“That tastes like a recipe for heartburn,” he said, and thus began the day.
When I was in my teens, just about any deer hunt carried out by anyone I knew involved traveling at least a couple hours south, if not further. Access to deer-bearing land open to public hunting wasn’t something that lay handily about in those days.
Ron, my mom’s first cousin, was a regular deer-hunting patron of the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, a 48,000-acre swath of bottomland and forest between Starkville and Brooksville, and he was good enough to take me with him from time to time. These 75 square miles harbored lots of deer and the regulated, remote nature of most of it made it a safe place to hunt in a time when the practical elements of safety were still a mystery to many.
As with any public hunting opportunity, 95 percent of the hunters used the 5 percent of the land that occurred within a couple hundred yards of the road, a common practice both then and now. We were firmly in the camp of the other 5 percent.
On one cold morning in the late 1980s, we entered the northeast portion of the refuge on Crazy Sarah Road, parked in the dark, shouldered our gear and hiked in the dark, crossed the Noxubee River on a frost-covered log in the dark. We came finally to a small rise and Ron sent me the last hundred yards alone to the edge of a slough with directions to use the homemade climbing stand I’d brought on the tree of my choice.
A friend of his had seen deer walking the slough the week before, as good a tip as anyone was apt to get in those days before either food plots or trail cameras were invented.
The first deer I ever saw live and in person was walking alongside that slough in the Noxubee Refuge. It’s a sight I’ll never forget. About 7:30 that morning a spike and two does cruised silently through. The spike was legal game at that time and I was willing to shoot it, but because of angles and inexperience I wasn’t able to make that happen. Still, it’s a morning that remains as alive in my memory as it was when it happened, something that defines a successful hunt for me still today.
In those days of few deer and scarce opportunity, we drove south in the wee hours of the morning, headlights in the dark, destination uncertain, with only adventure assured. Generally, that was the one thing we always found. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.