ryan Masters’ son, Joel, downed a big 10-point buck weighing 220 pounds with an inside spread of over 20 inches, a buck with antler measurements of 156 2/8 inches.

By improving the land you’re permitted to hunt, providing year-round nutritious food sources high in protein, limiting the number of bucks members can take during season and passing on those smaller bucks giving them time to grow and reach their potential, results are possible.

“I am able to tell folks that if they want to grow big deer on marginal habitat,” Masters said, “it can be done.”

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Multi-tasking Ben Dupree is a modern-day renaissance man

He operates a successful deer processing business; he is a garbage man; he teaches concealed firearms classes; he is a farmer who sells his produce; he is an award-winning author; he is pastor of his church. And he does all this while being blind. Yes, you read it right; Ben Dupree is functionally blind.

Dupree is a 42-year-old graduate of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches with a master’s degree in education.

“After college I began work as a teacher, basketball coach and assistant principal. Then I began having these strange problems with my eyes. I had 20-20 vision but I began having difficulty keeping my eyelids open and I sought medical treatment. I was finally diagnosed with a rare condition, Blephrospasm, a condition that forced my eyelids to close,” Dupree explained. “I go to Shreveport quarterly to have injections around my eyes so they can stay open.”

After doing something he was trained for in the education system that he absolutely loved, he was forced to have to give it all up after 10 years because of the diagnosis; he was declared functionally blind.

Kristin, Ben’s wife and mother of their two sons, is a registered nurse and the couple was faced with a “what’s next?” dilemma.

“Kristin encouraged me to do something I had always wanted to do, and that’s write a book. So I did and I eventually won an Excellence in Craft award from the Louisiana Outdoor Writer’s Association.

“I was a commercial fisherman for awhile, I cut and sold firewood and then I got into deer processing. The first year I processed a few deer for friends, an activity that took place in my wife’s kitchen but she thought it best that I find another place to cut up deer and make sausage.

“My dad helped me construct a building in our back yard and from something that started simply five years ago, K&B Processing is in a fully operational building with concrete floor, drains and a custom trolley system and I expect to process 400 to 500 this season,” said Dupree.

Serious health problems forced Kristin to give up her job as a nursing instructor and today, she’s at home keeping records and handling bookkeeping for the family businesses. Sons Reagan, 15, and Michael 12, are home-schooled and assist Dupree in his deer processing business. They take turns on Wednesdays helping their dad on the weekly garbage run, which was the next venture he explored.

The idea of developing a garbage collecting system for folks in the community took shape and today, Dupree has 92 customers throughout north Natchitoches Parish, furnishing cans and drum liners with each Wednesday designated as garbage collection day, garbage taken to the land fill in Natchitoches.

“I’m the only garbage man I know who has a master’s degree,” he quipped.

Rev. Jason Womack, pastor of Goldonna Baptist Church, was called to pastor a church in another community recently and before he left, he advised Dupree, who is a licensed minister, to expect to be asked to be interim pastor.

“The church did ask me to consider the interim position which Kristin and I prayed about and I felt led to do. Then the church voted, in a unanimous vote, to call me as pastor. I explained that with all the businesses that I operate, they would have to consider me a bi-vocational pastor and they agreed,” he said.

He might have had to give up his profession of being an educator because of his functional blindness but being a renaissance man, he exactly fits the definition – “a person with many talents or areas of knowledge.”

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It’s funny, there’s an art to writing what makes people laugh

As an outdoor writer for over half a century, there is one style I have always wanted to master, a style that I occasionally and accidentally stumble into, but with no consistency — humor writing.

I have been an admirer of the writing of one fellow who had it down pat, as in Patrick McManus who died in 2018 at the age of 85. He could reduce me to thigh-slapping guffaws every time I picked up a copy of Outdoor Life or Field and Stream magazines and read one of his humor columns.

I even got up the nerve one time to write him a letter asking about how I could improve my humor writing. I was astounded and dumbfounded when he answered my letter with a two-page handwritten reply. One thing that stands out in my memory of his reply was that to evoke laughs from readers, the punch line was the key. Have your readers expecting what should be the obvious conclusion to one of his tales was to come out of left field with a zinger that was totally unexpected. I have three of his books in my library that I’m going to read again after recalling what a special type of writer he was.

I have a friend, Jim Mize, who writes humor pieces for a number of publications. The title of his three books gives an indication of what you’ll read when you pick up one — The Summer of Our Discount TentA Creek Trickles Through It and Hunting with Beanpole.

I had Mize as my guest on my Glynn Harris Outdoors radio program recently and had him discuss how he got into humor writing.

“I’ve been writing humor stories for more than 30 years and it’s sort of interesting the way I got started,” said Mize. “I had an assignment from a magazine for a fishing story and I injected humor in my introductory and ending paragraphs. The editor contacted me and asked why I didn’t make the middle of the story funny like the beginning and end, so I did.”

Mize said that he began studying humor, how stand-up comics came up with their jokes and how they learned to create them.

One thing Mize shared was the same thing McManus had said, and that had to do with the punch line.

“If you’re ending your story with a predictable punch line, something the reader expects, he’s not likely to be impressed. However,” Mize continued, “if the punch line involves an element of surprise, something totally unexpected, that’s what grabs his attention.

“My first two books contain the stand-up comedy style of stories while Hunting with Beanpole puts the main character into situations. This fictitious character is unpredictable and jumpy; he is constantly digging himself deeper into the hole he’s created. He is the sort who manages to find the cloud in every silver lining.”

Chapter titles give you an inkling of what you’re about to enjoy as you follow along on hunting trips with this guy who always finds a way to get himself entangled in one zany episode after another. When Boxer Shorts Save Your LifeThe Premonition and the Talking FrogThe Stuffed Moose and The Campfire Ghost are among the 25-plus chapters in Mize’s book.

For my readers who are interested in any or all of Mize’s humor books, each of which is illustrated by well-known cartoon artist, the late Cliff Shelby, visit his website You won’t be disappointed.

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More bad birds stories sure to please turkey hunters

A year or so ago, Jim Spencer, my good friend and avid, make that obsessed, turkey hunter, put together a book about his encounters with wild turkey gobblers, birds he described as “bad birds.” In fact, that was the name of his first book — Bad Birds.

Realizing that his book that took readers step by step up mountains, through briar thickets and across creeks to chase bad birds only covered part of his experiences, Spencer has assembled his accounts of more brushes with bad birds. His new book, “Bad Birds 2,” is hot off the presses and is available for the perfect Christmas gift for turkey hunters.

Beneath the title on the cover of his new book, Spencer adds … “Another collection of ‘mostly’ true stories starring the gobblers we all love to hate.”

Just who is this guy, Jim Spencer, anyhow? Here’s what a blurb on the back cover of the book says about this turkey fanatic … “Jim Spencer’s name and reputation are well-known in the turkey hunting subculture. A self-described turkey bum, Spencer has written more than a thousand magazine and newspaper features about turkeys and turkey hunting, and now, a third book on the subject. In more than 40 years of being whipped by turkeys, he has hunted them in three countries and 30 states. He and his wife Jill (also a well-known outdoor writer) live in the north Arkansas Ozarks, near Calico Rock.”

The book is beautifully illustrated in photos taken by Spencer, his wife, and renowned wildlife photographer Tes Jolly. The foreword was written by Tes and her husband, Ron Jolly. Here’s what Ron Jolly wrote in the book’s foreword about the kind of turkey man Spencer is.

In describing a hunt in which Spencer was the shooter and Jolly the cameraman shooting a video for television, they had set up on a gobbler and when the gobbler closed the distance and was within shooting range, Spencer never got the signal to shoot before the gobbler walked away.

“When he was gone, Spencer pulled down his mask and grinned at me over his shoulder. ‘You couldn’t see him, could you?’ I shook my head. ‘You should have killed him anyway,’ I said. ‘Naw,’ he said, ‘that wasn’t the deal. You couldn’t get any footage, so I didn’t want to shoot. It’s just a turkey.’”

Giving it their all for two more days to film Spencer taking a gobbler they never had another chance but Jolly added, “Spencer proved to us to be a turkey man.”

“Bad Birds 2” contains 40 stories of Spencer’s encounters with tough old birds, some he was able to conquer; some where the gobbler got the best of him. He affixed monikers to each of the bad ones he has met, names like Lazy Bones, Gabby, Sir Edmund, Ringo, Blinky and on and on.

As thrilling and frustrating and fun to read as Spencer’s stories are about the bad birds he has encountered, the book ends soberly with his epilogue where he describes in a manner only he can muster of the problems wild turkeys are facing in today’s world. “Something is happening out there in turkey country, and we need to get a handle on it,” he wrote.

This is a book every turkey hunter should read, for enjoyment, for pleasure and for instructions on what not to do. It’s also one that needs reading for his serious message about the plight of wild turkeys today.

To order your copy in time for Christmas giving, send a check for $26, which includes cost of shipping and handling to Treble Hook Unlimited, P.O. Box 758, Calico Rock, AR 72519 or to Paypal at via email.

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Younger hunters must take extra care to avoid costly, even catastrophic miscues

He’s a 22-year-old stud muffin, invincible, with testosterone raging and a nothing-bad-can-happen-to-me attitude. He has the world by the tail with only good stuff lying ahead.

One year later, he’s a 23-year-old paraplegic, destined to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. 

What happened to cause such a life-altering change? He made a critical error in judgment while climbing into his deer stand. He hadn’t bothered to check the condition of the wooden steps he’d nailed to the tree a couple of years ago. He’d scooted up these steps to reach his deer stand dozens of times without mishap. Did he use a safety harness? Nah … he didn’t need that.       

This time, though, was different. He reached for a step not taking the time to see that it had rotted during the off-season. It pulled free and he hit the ground a dozen feet below with a thud, his lower back landing on a root that protruded from the ground. A vertebrae was shattered and long story short, he’d never walk again.

Dr. Bobby Dale, a lifelong hunter, is also an emergency room physician who practices medicine in his hometown of Tupelo, Miss. Visiting with Dr. Dale at a writer’s conference, we had occasion to talk about what is more likely to injure hunters while hunting. Dale noted that contrary to what many believe, it’s not the older and more fragile hunter who is more apt to be injured; it’s the strong, virile, younger guy.

“From what I’ve observed from patients I have seen in the ER where I practice, it’s the younger one more prone to suffer serious injuries while hunting. This is particularly true concerning falls from elevated deer stands. In fact,” Dale said, “I recently read a report that revealed the majority of bow hunters who fall from tree stands are in their 20s and 30s. Also, about 10 percent of these injuries are alcohol-related.

“While it is true that guys in their 50s and 60s and older have bones that are more easily broken, I don’t see nearly as many injuries from falling from a stand from this older group. It’s just a fact that the older guy is more cautious,” he added.

Dr. Dale noted that a fall, even one from just a few feet, can result in serious injury. Obviously, the further you fall, the more serious injuries become, he said.

“I’ve seen victims who fell from stands come to the ER with everything from closed head injuries, bleeding on the brain, spinal fractures with paralysis, broken arms, legs and ribs, collapsed lungs, ruptured spleens in addition to profuse external bleeding,” Dale said. 

While mishaps using homemade deer stands are more likely to result in serious injuries, manufactured stands can also cause falls if not used properly.

“Manufactured stands have to meet a safety code and the vast majority of these stands are safe when properly used. However, they still have to be secured to the tree in the proper manner to be completely safe. Climbing stands are quite safe but when care is not taken in using them, they can result in twisting or slipping when not correctly secured to the tree. The result can be disastrous,” he added.

I’ve deer hunted from elevated stands for years fortunately without incident and I want to keep it that way. Therefore, I have developed a personal rule-of-thumb in my deer hunting.

The older I git, the closer to the ground I sit.

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My introduction to deer hunting

When I was growing up out on the rural route, falling leaves, southbound geese calling from the skies overhead, me trading short pants and tee shirts for sweats as weather started cooling down meant one thing for this country boy. It was time to go hunting.

We were limited in the wild game we were after to basically squirrels. Deer? We didn’t have any. I can remember growing up that if someone in the community reported finding a deer track, most of the community would head to the spot where a deer crossed the road and marveled at the thought that an actual deer had made that track.

Eventually I grew up and although deer had responded to trapping in areas where they had deer and released in our part of the state, squirrel hunting remained my passion.

My job transferred me to Claiborne Parish and once squirrel season opened, I had already scoped out the woods around Homer to find where most of the oaks and hickories grew – knowing that acorns and hickory nuts would attract squirrels. I soon developed a friendship with James White, who also loved to squirrel hunt. However, every year as November rolled around, I’d be left alone as my friend would bid me adieu as he headed out to deer hunt.

James started gently working on me — telling me how much fun it was to hunt deer and suggesting that I come with him to give it a try. My excuse was that I didn’t own a rifle, while he countered with the suggestion that the shotgun I used for squirrel hunting would work fine; I’d just need to substitute buck shot for the # 6 shot I used for squirrels.

One thing that started making me think that deer hunting could possibly be fun was the morning I was squirrel hunting alone and I heard the bawling of a hound in the woods near where I hunted. I was somewhat upset at the prospect that my squirrel hunting was about to be messed up when I saw movement out front and a big heavy-antlered buck stepped out, stopping to look my way before bounding away. Admittedly, I felt a little tingle that hearing a squirrel cutting a hickory nut never gave me.

I finally agreed to go on a deer hunt with my friend and on Nov. 24, 1967, James picked me up where I joined him and his three sons to hunt deer with Bill Bailey near Summerfield in northern Claiborne Parish. Once we got there, the five of us spread out along a narrow pipeline where I was instructed to sit tight, enjoy the scenery until I heard Bailey’s hounds headed my way.

I was enjoying the scenery and the chill of a November morning when in the distance, I heard the hounds. Then I realized that the bawling of the hounds was growing closer, so I started scanning the woods out front when suddenly, a buck appeared on the pipeline in front of me. But instead of dashing across like deer usually do, this buck made a turn and headed down the pipeline that would put him directly in front of me at no more than 20 yards.

I raised my shotgun and fired. Just to make sure the deer wouldn’t get away, I fired twice more in rapid succession … BLAM … BLAM … BLAM. The deer collapsed on the spot. I not only killed the buck but shot half his 10-point rack off — which I found and later reattached. This was long before the days of cell phones, so I had to wait for my friend to show up so I could tell my story.

Once James got there, he admired the buck and congratulated me on getting such a fine deer on my first ever deer hunt, but he had a question — why did I shoot him three times? I countered that he was still standing.

James’s comment still makes me chuckle more than 50 years later …“Son, you have to give him time to fall.”

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Mystery solved: next year, there will be a need for bird seed

If you’ve read my columns or heard my radio programs for a while, you’re going to read or hear something about songbirds. My interest in identifying these little fluttery, colorful creatures was handed down to me by my mom. She loved the birds and taught her offspring all about them and how to identify them.

I have feeders up around the yard, regular feeders and one that offers suet while this time of year, another that provides thistle seed. Add to this the two bird baths I keep operational and I could almost be considered the male version of Miss Jane Hathaway of Beverly Hillbillies fame.

Thus it is with a troubled heart and furrowed brow that I come to you, my readers and listeners, with a dilemma. My birds have left me.

About the time the first days of fall converged over the landscape, sending colorful leaves fluttering to the ground, I noticed that my feeders, loaded with birdseed, were just sitting there untouched. I even had a few seeds starting to sprout because they were being ignored by birds. The birds just seemed to have vanished.

I wondered if it was just my feeders that were being ignored so I went to my favorite social media site, Facebook, and expressed my concern. The comments came quickly from scores of others who feed birds who have experienced the same dearth of songbirds in their yards.

About the time I was noticing the absence of birds in my yard, I saw something else I don’t remember seeing before, at least not of the magnitude as happened this fall. There are several big pines in my yard and there was a constant helicoptering down of pine seeds, at a rate I never saw before.

A walk through the woods also revealed an unusual amount of acorns and other seeds, fruits and nuts of all kinds, giving validation of a bumper crop of natural foods available to wildlife including, I assume, songbirds. My suspicion is that with so much natural foods to eat, the birds are filling their little bellies with these natural offerings.

I sought out experts to see if I could validate my suspicions. Dr. Kim Marie Tolson is an instructor of wildlife studies at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and she believes that an abundance of food is available in the wild which birds apparently prefer over commercial bird food.

“We had an unusually great spring and summer with sufficient rainfall and weather conditions this year for growing natural foods; my guess is the birds are doing their feeding in the woods,” Dr. Tolson said.

Adding credence to this hypothesis was an online site I visited, Stokes Birding Blog, that listed the main reasons no birds are at the feeder.

  1. Abundance of rain, producing a bumper crop of wildlife food.
  2. Lots of wild seeds on composite flowers.
  3. Tons of weed seed.
  4. Lots of berries.
  5. Fruit trees such as crabapple bearing lots of fruit.
  6. Cone seed crop is very heavy.
  7. Warm weather where birds don’t have to eat as much to keep warm.
  8. Mild weather means there are more insects still available.

It’s good to know it’s not just me and my feeders. Others have contacted me with the same questions. One thing is for sure as past history reveals: the birds will be back.

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Quail Forever goal: bring back the bobwhite

There are sights and sounds from the past that trigger memories I can’t help but long to see return. When we turn on the news and see all the turmoil taking place in our country, I want to see the return to those days of innocence, peace and tranquility.

I want to be able to walk out into the field and see a meadow lark explode under my feet, its undulating flight transporting it to a fence nearby where a few yards down the fence line sits a shrike, or as we called them, “butcher bird.” I haven’t seen either of these two species in years. What happened to them?

The absence of another bird hurts my heart more than missing the meadow lark and shrike. It wasn’t too many years ago when I would leave my home for an early morning walk down the road and hear the plaintive whistle of a bobwhite quail. It’s been years since I heard one. Where did they go and why don’t I get to hear them any longer?

There may be nothing I can do to bring back the meadow lark and shrike but I am optimistic about something being done, not only nationally but locally, to work to bring back the quail. An organization, Quail Forever, is pulling out all the stops to try and help fashion the recovery of these beloved birds.

Sabrina Claeys is a field biologist for the national organization and works tirelessly to promote the return of quail to our world. The mission statement of Quail Forever is “to conserve quail, pheasants and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public access, education and conservation advocacy.”

“The main problem as we see it for the loss of quail has to do with habitat; we’re losing it faster than we can create it,” said Claeys.

As a biologist, Claeys had heard it all when it comes to possible explanations as to why quail numbers had plummeted.

“We hear the problem is fire ants, more predators impacting quail numbers, as well as habitat loss. Losing habitat favored by quail seems to be the major problem,” she said.

I can remember during my growing-up days out on the rural route that practically everybody had a garden or truck patch with grassy edges along fence rows. You could walk out to such areas and just about always send a covey of bobwhites airborne. Today, clean farming and clearing out the fence rows have taken from quail the habitat they need for rearing broods.

“Think about the ‘back forty’ and how it has changed over the years,” added Claeys. “Those areas provided ideal nesting areas and many of these sites have been converted to pine stands that don’t provide nesting and brooding areas. Quail Forever is working to reclaim some of that old habitat.

“Another thing that has hindered the maintenance of quail populations is the absence of prescribed fire which not only removes undesirable plant life but opens areas where quail thrive best.”

One way that Quail Forever strives to see its mission become reality is the establishing of local chapters. The Piney Hills Quail Forever chapter is based in Ruston and holds regular meetings to discuss problems and possible solutions. Search online for information on a chapter in your area and how you can become a part in helping return the plaintive call of the bobwhite back to your part of the world.

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Most valuable member of hunting club has four legs

In the hunting club where I hold membership, Two Creeks, we have several deer hunters who collect their venison every season. In fact, we have more than a few members who bag more than one deer each year.

One member, however, holds the “most deer recovered” award and he has won it going away. Last season, he had seven deer to his credit.

Wait, you say. Isn’t six the season limit per hunter? Is he going to get in trouble by being responsible for seven? Not likely.

Let me introduce you to what most of us consider the most valuable member of Two Creeks Hunting Club. You might think “Spot” is a peculiar name for a hunter but in this case, it fits perfectly; he’s white with a round brown spot etched on his forehead.

Every other member of our club has two legs; Spot has four. He’s a dog, a blood-trailing dog and a good one. Spot is suspected to be a mixture of Catahoula Cur and if research by his caretaker, George Seacrist, is correct, he also has an exotic sounding bloodline as part of his lineage, Dogo Argentino.

Whatever his pedigree, Spot was the primary figure in the recovery of seven wounded deer last season. He found three the season before, one of which was a doe I shot that high-tailed it through a dense thicket. Within five minutes after releasing him, Spot was standing over my doe.

One Saturday in particular, Spot was the sleuthhound on the trail of three wounded deer that day. He found them all.

One of the deer, a fine 8-point buck Seacrist had shot, left the scene without a trace of anything to indicate he had been hit. It took Spot all of five minutes to find the buck.

“The bullet didn’t exit so there was no blood trail to follow. I don’t know if Spot was finding drops of blood we never saw or if he winded the deer, (but) he went right to it,” Seacrist said.

“Spot is a foster-dog that was brought to our kennel, Petite Paws Pet Hotel. Somebody had left him in a crate with a bag of dog food when he came to us,” Seacrist continued.

“A neighbor of ours has a Catahoula that is a good blood-trailing dog and since I suspected Spot had some Catahoula in his bloodline, I thought he might make a good blood trailer so I started working with him.”

Seacrist trained Spot by taking him to his ground blind so the dog could see what it was all about. He was very quiet and got to see deer and hopefully got an idea of what he would eventually be tracking down.

“If I hunted in an elevated stand, I left him at the truck in a crate. If one of our members shot a deer, they already had instructions to let me know and just sit tight until I could bring Spot to the site. I would put him on a leash and let him follow the blood trail and he picked it up really quick,” Seacrist said.

Seacrist said he learned early on that Spot had a good nose and it was just a matter of giving him exposure to what he was supposed to do. Over the last few seasons, he has developed into an excellent blood trailer, helping hunters recover and retrieve deer that might otherwise have been lost.

Who is the most valuable member of your hunting club? Do you have someone who is hard working and willing to go above and beyond to make your club more successful?

We do. I’m thinking of nominating Spot for club president, if we could just break him from hiking his leg on every bush he sees.

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Finality for feral pigs: Creel’s invention solves a problem

Bobby Creel was looking at his field that had paid the price of an abundance of feral pigs, and decided he had to try to do something about it.

The wheels started turning and he began imagining a system that would get hogs into a trap and prevent them from getting back out.

“I had this idea, went home that night and didn’t go to bed until I had sketched out a gate that in my mind would work,” Creel said.

Apparently, the U.S. Patent Office thought he had something special because they issued him a provisional patent after he contacted them with details of what he had in mind.

Since starting to produce his gate in March, Creel knows of some 200 feral pigs that have been caught in traps using his special invention. The concept that formed in Creel’s mind had to do with a hog’s tendency to use his snout to root.

“We set out the gate in a conventional trap and leave the gate open for awhile until hogs start getting accustomed to it. Then we drop it a little at a time until we have hogs entering the trap to enjoy what we call an ‘all you can eat buffet.’ Then we drop the heavy-duty metal mesh all the way down and the hogs continue to root under the mesh to get in. Once they try to get out, they can’t because of the way the mesh lays out. They can root to get in, but they can’t root their way out,” Creel said.

Creel operates an auto repair business near Jonesville, where has been in business for 37 years.

“I’m 59 years old and am giving thought to getting the hog gate business up to the point that I can turn the auto repair work over to my sons and spend my time developing these special gates to help folks with their hog problems,” he said.

Creel says it takes maybe two hours to put one of his special gates together. He is working on getting his product out to more sporting goods stores but as of now, there is one business in Jena that carries his product. Otherwise, he’s selling them from his shop.

“The word is getting out about our hog gates and I even had a contact from the country of India where they had heard of our product. Also,” he added, “some of the products on the market today that operate by a remote system whereby a gate can be dropped by use of a cell phone.

“I was talking to someone using these types of gates and he mentioned having to sit up and wait for his phone to ‘ping’ to trip the gate. I told him that when I have my gate laid out right, I go home and go to sleep because all I have to do is go back the next morning and take care of the hogs that have gotten in the trap by themselves and can’t get out.”

When he finds that his trap has worked and he dispatches those that are there and can’t get out, he has folks lined up to take the hogs for home consumption.

“Last week, I went to the trap one morning to find 13 hogs the trap had captured. I contacted folks and had them lined up to come get the hogs I had caught,” Creel said.

The C&C Catchall Hog Gates can be purchased at Creel’s business in Jonesville or by contacting him at 318/452-6742 or his son Tyler at 318/452-6589. He is selling the fully-constructed door, painted with the heavy wire mesh gate for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000.

In my opinion that is a small price to pay because first, you are putting a dent in the feral hog population on your property and second, you can go to sleep at night while the Catchall Hog Gate is doing the work for you.

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Memories of Natchitoches Parish swamp rekindled by Ouchley’s excellent read

I just finished reading an outstanding book, Bayou D’Arbonne Swamp, written by retired wildlife biologist Kelby Ouchley, and it got me thinking about the swamps and woods I grew up around in rural Natchitoches Parish.

The “swamp” that stands out most in my memory couldn’t really qualify as a swamp; it was a little creek that coursed through the woods at the feet of beeches and oaks not far behind our country home. Molido (pronounced Molly-doe) was where I learned to swim. It was the creek where I landed my first bass, killed my first squirrel, was victim to my first and only snake bite, and was the place where I carved my girlfriend’s name (Betty Jean) on one of those silvery beeches.

Ouchley delves deeply into the swamp where he grew up and currently lives by “offering a kaleidoscopic view of Bayou D’Arbonne swamp that reveals its unique past and distinctive flora, fauna and people.”

Five miles or so from where I grew up was a “real” swamp, one I spent untold hours in, hunting, fishing and exploring. Saline swamp – it really is a swamp – is a larger stream into which my Molido empties and eventually makes its way on to the Red River which empties into the Mississippi River — which eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.

It was along a certain stretch of Saline that as a kid, we dunked live crawfish impaled on a hook into the waters where the bottom was a mixture of sand and gravel. It was there where we caught what we called “smallmouth” bass when in fact they were Kentucky or spotted bass.

In his book, Ouchley really triggered my memories when he wrote about catching “smallmouth” bass along Bayou D’Arbonne.

Another favorite activity in spring along Saline was wading out in the backwaters and scooping up the making of some of the best jelly known to man, mayhaws. Ouchley writes about doing the exact same thing in his swamp with a descriptive term that makes my mouth water. He writes,  “Mayhaws are small trees found in forested wetlands of the Southeast that produce a fruit used to make one of the finest jellies ever to grace a buttermilk biscuit.”

Let’s cut to the chase right here. Kelby Ouchley’s writing style, in my opinion, rivals that of any writer anywhere when it comes to his gift of painting pictures with the written word. I have copies of his other books, including the popular Bayou Diversity: Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country, that validate my point of view.

Here’s an example of Ouchley sharing his thoughts after a beautiful indigo bunting had crashed into the window next to his office.

“For tens of thousands of nights I have slept in this place on the edge of the swamp as wild geese flew south and wild geese flew north, wings rustling the pages of my calendar, and now that I have surpassed seven decades of a life that has included many migrations, individuals of all species seem more important. Maybe it’s a softening of my hard science outlook, or perhaps it is because I’ve had a couple of near window strikes myself, that I made the effort to bury the indigo bunting beneath my favorite wild azalea. Purposefully.”           

Kelby Ouchley knows the bayou D’Arbonne swamp so well because he lives on a hill overlooking this place he loves. His background in working with wildlife all his life when coupled with his attachment to the natural world his swamp reveals to him is a gift few enjoy.

To order your own personally inscribed copy of Bayou D’Arbonne Swamp, contact Ouchley at this address – Kelby Ouchley, 106 Heartwood Dr., Farmerville, LA 71241. His e-mail address is Cost of the book including shipping and handling is $34.15. 

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Wesley Miller: Nurse, deer hunter, turned crappie guide

Forty-four-year-old Wesley Miller is a busy fellow. He lives along Dorcheat Bayou between Doyline and Sibley in Webster Parish. As a professional, Miller is a registered nurse who happens to be a serious outdoorsman and has made his name in at least two ways.

Two years ago, Miller put an arrow through a huge 13-point buck that scored 165 6/8 inches, a buck that stands in fourth place on the all-time trophy list for archery in Louisiana.

As much as he loves to deer hunt, there is another passion that is taking most of his time now to the point that he has put his nursing career on hold for the time being. He is one of north Louisiana’s most popular and busiest crappie guides.

“I decided that if I was going to be serious about guiding, I elected to lay my nursing job aside to see how guiding works out. So far,” said Miller, “I have been as busy as I want to be guiding clients on several lakes and waterways across the state.”

We caught up with Miller recently to pick his brain a bit on what it is like to be a full-time fishing guide and how he manages to put clients on big crappie on a regular basis on our area lakes and waterways.

“Right now I’m finding fish in different places and different situations in every lake we fish. Some lakes I’m finding fish on brush piles, and on others the fish are suspended in open water. I have to hunt them differently every day,” Miller said.

A recent guide trip to Grand Bayou Reservoir near Coushatta is an example of how a guide who knows his business has to adapt to changing conditions.

“I was on Grand Bayou awhile back and found schools of fish out in open water with 40 to 50 fish in each school. Using my Live Scope, we would catch a couple out of one school, move around and find another school and catch a few active fish out of it.

“We were down there again the following day and every fish we caught was over a brush pile. With this new technology, you go to a spot and if there aren’t active fish there, you go to another spot and try something else. It can change from day to day,” he said.

What about looking for crappie now that the weather is beginning to cool down? Is there a pattern you can depend on to fish for early fall crappie?

“I have found that crappie will move some when weather changes but in reality, the only time when fish really change locations is during the spring spawn. Other than that,” Miller added, “crappie will be generally in the same spot all year, maybe a little deeper or more shallow but they won’t move very far.”

Miller has some favorite jigs he and his clients use and these are jigs he ties himself. They seem to work well day in and day out.

“When I tie my jigs, I use hackle feathers instead of straight-tail feathers. They look more like the gills on a bait fish than the straight ones. I also make my jigs quite small, usually less than two inches long because they look more like bait fish than larger ones,” he said.

Switching gears, Miller deer hunts on family property in Webster Parish, an area where he got the big one.

“I live 10 minutes from my family farm and since I’m guiding so much, I probably won’t get to deer hunt as often as I’d like,” he said. “I should still be able to hunt afternoons and those mornings when the weather is so bad we can’t fish. Bad weather days are often your best hunting days anyhow.”

If you’re interested in booking a guide trip with Miller, you can reach him at 318-465-1668 or find him on Facebook at Big Sasquatch Outdoors.

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Things that are special to me

I was listening to a song from songwriter and singer, the late Tom T. Hall. The song,  “I Love…” got me to thinking about all the things, people, events, happenings that have garnered a special spot in my storehouse of memories.

In his song he mentions loving things like “little baby ducks, old pickup trucks, slow moving trains, and rain.” In another verse, he loves “little country streams, sleep without dreams, Sunday school in May, and hay.”

His arrangement got me to thinking. I’m a blessed man because there are lots of things I have come to love over the span of my life although I can’t put it to rhyme like Tom T. did.

Things like – having to reach for a light jacket one morning last week before taking a seat on the porch as the sun began its trek from behind the pines to the east. After weeks of temperatures bumping triple digits, my thermometer that morning read 54 degrees under a robin egg blue sky. Replenishing the sunflower seeds to my bird feeder, I sat, cup of coffee in hand as I watched the birds and squirrels scramble about for breakfast. Hall and I are on the same page; in his song, he likes “birds of the world and squirrels.”

Things like – greeting my wife with a hug and kiss as she rubs sleep from her eyes before she gets dressed for the day. She is especially beautiful to me then.

Things like – standing in reverential awe at the end of the driveway observing the first rays of sun backlit behind a puffy cloud creating a kaleidoscope in the eastern sky; gentle pinks, magenta, soft peach; a moment to stand amazed in His presence. 

Things like – being greeted with tail whipping side to side and kisses from Coco, our six-month-old Chorkie pup, as I pick her up and take her outside to take care of business.

Things like – walking in the house after church to the aroma of a roast simmering in the slow cooker.

Joints that creak and cause me to wince from pain when I stand have taken from me things I formerly did and can no longer do, but have not robbed me of the memories of special days in the woods and on the water.

Things like – keeping an eye on the calendar as it nears March and knowing that somewhere out there, an old turkey gobbler is waking up, stretching his warty neck and emitting a gravely, grating sound that only a turkey hen or a turkey hunter can love.

Things like – standing on a hill as dawn breaks listening for that old tom turkey to gobble, revealing his location and when he did, I would sneak to within 100 yards of so of his roost. At the right time, I’d call softly to the gobbler hoping that when he flew down, he’d come check me out. Usually, he went the other way but when things worked out as I hoped and he’d strut into my line of sight, it was a thrill few other outdoors experiences can rival.

Things like – slipping silently into the chill of an October morning to sit on a log in my favorite woods, watching the first squirrel of the season move from a den in an oak to acorns at the end of a leafy branch. Oh how I loved that.

Things like – from a comfortable seat in my box stand in late November, I knew that the doe I was watching that suddenly bolted is likely telling me a mature buck with an eye on her could step out at any moment.

Things like – sitting in the shade of a big oak at the edge of a special pond, keeping an eye on the bobber, watching it shudder and slowly slip beneath the surface. Thankfully, this is an activity that raises a clinched fist in the face of infirmity and advancing age because it’s something I can still do, and I love it.

Things like – picking my guitar with a group of friends each week. Tom T. Hall loved “music when it’s good.” You’d better believe so do I. 

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A fun-filled day on the lake that will not be forgotten

If you’ve ever been on a lake in a boat with somebody trying to be a comedian, sometimes you might want to jump in the water.

My standard is pretty high. I got to share a day on the water with the “Mouth of Mississippi,” country comedian Jerry Clower. He died 24 years ago at the age of 72. While we were fishing together, I almost died laughing. Google him, and you’ll understand why.

Clower was born in Liberty, Miss-uh-sipp-eee, and after a two-year stint in the Navy during World War II, he studied and played football at Mississippi State and after graduating, he worked for a county agent and later as a fertilizer salesman for Mississippi Chemical.

My wife’s grandfather was the county agent who hired Clower; this was my first connection of any kind with him. A more personal connection came later.

The story goes that when he was working for Mississippi Chemical, he developed a reputation for telling funny stories to boost his sales. Tapes of his stories eventually reached the hands of a group who saw the potential of Clower’s tales. As a result, his stories were spread around the country and one in particular, “The Coon Hunt,” was awarded a platinum record for sales of upward of $1 million.

His stand-up comedy act earned him a spot on the Grand Ole Opry and his appearances, there and all over, became extremely popular, creating belly laughs across the country.

Now, for my personal connection with Clower. The date was April 11, 1990. I had been invited on a media crappie fishing trip to Ross Barnett reservoir just outside Jackson, where I met my guide Bill Pettit for a day of crappie fishing. It was windy and cold and the fish didn’t bite.

At the end of the day, Pettit and I headed for a café for a bite. While there, I picked up a copy of a local paper, thumbed through it and found a photo of Pettit and Clower.

“You have fished with Jerry Clower?” I asked. “Oh yeah, he comes over here occasionally to fish with me. In fact,” Pettit said, “he’s coming tomorrow. How’d you like to fish with him?’

What kind of question is that? Of course I would love to get to meet and fish with him, so I called my wife and told her I’d be fishing an extra day.

I was at the café on the lake bright and early when Clower walked in. Pulling up a chair, he ordered a breakfast of a plate of bacon, eggs and biscuits. Pettit introduced us, told him I was a writer who wanted to fish with him. After polishing off his meal, he looked at me and asked if I was ready. Of course I was.

Clower had brought along his own fishing rig and led me out to his “Jerry Clower Perch Jerkin’ Special,” a boat the manufacturer had made just for him.

“You know how to drive a boat?” he asked me. I did but the thought of being the skipper of Jerry Clower’s boat with just me and him in it was somewhat nerve wracking.

We launched and I followed his direction to head for his favorite crappie fishing hole, me at the controls and Clower rared back in his seat.

We caught a few crappie; nothing to brag about but I remember catching a small one and was about to toss it back when he stopped me. “No . . . No . . . don’t throw that back; my maid will scale it and she’ll fry it whole; that’s the way I like ‘em,” he said.

My one regret was that the photo lab – this was in the days before digital photography – ruined the several rolls of film I shot that day so I’m left with only my memories of getting to spend a day on the lake in his boat, just me and him and listening to him tell one funny story after another.

You’d have thought he was on stage because his tales in a fishing boat were no different than they would have been with him entertaining a packed house.

Jerry Clower: thanks for giving this guy memories that can still create a chuckle from me 32 years later.

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After 50 years, there’ve been changes, but the joy remains

Anniversaries, I’ve had a few. As of this past July 11, Kay and I have been married 38 years. On November 24, it will have been 55 years since the morning I downed my first buck. This past April 13 marked the 30th anniversary of my bagging my first wild turkey gobbler. Anniversaries are sort of special.

Fifty years ago this month, a 35-year-old fellow did something he had wanted to do for a long time but lacked both know-how and intestinal fortitude to see it happen. He picked up a copy of the Guardian Journal, Homer’s weekly newspaper, and nervously flipped over to find an article under the heading “Hunting and Fishing with Uncle Zeke from Beaver Creek.”

There was no name of the columnist and here’s the explanation of the mystery surrounding the writer. In case the column flopped, he didn’t want his name associated with it, so for several months, this phantom outdoor columnist hid behind the name of Uncle Zeke.

The mystery of the identity of Uncle Zeke continued on until the identity of the writer became obvious. Homer is a small community and the secret couldn’t remain hidden for long. How do I know so much about Uncle Zeke? That columnist was yours truly.

Fifty years have passed since that first column went to press, and there have been very few weeks when I didn’t have a column somewhere, and I owe it all to the folks at the Guardian Journal for giving a nervous “green as gourd guts” guy a chance. They were even willing to pay me for my articles; $2.50 a week plus a free paper.

Once I was given the go-ahead to write a weekly column for the Guardian Journal, I had to do it nights and weekends because I had a regular job. What was my system for writing a weekly column 50 years ago? A yellow tablet and a number two pencil got it started; I wrote the column longhand.

Eventually, I had to use my old manual typewriter to transfer what I had written on the tablet to typing paper. My main stand-by I couldn’t have gotten by without was a bottle of White Out, and I probably used a gallon of it over the years to cover my miscues.

I had some readers of the Guardian Journal that took notice of my columns, and they mentioned that the Shreveport Journal didn’t have an outdoor writer. I got up the courage to talk to editor Stan Tiner who agreed to let me write weekly columns for that big city publication, something I did for several years until it sadly folded in 1991.

In the meantime, another friend referred me to editor Tom Kelly at my hometown newspaper, the Ruston Daily Leader, and on March 1, 1974, Kelly hired me as outdoor columnist.

Eventually I laid aside my yellow tablet and number two pencil and decided to write directly to the typewriter — which was somewhat nerve wracking at first, but I eventually became comfortable with it, although my bottle of White Out was right next to my keyboard. Then when the Internet came along, what a blessing it was because I could edit and delete without the need for White Out.

Today, I am blessed to still be able to write; I continue to write weekly columns for the Guardian Journal, the Daily Leader, and back in the big city for the Shreveport-Bossier Journal. There are plenty of outdoors lovers in cities!

I reach folks near Caney Lake in the Jackson Parish Journal, and along Cane River, Black Lake, the Red River and Saline Lake with the Natchitoches Parish Journal, which serves my birthplace of Goldonna and Northwestern State University, my college alma mater. There are some other weekly publications I’m in, as well. I eventually was able to place my articles in magazines and I still do some magazine writing today.

To sum it up, I am a blessed man. God has given me the ability to not only write but to absolutely love sharing my columns with my readers for these past 50 years. My prayer is that as long as these fingers work and my brain doesn’t quit on me, I’ll keep on doing it.

Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me over this half-century.

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Visiting the lesser-known lakes could land you lunkers

North Louisiana is known for lakes that produce big bass. Caney Lake holds the state record with other lakes such as D’Arbonne, Claiborne, Bistineau, Black and Caddo getting in on the action as well.

There is one pine-shrouded lake, however, that has quietly and without fanfare, been a quality bass producer. It was formed 65 years ago when Kepler Creek was impounded to create 2000-acre Kepler Creek Reservoir, locally known as Kepler Lake.

Billy Willis, 64-year-old bass angler from Ruston, has caught bass in virtually all these lakes but had not really tried for big bass on Kepler until recently.

“A guy I work with has a friend who had been telling him about catching big bass on Kepler, so I decided to give it a try,” said Willis.

Arriving at the lake around 7 on a hot August morning, with the lake nestled and virtually hidden in the hills of Bienville Parish, Willis spent several hours without catching a bass. It was not until around 11 a.m. that his luck changed.

“There were a couple of other bass fishermen on the lake and they were picking up some schooling fish, (but) nothing of any size. They eventually moved on so I moved into the area where they had been. This lake is loaded with stumps and the bass had been schooling around a particular area. I noticed that the stump line was in about three feet of water but there was a dropoff next to the stump line that dropped quickly to six feet. I decided to give it a try,” Willis said.

He was fishing with a Shimano reel mounted on a 7’4” Falcon rod with 20-pound fluorocarbon line. His preferred method of fishing is using a Carolina rig. Below a swivel, he had tied a two to three-foot, 12- to 15-pound leader, a 2-0 hook attached to a green pumpkin Fluke with gold flake.

“There were lots of shad in the area so this color matched what the fish were feeding on. I caught a couple of school fish around the stumps and I decided to back off and fish the dropoff that was away from the stumps,” he said.

Casting to the edge of the drop off, Willis let the lure go to the bottom and immediately felt something hit. He set the hook and knew it was into something pretty big because it hardly budged, he said.

“Fortunately I was able to work the fish away from the stumps into the deeper water but because it never came to the top, I assumed I’d hooked a big catfish because most bass will come to the surface and try to shake off. This fish just kept pulling until it seemed to give up and I was able to bring it to the boat. It was only then that I saw I’d hooked a really big bass,” he said.

Placing the bass in his live well, Willis noticed that the bass quickly turned belly up. He had planned to release the fish but because of the stress or the heat of the day, the fish soon expired.

He had no scale with him and it was only after he returned home a couple of hours later that he weighed the dead fish. It tipped the scales at 10 pounds, 9 ounces. One has to wonder what the big female would have weighed when she was full of eggs in March rather than in August.

And you also wonder, doesn’t there have to be more out there?

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Dadgum Dugdemona! Gun gone, but eventually, fate smiles at hunter

We gathered recently in Thibodaux for the annual conference of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association. On Saturday night during the dinner and awards ceremony, I sat at a table with good friends Terry and Carol Jones from West Monroe.

The last event that night was the ever-popular raffle. In an annual ritual, we enthusiastically purchase tickets hoping to win prizes of merchandise provided by sponsors. I felt a slight tingle of excitement when one of my numbers was called. There were fishing rods and reels and all sorts of neat stuff. My enthusiasm dropped a bit when I was handed my prize. I got a cap and coffee mug.

As the number of prizes dwindled down to the last one, I heard a little squeal from Carol as one of Terry’s numbers was called. What did he win? More on that later.

It was a cold December day in 2015 when Terry was hunting ducks and squirrels along his favorite waterway, Dugdemona Bayou. Growing up in northern Winn Parish, the Dugdemona  and its surroundings were his favorite places to hunt and fish.

As he paddled his way along the bayou in his pirogue, he encountered a tree that had fallen across the waterway. As the struggled to remove enough limbs to make his way along the bayou, one of the limbs caught the barrel of his shotgun, a Mossberg Model 500 pump, and flipped it into the water.

“When I looked back and saw my shotgun was gone, I carry a magnet with me just in case I lose something like that but the magnet got hung and broke off so I gave up and came home,” Jones said.

Six months later the following summer, Jones was back fishing on Dugdemona when he recognized the same fallen tree that had robbed him of his shotgun.

“I realized this was where my gun had fallen into the water. The water level was down and I looked down and to my surprise I saw my gun lying on the bottom in the mud all rusted, corroded and covered in silt. It was in really bad shape so I knew there was no way it could be salvaged.

“It was loaded when it went overboard so I had to be careful and I stuck the barrel in the mud and left it there as a sacrifice to the Creek gods,” he laughed. “Telling friends about my mishap, several told me that they had also lost guns to the overhanging limbs on Dugdemona.”

Back to the LOWA conference…

As ticket numbers were being called, I watched several friends winning rods, reels, tackle boxes and all sorts of neat prizes. I kept watching my skein of tickets hoping for something a bit more valuable than my cap and coffee mug but, alas, that never happened.

The table of prizes dwindled down to the very last one and when the number was called, the usually quiet and easy-going retired history professor, Dr. Terry Jones, showed a measure of excitement when his number matched the one being called out.

The final item is always the most coveted prize of the drawing and this time was no different; in fact in his case, it was extra-special. My friend, Terry Jones, had the ticket that matched the prize; it was a shotgun — but not just any shotgun.

It was a Mossberg Model 500 pump, just like the one rusting away along the margin of Dugdemona Bayou.

Oh, and by the way, he also won a padded gun case. It floats.

You can’t make up stuff like this.

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Lake Yucatan: Go east, not south to Mexico, for fishing fun

It was probably 20 years ago when I made my first and only visit to a Louisiana lake that has its ups and downs. I’m talking about Lake Yucatan, one of the many oxbow lakes in close proximity to the Mississippi River.

My friend Mike Gammill from Oak Grove took me to the lake to give the crappie a try. We didn’t catch many but I was impressed by the size of the slabs we caught.

Looking at a map of Yucatan, it resembles a long and narrow question mark and what sets the lake apart from other oxbow lakes along the big river is the fact it is an “active” oxbow. This means that when the river rises or falls, the same thing happens to Yucatan because at the lower end of the lake, there is a two-mile long chute that connects the lake to the Mississippi River.

This rise of water levels in Yucatan produced when the river is high creates several situations for the lake. First, when the lake is very high, you can forget about fishing because access to the lake is next to impossible.

While anglers wait for the water to fall, however, the mighty Mississippi is improving the quality of fish in the lake by pushing a boat load of nutrients into the lake which has the capacity to improve the size and quality of the fish along with replenishing the lake’s fish population. 

For years, I have written and broadcast fishing reports from lakes around north Louisiana with Yucatan on my list of lakes I call each week. James Lachney from Gilbert owned Yucatan Landing and was my contact. He was always on the ball about keeping me abreast of what was happening on the lake.

Because of a health condition that curtailed his ability to see after the property, Lachney sold the business to his nephew, Gene Lachney, who is set to retire from the National Guard in a couple of years. Gene’s parents, Terry and Juanita Lachney, are running the landing until he retires.

Today, my contact is Gene’s mom, Juanita, who keeps me up to date on what is going on at the lake.

“The water level is low and on a slow fall right now and we had a wonderful weekend recently with all the campers filled and people from all over catching fish. The lake has been producing fine catches of not only big crappie but lots of bass, catfish and barfish,” she said.

“The lake is on a slow fall and this seems to be the absolute best time to catch fish. The water levels totally depend on what the Mississippi River is doing. When they get heavy rains up north to swell the river, we get high water here and sometimes we have to shut everything down and move out until the river and the lake levels start receding,” she said.

To keep up with the conditions for Yucatan Lake, all one needs to do is go on Facebook and search for Yucatan Landing to find not only photos of proud anglers showing off their catches, but also a graphic showing the stages of the Mississippi River. When it reveals that the river is falling, so is the lake. However, when the line on the graph zooms upward, you can forget about fishing until water levels drop.

Although you can’t fish the lake then, just know that the waters of Lake Yucatan are being replenished by fish and nutrients that are destined to keep the fishing up and going.

Yucatan Landing is located some five miles from the village of Newellton in Tensas Parish. For information on fishing conditions, camping sites available and other amenities, visit the Yucatan Landing page on Facebook or call the landing at 318.467.2259.

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