● By Robert Frey
True Hunting StoriesBy Patrice Doucet / Illustrated by Carson Hebert
It’s October and hunters are getting amped up for the first hunts of the seasons. For them, nothing beats the feeling when your heart is full of anticipation of getting that first big buck of the year, ducks and geese coming through on a northern front, bagging their limit of birds, watching a good dog work, and sharing the experiences with friends, sons and daughters that will be remembered for years. And, as these stories remind us, every hunt is a new experience - even for veteran hunters.
To really appreciate this story is to know State Senator Freddie Mills and hear it told by him, but you don’t have to be a hunter to conjure images as this story unfolds. It begins with Mills declaring, “I can’t see worth a darn; I wear bifocals. I’ve gone duck hunting maybe 10 times in my life and never killed a duck - but I’ve shot a lot!
“My dearest friends are expert duck hunters and they convinced me to go hunting with them at the mouth of the Mississippi, in the marshes of Venice, LA. After we arrived, we all got into this a little boat… with a dog…huge freight barges were passing us down the river. We got to the camp site and they were breaking brush, clearing an area to set up tent, all the while telling me about their great hunts. We cooked, had some laughs, and went to bed. Around two in the morning, water started coming into the tents; the chairs and camping equipment were floating away. Before we knew it, we were in about 10 feet of water and the dog could barely swim; he was so nervous that he started eating the tent! When the ‘experts’ had set up the tent earlier in the day, they didn’t figure on how much the tide would rise. We picked up everything and moved to higher ground and then went hunting. I was already beat. We walked deeper into the marsh to the point where my buddies had to set a sheet of plywood down so we could walk in the swampier areas, but still I ended up chest deep in mud. And to make matters worse, a storm had hit a few weeks before we arrived and there were deer flies eating us alive. All of a sudden, a huge flock of ducks flew over us and the guys yelled to me, ‘Shoot!’ I picked up my double-barrel David Brown shotgun, that kicks like a son-of-a-gun, and shot about 10 times, not hitting one duck. After that, I told them, ‘Bring me to the Venice motel; I’ll watch cable TV for three days and ya’ll can pick me up when you’re finished.’” Mills says he loves the comradery that hunting brings but will never have to worry about killing over the limit.
Little Big Shot
Hunting stories are never forgotten, even the most minor details cling years later, especially the ones involving children. Paul Eason was elated when, years ago, his 10-year-old son, Ross, killed his first deer on a father/son hunt; but it was the following year that Eason experienced more excitement than he could imagine. They’d planned a deer hunt on a lease in Mansfield, LA, south of Shreveport. When Eason came to realize that the stands at the lease held only one person, he made the decision to let the boy hunt on his own.
“We sat down and went over a very long list of strict instructions,” Eason recalls. He wasn’t to leave the stand except to go to the bathroom, and even then, he would unload the gun before climbing down. I bought a harness to secure him and drew a map to show where he would be and where I would be, about a half mile to his right. I told him I was going to walk back to meet him around 10 o’clock, so I warned him not to shoot anything to his right at that time. There were no cell phones back then, so I told him if something were to really go wrong he should start shooting until he couldn’t shoot anymore so that I would know.
“It was still dark when we got to Ross’ stand. I set him up and then left knowing that I had a great, responsible child. I walked to my stand, sunlight was starting to break, and had barely put my foot on the first rung of the ladder when I heard a shot from Ross’ direction. I’d just left him, so my first thought was that something might be wrong. I waited for other shots… and waited…but there was nothing. At 10 o’clock, I walked, pretty quickly, over the hill to get to him; I was never so relieved as when I looked and saw him in the stand. When I asked him if he was alright, he said he’d shot a buck, but it had run off. As we started to track him, Ross would walk a bit and look back at the stand, walk and look back, to figure where the deer had been standing when he shot him – certain that he had hit him. At one point, something caught my eye on the ground and I noticed Ross was standing in a pool of blood. He carefully put another shell in his gun and we slowly followed the trail for about 75 yards where we found the buck lying on the ground. I’d been hunting most of my life and it took my son only 11 years to make a kill on his own. It’s the happiest memory of our hunting days together.”
A Sticky Situation
Gordy White has duck hunted for some 53 years. So passionate is he about duck hunting that he founded a hunting club, 43 years ago, called The Duck Wake, where some 200 members get together to mourn the passing of duck season. At the annual banquet, usually held the week after duck season, there are good eats, libations, laughs, great stories and oftentimes a “roast.” Several years ago, Gordy was the subject of one of the roasts after he shared the following story with his son, who told a mutual friend and you could say- it stuck.
Intrusive plants like water hyacinth and salvina have often overtaken Gordy’s duck ponds, which he has controlled with weevils, that bore into the plants and kill them, or through the use of herbicides. One early August morning years ago, Gordy went out to his ponds, armed with a tank of herbicide and spent nearly six hours spraying the vegetation on 10 ponds in four areas. “It was hot!” he remembers well, “and there was a pretty strong wind that helped with the spraying, but made operating the boat difficult. When I finished and was washing the equipment, I took the top off the container and noticed a strange-looking slush at the bottom. I swept my hand down and felt something unexpectedly greasy and mealy. Doublechecking, I took another look at the faded, half-torn label on the container only to realize that I had spent most of the day spraying wall paper stripper!” In his defense, Gordy says the container was the same shape and size as the herbicide spray.
Now You See It …Now You Don’t
Given all his hunting expeditions in the U.S., as well as Canada, Africa, Alaska and Mexico, Tommy Granger should have his own hunting show. Yet, few stories stand out in his mind as much as these.
A desire to hunt for mule deer took him to North Dakota, above Dickinson, which is Indian Territory. “Our camp site was on a reservation and we were dropped off seven miles away near camouflaged tents - deer blinds - that the outfitters had set up on paths they knew were frequented by the mule deer. Outfitters would pay the Indians some money to hunt on the land. One Indian in particular did not like any outsiders hunting on the property. The second morning, I was dropped off at 4 a.m. in the dark, but I had a headlight strapped to my head. When I got to the deer blind, the tent was gone, only a chair was left. Without a deer blind I had to walk back to the camp site, seven miles in hilly country. I found out when I returned to camp that the displeased Indian would often sabotage the outfitters’ set ups.
“The next day, I returned to the deer blinds (this time the tent was there) and I came the closet to any wild animal that I’d ever been. Again, it was before daylight, around 6 a.m., and I was sitting in the small tent on a folding chair waiting for deer. I watched as a doe and her twin fawns walked right up to the tent. I couldn’t believe it when she stuck her head inside to check me out; we were about a foot and a half apart. As we stared at each other, I could see the fog coming from her flared nostrils. I froze. If she had lifted her head up suddenly she would have taken the tent down. After a minute she slowly backed up and I watched as she and her babies went on their way. Hunting is as much about enjoying nature as it is about the hunt.”
Bear Before Beach
Beau Beaulieu has passed his love for hunting to all four of his children. But still, he was surprised when his 18-year old daughter Mary-Alizabeth, who’s hunted since she was 5, decided to pass up a senior trip to Cancun with her classmates in 2017 for a hunting trip with her dad.
With nothing much to hunt in May, she came up with the idea of a spring black bear hunt in Swan Valley, Montana. The bears were just coming down the mountains, out of hibernation, looking for food. It was a bonding experience that few high school graduates would experience and one Beaulieu will never forget.
“We walked on mountain trails and in valleys eight to 10 miles a day and took in the silence, and then other moments talked about the beauty around us. An hour and a half into the first day’s hunt, Mary-Alizabeth killed a boar. He’d crossed the trail ahead of us and she and the guide cut ahead of him. She fired one shot, with her Remington 270, wounding him and on the second shot he was down, landing in the valley where he wandered. He weighed nearly 400 pounds and was estimated to be about 18 years old. The biologist there said he was the largest killed that year.
“On the last day, I shot and missed the only other bear we spotted, but that week was about my daughter.”