Born on the Bayou: An Afternoon in the Deer Stand Learning a Little About Life
by Mary Napoli | illustrations by Austin Bantel
I have officially drunk the Kool-Aid…or sweet tea, as it were. Which ever magical elixir it is that causes you to fall madly in love with the outdoor life of North Louisiana, I have consumed it.
A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you when hunting season was to save my life. Now, I am aware not only that there are specific seasons to hunt different wildlife, but there are different camouflage patterns for each. Less than six months ago, I had never put my hands on a firearm of any kind. Since then, I’ve taken a handgun course, gotten my hunting license, and even gone up against a few (admittedly, small) critters. Don’t get me wrong–I have no interest in becoming some sort of brazen woman of the woods. I’m not looking to decorate my living room with mounted animals or to purchase a gun rack for my soccer mom SUV. That isn’t it at all. It’s just that I am having such a good time getting reacquainted with my hometown and the people in it that each new and exciting outdoor adventure seems to lead to another. With each individual experience, I learn more about the unique culture of North Louisiana and realize just how well it suits me.
Just a few years ago, most of my time was spent in a windowless office at a demanding and intense job in New Orleans. I longed to trade those florescent lights for sunshine and walk in bare feet instead of uncomfortable high heels. At the time, my daydreams didn’t hold any possibility of becoming a reality. Thankfully, fate intervened, and my life is much sweeter because of it. Even my prissy little girls are feeling the North Delta vibes. My kindergartener begged for a compound bow for her birthday, and my three year old insisted on costuming as a deer for Halloween. Like their mama, these girls know a good time when they see it.
“Would you like to go on a deer hunt?” This is the question I was asked by a friend and dedicated hunter recently. Why not? I will try just about anything once.
“First, we will have to see how well you can shoot,” he said. “Have you shot anything other than that pistol in your handgun class? Because you need to be able to shoot a rifle if you are going to deer hunt.”
The answer to that question was a big, fat “no.” I had not picked up a gun of any kind since the day Dan Chason coaxed me into firing that pistol for the first time. The thought of handling a rifle was intimidating, but I decided to give it a go.
Days later, we were out in the middle of a field looking at a target 100 yards away with a .444 Marlin between us. He explained how to use the gun and demonstrated how to position myself and aim by looking through the scope. He fired twice, and we walked down to inspect the target. His shots landed near the center, and he circled the bullet holes. I was impressed not only with his skill and knowledge, but also with his patience with my endless list of silly questions. When my turn came, he gave me a set of ear plugs and made sure I knew how to handle the gun properly. Had he not been there to correct me, I would probably still have a black eye from the scope popping me in the face. From the same position that he had held, I took aim and held my breath. Holding as steady as I could, I fired the rifle. It was as loud as I expected and kicked as much as I had anticipated, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
He walked over and looked at the target through the scope of the gun.
“I think you hit it!” he said with hint of disbelief in his voice. “Wait…that might be my shot. Its hard to tell from here. Try it again, and then we will go take a look.”
From the same rest, I took aim. Granted, 100 yards is not all that far away, but I was amazed at how powerful and accurate the scope was. I can do this, I told myself. Deep breath. Steady. BOOM!
“Alright. Let’s see how you did.”
On our way to the target, I tried to set him up for the disappointing result that was sure to come. We decided that if I had even hit the paper, we would consider the exercise a success.
“Mary!” he said wide eyed. “Look at that group!”
My first thought was, what the heck is a group? Apparently, that means a group of shots. I looked at the target and the shocking results.
“Did I do that?” I said, pointing at the holes. The shots I saw on the target were closer to the center than his were, and they were touching.
“Yes!” he said. “That’s good! That’s really good! I wasn’t sure you were even going to hit the target. But looking at this, I’d say you are ready for the deer stand.”
No one was more surprised than I was. After taking a moment to process what I was looking at, I started to smile. Who would have thought I was actually a good shot? I took a picture with my phone and sent it to my cousin, who is a master marksman and knows more about guns of all kinds than anyone I know. His response was priceless.
“Very impressive. You are fast becoming the redneck you were destined to be. Makes me proud!” he wrote. His approval caused my grin to widen.
Several days later, I was trudging through the woods toward a deer stand holding the Marlin. It was a gorgeous day, and after a few days of rain, the sun was beginning to dry the mud holes I was doing my best to hop over. My hunting buddy looked back every once in a while to chuckle at me clumsily trying to keep up while dodging tree branches and muddy spots. Or maybe he just thought the hunting outfit I had meticulously planned and unintentionally matched to my reusable water thermos looked ridiculous. Whatever. I am still female, even though I am awkwardly toting a gun that weighs as much as a small toddler.
We made it to the deer stand well before sunset. I’m no expert, but as far as deer stands go, this one looked quite fetching. I know the bearded fellow who built it in his spare time and would expect no less from someone with his talent.
“Oh! This is cozy! Its just like a little tree house!” I said.
“Um, yeah,” he said giving me a sideways look. He was probably beginning to regret this whole “take a girl on her first deer hunt thing.”
Up the ladder we went and began to get settled. The rifles were placed within reach. Chairs were situated in the tight space and other gear was unpacked. From the backpack, he took four large, shiny cylinders with pointed ends and lined them up on the ledge. I leaned forward to inspect them.
“Those are your bullets,” he said.
“Really?” I said, staring. They were shaped almost exactly like a fat pencil with a red tip. “Because to me, those things look just like Clinique Chubby Sticks.”
“A Clinique Chubby Stick!” I said, referring to my pencil shaped lipstick. “If I had my makeup bag with me, I would show you. It looks exactly like it. Only mine is more of a pinkish brown, because I don’t think I could pull off that bright red.”
He stared at me for a moment, as though I had spontaneously begun to speak Chinese.
“Girl, that’s a bullet,” he said before closing his eyes for a moment and shaking his head slightly. I was right, though. And I had the proof in my cosmetic case.
We finished arranging the gear, sat in our chairs and looked out the openings in the stand. I was right about this, too. The deer stand/tree house was quite cozy. Newly constructed, it smelled of fresh wood and provided a beautiful view of the open field and the vibrantly colored tree line that bordered it. The sun cast its warm beams all around us and bathed the space in a golden glow. Gazing out at the quiet, wide open space, I realized something.
I finally understood why men go so crazy over hunting season. It’s not for one simple reason. I used to think that any man who claimed to be a deer hunter must want to get away from his wife pretty badly to hole himself up in a wooden box for hours on end without speaking or moving around much. But now, I think I have a better understanding of why. It felt wonderful to be surrounded by the silence of the forest and to take in the beauty of creation. Beyond the woods, there are ticking clocks and deadlines and demands and expectations and responsibilities and choices to make and feelings to consider, but out here, that all goes away. On top of that, the anticipation of spotting an animal makes the experience all the more exciting. Although I didn’t feel it I’m sure the surge of power that comes with brandishing a deadly weapon has its draw to certain folks, too. But I did feel the sport of it, and was equally hesitant and anxious to make a kill. Admiring the view and enjoying the company, I relaxed and got comfortable.
We waited. And waited. The sun was beginning to sink. Any moment now…right?
“I think I see something!” I said, pointing to the movement near the tree line. We turned our attention to the spot and out waddled the fattest raccoon I had ever seen. Moments later, an energetic skunk followed and began foraging for food. Those critters were cute, but what a disappointment!
“We still have a little time before it gets too dark,” he said.
“How much time?” I asked. I knew my eyes weren’t astute enough to spot a deer after dark, much less shoot one.
“Seven minutes or so,” he said, looking at the clock.
Three hours in the deer stand had truly flown by. I had definitely enjoyed myself, deer or no deer. The peaceful, pastoral view and the entertaining company had made for a wonderful afternoon, regardless.
“Look!” he said suddenly. “Do you see those four doe over there?”
It took me a moment to find them in the twilight, but they were there. Four magnificent deer of various ages were about three hundred yards away. They were too far away to aim for, and secretly I was glad. Through the binoculars, I watched them frolic and dance with each other gracefully in the open field. They were so lovely and lithe–too innocent and elegant for me to point a gun at. We watched them until it was too dark to see any longer. Soon, it was time to gather our belongings and head back to the truck.
I may not have walked away from my first hunt with deer blood on my face, but I was grateful for the experience and insight I had gained. I may never get to fire a shot, but I’d climb back into that deer stand any chance I can get.