I’ve never been on a deer hunt. Until recently. If you’ve been here long enough to have read my post Triumph over Tragedy, you know that I’m not an avid hunter and that I’ve only recently conquered my fear of the shotgun.
This past Saturday, our radio show topic was one I suggested–“Women Hunters”. Even though I’m not a hunter, I enjoyed moderating the show and sharing about the women hunters I’ve met recently and what great gals they are.
Invitation to a Deer Hunt
One of those women hunters is an all-around outdoor woman who inspires me to the moon and back. She is Rene` Lofton Hatten, and I met her and her husband, Sammy, this summer at our Louisiana Outdoor Writer conference. We chatted over breakfast, and she couldn’t believe the Bayou Woman wasn’t a hunter, so she invited me to the deer camp this fall.
Just Last week she made good on the invitation by asking me up to their hunting camp in the thick timbers of northeast Louisiana for a combination deer/hog hunt. After performing some organizational miracles, I finally saw my way clear to head up there for a couple days to let Rene` work her outdoor-woman magic on me.
Rene` and Sammy, married 32 years, have been building this hunting kingdom for just about as long. Much of the land surrounding their “deer camp” is owned, leased, and/or inhabited by family members, with Sammy having hunted the area his entire life. What a connection to these woods he has.
One can’t imagine what’s involved in establishing a deer camp and hunting acreage, and there certainly was a lot for me to absorb. What with clearing lanes on which to place corn feeders, clearing trails on which the ATVs travel, and constructing deer stands, it now makes sense to me why these folks spend as much time as possible at their hunting paradise.
At the Deer Camp
The camp in which we stayed is an old house that Rene` discovered boarded up when she was expecting their third child 25 years ago. Because she and her two children weren’t really welcome at the extended family’s male-dominated deer camp, she did some digging around and ended up buying that old place, breathing new life into it for Sammy, their three children, and herself. Now, the camp is enjoyed by any combination of their children, their spouses, grand children, at least three grand puppies and invited guests!
As soon as I arrived, Rene` led me to the shooting yard, where she had the Browning 270 all ready for me to shoot at the “exploding target“, as she called it. After schooling me about the gun and reminding me about gun safety, it was time to take aim at the target, which sat about 50 yards away.
What a powerful gun! I’ve never shot anything larger than a .22 rifle before, so this was quite a blast for me! No pun intended! I shot three times, and all three bullets hit the center bull’s eye. My reaction? Shock. Her reaction?
She said, “I believe I’ve been pool hustled!” but I swore to her, and I do so again now: I’ve never before shot a high-powered rifle. I swear.
Time to Hunt Deer
Early next morning, the scent of strong coffee woke me, as the men folk loaded up their guns onto the four-wheelers and headed off to their respective deer stands. The plan was for everyone to hunt until about 9:30 and meet back at the camp.
It was a breezy morning in the 16-foot tall “quad pod” stand in which Rene` and I sat. She taught me why and how to use fox urine to mask our scent, since the wind direction was blowing at our backs, up the shooting lane. She demonstrated a “can call“, which mimics the sound of a fawn or possibly a doe in estrus, and another call, which depending on the setting could mimic all deer.
Although we might have been whispering a little too much to encourage deer to come within shooting range, a hungry bobcat paid a visit to the shooting lane. About halfway up the lane, a pair of frisky squirrels were eating the corn on the ground and playing chase, catching the bobcat’s attention.
We watched through binoculars as the bobcat crouched low to the ground, creeping quietly closer and closer to the unaware squirrels. As soon as the bobcat came within ten feet of the squirrels, it charged after them, chasing them into the brush. Squirrel squeals ensued, and then silence followed as the victorious bobcat pranced out with at least one squirrel in its mouth, going back the way it came. As it went, the white underside of its tail waved like a victory flag behind it.
Since I had never seen a bobcat before and had just said so the night before, this National Geographic moment, seen up close and personal, more than made up for the lack of deer. Much to my dismay, my camera sat forgotten on the floor of the stand so I can’t even post a photo for you of the beautiful creature.
That afternoon, I accompanied Sammy as he replenished all the corn feeders and put out little piles of rice bran for the deer to eat. Also, it was time to check the hog trap.
The hog trap was empty, and all the bait was gone, probably consumed by the wily raccoons. Sammy and his son, Will, decided to move the trap over an area the wild hogs had plowed up the night before.
Wild hogs are a pestilence in Louisiana, destroying farm crops and everything else in their path as they root and dig. Trapping a wild hog in a pen and dispatching it might seem like shooting fish in a barrel, but not only is it legal, the department of wildlife encourages it.
Further, the taking of these destructive animals is necessary, and except for the old boars, hogs provide another valuable source of meat for a hunter’s family. I’m sorry to say, though, that by the time I left, we had not yet captured a hog.
Rene` and I hunted together both morning and evening the first day and didn’t see any deer. Back at the camp, the men folk reported the same–no deer. With a full moon, we all deduced that the deer must have been feeding at night and bedding down during the day. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t continue to sit on the stands and hope anyway.
Day 2 of the Deer Hunt
The second morning, after making sure I was ready to hunt alone, Sammy dropped me off at one of Rene`’s stands, where I sat all morning and saw very little activity of any kind. Regardless, I was intrigued by the landscape and the vast array of colors of the fall leaves.
That evening Sammy dropped me off at his ground blind because one of the game cameras had taken photos of a nice buck in that area two nights in a row. Making sure I knew he wouldn’t be back to pick me up until dark, Sammy took off to his stand about a quarter mile away.
Once I was situated in the stand and had covered my scent with the fox urine, I sat very still for a very long time, and I might have even dozed off. I experimented with the can call and tried taking photos through the rifle scope. Rene` had taught me to be very still in the blind, keeping all movement below the shooting windows. But hey, it’s hard to take good pics without moving around.
The sun had dropped way behind the tall tree line, and the shadows covered the shooting lane as I leaned back in the chair, waiting for Sammy to retrieve me. Then something told me to look to the right, and way off in the distance was a brown blob in the middle of the shooting lane.
You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s so dark I can’t even tell if that deer has antlers, I thought as I slowly raised the gun to my shoulder to look through the scope. Wait a minute. It looks like two deer. No. Wait. It’s three deer and they’re gathered around eating that pile of rice bran.
Using photos of deer, Rene` had taught me exactly where to aim for the “heart shot”, because it’s not good practice to wound a deer that will run off in the woods for miles. My heart raced, and my hands trembled as my breath came in short spurts. Looking intently through the scope, I could barely make out that one deer had its rump toward me, and the other two were facing me at an angle.
With no daylight left, and the deer grouped so close together, it was impossible to pick out one deer to shoot. All I could do was sit and mentally appeal to one of the deer to step out broadside so I might get off a good shot.
Evidently, the full moon theory was right. They must have been out all night the night before and had bedded down all day, causing them to feed hungrily on the pile of rice bran this evening. There was no way they would turn away from the pile of free food. In the distance, I could hear the buzz of the side-by-side as Sammy made his way to get me.
I consoled myself with watching the group of dark shadows as they consumed their evening meal and vowed I would be back next morning to try my luck again.
Day 3 of the Deer Hunt
Next morning, I returned to the same stand where a young doe paid me a visit. She only teased me by running across the lane from one side of the woods to the other. Since I’ve been home, three men have told me that I should have called out to her (in a very certain way) or used the can call, and she very likely would’ve stopped in her tracks at the sound. And then, if ready, I could’ve drawn a bead on that sweet spot and taken her down. I will try to remember that next time.
I’m a tender-hearted soul, and quite honestly, I’m not sure if I have the moxie to take down a doe, but I told myself that I could easily shoot at a buck. Not sure what that says about me, and maybe one day I will learn that a deer is a deer, and it’s all good table fare.
Upon return to the camp, a deer hung on the cleaning rack, so I got to watch the cleaning process. Tim, one of their sons-in-law, had taken the deer and generously sent me home with some of the meat quartered so that I could learn how to cut it and process it for my family, which I did and sealed with my Food Saver. That was just one of the many things that Rene` inspired me to do. Not only does she hunt deer and hog, she can haul them out of the woods, clean them, and process them all by herself, if necessary. (Oh, and no doubt she can cook venison well, too!)
The last night there, we attended a fish fry up the road with Sammy’s extended family. There were three generations of Hatten men there, and Grandpa Hatten had caught and contributed all the catfish and white perch that fed us. The food was as delicious as the stories were entertaining.
The Hatten family is hard working and fun loving, and I’ve never met more generous and hospitable folks. Heck, they wouldn’t even let me wash the dishes until after I’ve visited two more times!
I might not have shot a deer or brought home the bacon, but the experiences I took away from those three days of hunting in the piney timbers of northeast Louisiana will last me a lifetime; well maybe not a lifetime but at least until I can make the five-hour drive up there again before the end of deer season!
Now it’s time to get into the BW test kitchen and whip up a new venison dish in time for Thanksgiving!
Your (not-quite-yet) great white hunter,