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Deer season opening brings back memories

By Mike Leggett
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF



My wife noticed the other day that I seemed to be dragging a little, not exactly my normal state of being at the beginning of deer season.

Normally I would be bouncing off the walls, packing and re-packing, sharpening knives and sighting in rifles. But it's too hot, I've been traveling a lot, the deer aren't moving much because there's so much food and I just don't have my mind right. I told her that.

"You could stay here and help me plant the flower beds," she said. I thought about that for a minute, about all of the things I might do before I stayed home and planted pansies on the opening weekend of deer season, about the things that might keep me home the first weekend of deer season, which opened statewide Saturday.

I figured I could be hung over from tequila shots, lose a couple of digits in an unfortunate wood-chopping accident or walk head-on into an extremely chapped rattlesnake, and I could still get there.

I started to say that maybe I'd have to stay home if somebody stole my truck with all my guns, binoculars, money and clothes in it while I was on my way down to the ranch, but actually, that happened. I rented a truck, borrowed a gun and some long underwear and went hunting anyway. Killed a good deer, too.

Anyway, opening weekend of deer season is about more than killing a deer. It's about nearly a year's worth of waiting. It's about the friendships and smoky fires and dead mice roasting in the cook stove. It's about wet dogs and cold tree limbs and kids with million-dollar smiles on their faces, not to mention chili heartburn and bad practical jokes.

There are some opening days that stick out in my mind more than others. Like the time:

I killed a deer because I burped.

My best friend's dad had a bad habit of telling us to "go down through that swag to the little green flat, past the leaning tree and stop at the hog pen. Turn west until you come to the big gum tree and sit there. That's where the deer like to cross."

Of course, he was the only one who could find that stuff, especially in the dark, so I was hopelessly lost. I could only wait until the morning's hunt was over and yell for help.

I sat down against a big pine to wait it out and while I was there the eggs and half-done sausage started percolating in my stomach. I belched kind of loudly and it scared a young buck that had walked right up behind me. I wouldn't have known he was there if I hadn't burped.

He ran when he heard the sound and I could only see him long enough to see horns. About 30 seconds after they went out of sight, he came running right back past the tree and I shot him as he passed.

I grabbed his horns and started yelling and walking in circles. When they came and found me, I was about 10 feet from the logging road I'd come in on but didn't know it. But I had my deer.

My brother cold-cocked my dad with a pickup.

It was raining. We were running late. They dropped me off and went hurtling across a big open field in the dark to get to another stand. My brother Paul was driving and Dad was sitting in the passenger seat when they hit a berm in the field.

The bump launched my dad into the roof of the truck, basically knocking him cold and rendering him useless for that morning. But then, he didn't really deer hunt anyway, and it was just his head, so, no harm, no foul.

I tried to heat my blind with charcoal.

It was one of those cold, wet norther weekends in East Texas. Roger Tedford and I were hunting a place outside town that had some ground blinds on it, and I was trying to generate some heat.

I was too poor to buy good clothes and I had already set myself on fire one time with the old roll of toilet paper stuffed in a coffee can and soaked in alcohol trick. You can't see the fire, and I had melted some mittens and set my pants ablaze with that one.

So I took a five-gallon bucket, put sand in the bottom, stacked some charcoal and set it on fire. I had to let the blaze burn down outside the blind before daylight, which looked like some kind of mondo signal fire. Then, when I brought it inside, the charcoal smoked up the inside of the blind so much my eyes were burning and I smelled like a burned newspaper.

The only deer I saw was running away from me, toward Tedford, who killed him, I think. I was suffering from smoke inhalation and don't remember too much about the rest of the day.




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