Thankful for Good Friends Like Leon “Sonny” Miletello
article by Dan Chason
Anyone who knows Leon “Sonny” Miletello will tell stories of a man who is small of stature but bigger than life. I call him “Uncle Sonny,” even though we are not related. I have told him many times I am up for adoption, but it hasn’t worked up to this point. The first time I met Sonny, I was immediately impressed with him. We shared a love of hunting and business and our relationship has led to various ventures where the relationship has grown to where I consider him one of my closest friends and associates.
Sonny is a fireball when it comes to any project he undertakes. Nothing he does comes before his faith and family but golf and duck hunting run a close second. His face literally lights up at the first of October when we start preparing fields and blinds. He reminds me of a kid at Christmas as we start talking about hunts in the past and friends we have made in the blind. This year, my goal was to try and convert him into a deer hunter. Now remember, this is a man that OWNS a deer farm but does not deer hunt.
We arrived at my “sweet hole” for deer hunting, as I had invited Sonny to “advise” me on how to convert some timber holes into duck holes. Once we had tramped around the woods for a while, he soon saw what I was talking about as to the hog and deer sign where I hunt. I had to crack a smile as we were riding off in the Ranger. Sonny looked over at me and asked if I would sight in his crossbow. I guess the conversion was complete. But as always, we ended up in a duck hole in Collinston where Sonny has amassed one of the best group of duck blinds I have ever hunted. We almost ended up there permanently, as Sonny politely wedged the Ranger across a rice levee. I had to laugh as he rarely pulls a bone-headed stunt but this was one of his best. Upon returning from walking out four miles for our rescue, Sonny just looked at me with sweat pouring down his face and quietly said, “Chason, don’t you say nothing!”
Sonny wouldn’t be Italian if he didn’t like food. As the owner of the Sports City Grill in West Monroe, he has turned what was a burger joint into a large menu of quite delicious food from duck wraps to all of the Italian dishes you love. Of course, you can still get the burger and fries, but you are missing it if you don’t get the duck wraps. I credit his wife Gayle for the upgrade, and Sonny will agree that between her and his nephew, they have a winning combination. But he would shut the doors if it interfered with golf or duck hunting. Duck hunting with Sonny is different than hunting with anyone else you have ever shared a blind. He will insist that you stay at the “camp.” This “camp” is luxurious with an out-camp for mud and noisy guests. He will load you into a F-250 Ford and upon arrival five minutes later, load you onto a Polaris Ranger that seats six for the trip to the blind. At 72 years young, Sonny will flat walk you in the ground. He is in remarkable shape and has few restrictions that should go with his age. This man who I assume stands less than 5’7″, then opens a gun box to reveal Remington ten-gauge shotguns. One for everyone in the blind, including shells. His theory on his weapon of choice is “it makes life easier on Wendy (his lab).” I have to agree as few cripples get away with a 10 gauge cannon. You can leave your duck call at home as Sonny can flat work a mallard duck. The day ends with a big meal at lunch, while the ducks are cleaned and naps planned. That is, naps for everyone but Sonny, who is ready to roll on to another project or look at the next day’s duck hole.
I asked Sonny his trick for finding good duck holes and how he went about setting them up. He first joked and said, “Just hang around Jeff Simmons” (one of his regular hunting partners), then he smiled and told me the truth. “Work hard and play hard. Keep your eyes and ears open and when a good, reputable hole comes available….grab it.” I have to admit the system works. With blinds in Collinston, Mer Rouge, Jones, Holly Ridge and Hwy 15, Sonny is not going to run out of a place to hunt anytime soon.
One thing I learned this year that I did not know was how much Sonny loves to squirrel hunt. I just thought I had met my match in the duck field, but this man is a real woodsman. I didn’t have to show him the lay of the land but once, and he was off and hunting. After meeting up during the day, he showed me food sources and travel lanes that I didn’t know existed on my own place. His sense of direction is extremely good, but his knowledge of critters is second to none. He reminds me more of a twenty-five-year-old’s drive, with the maturity and knowledge of a man of years.
The man has hunted around the world, including Russia, for every critter known. But his true love is the break of dawn in a duck blind, or in a boat with a crappie pole in his hand. I recently took him, hoping to “smoke him” at fishing the way he does me at golf. Well, that didn’t work out as well as I wanted, even when I tried to “front end” him.
As the time of year approaches to give thanks, I am certainly thankful for good friends. I am very thankful for a good friend like Sonny Miletello. I look forward to the many hunts, fishing trips and times together that we will share in the future. It is said that you can count your true friends on one hand. I know Sonny is definitely one of them. A man of deep faith, family, golf and ducks. I just hope I can add deer to his menu this year.