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Dressed for Success

PhotoBy Bill Allen

-- Nimrod I wasn't, but I suspected I was. In the deep recesses of my inner being, I was Nimrod, Davy Crockett and Papa Hemmingway. I had never hunted deer. I had always wanted to stalk the forest prime evil in search of a wily buck with a "rocking chair" rack.

Through a friend it was arranged. I was to go to a certain farm on a certain creek bottom in Franklin County, Texas. I was to be there at 4:30 a.m., and one of the young boys would take me into the forest where there was nothing but bucks sporting eight or more points on their heads.

Filled with anticipation, I was there nearer to 3:30 than 4:30. I had spent the night sleeplessly watching the clock. I always held alarm clocks in suspect as unreliable and totally possessed with a mind of their own. I never trusted them. I was up at 2:00 a.m. just to be sure I wouldn't be late.

I dressed as if I was going on a polar expedition - hunting boots that weighed 5 pounds each, double-thick woolen socks, thermal long-johns guaranteed to keep you warm at 40 degrees below zero, flannel-lined hunting pants made of the stiffest waterproof canvas material available, a coat that weighed about 12 pounds, a blaze-orange vest that made sounds well off the decibel scale every time it wrinkled and an ear-flapped, stiff-as-a-board blaze-orange cap - in all costing about $200 in 1956 dollars. I was sure that "Field and Stream" would want me to pose for the next issue's centerfold to show what the better-dressed sportsman wore deer hunting.

I also had extra baggage - a compass, a watch, a coffee-filled quart-size Aladdin stainless-steel thermos, an insulated army canteen of water, a small first aid kit, a well-honed hunting knife in a leather sheath, assorted snacks, a neatly-folded pack filled with rain gear, and a 50-foot coil of light rope. All of this was draped around me attached to one of those 3-inch wide army surplus ammo belts that matched the canteen. My estimated total weight was about 300 pounds.

When hunting the wilds of east Texas, you should be prepared for any kind of weather or any emergency that might occur. One never expects, but should anticipate the worst. I was never more prepared since I learned the motto, "Be Prepared," as a Boy Scout almost 20 years before.

Firepower? I had a borrowed Marlin lever-action .30-30 carbine rifle and enough ammo to kill a herd of buffalo. The ammo was carried in the box in a back pocket of the hunting pants.

When I arrived at the farmhouse, it was totally dark inside and outside. I killed the engine and waited. It was an hour before a light came on in the house. The man of the house opened the front door and beckoned me to come in. In just a few minutes, we were sitting at the kitchen table with steaming cups of coffee.

Mr. Farmer told me that Little Charlie would show me where to hunt. When Little Charlie came in, I would have guessed him to be about 11 or 12. He wore clodhopper shoes, a cambric shirt, overalls, a lightweight denim jacket and a toboggan cap. He carried a single-shot 12-gauge shotgun that must have been his grandpa's.

Finally Little Charlie's dad said, "Ya'll better git." So we got.

Little Charlie led me out the back yard, across the big pasture, and deep down in the river bottom. This was in total darkness, but he seemed to know where we were going. And that kid could walk. I mean really walk. I was soon covered with sweat. Where was that cold front the weatherman had predicted?

I hoped Charlie knew where we were headed. It was foggy in the bottom and everything had an eerie surreal look. At last we came to a tree ... no, we came to "The Tree," the one surrounded by many trees. Little Charlie said I would have to climb up limbs about 15 feet to a big fork where a seat was nailed to the tree. There I was to sit until a deer came by. 

It was so foggy I couldn't see a tree limb in front of my face much less 15 feet above my head. I groped and felt around the tree until I found a limb that I thought would hold me and began the arduous task of pulling myself up. The borrowed gun did not have a sling, so I cut about 10 feet of my rope and fashioned a makeshift sling and slung it across my back.

When I finally, with much difficulty, made it up to the first limb, I started groping for a second, then a third and fourth. I never knew a rifle barrel or ammo belt could hang up so easily. Grunting and groping, I made it to about 10 feet off the ground.

I could begin to see daylight. I could tell the sun was rising in the north ... at least it seemed like the north to me. I would check it with my compass when I got to the seat in the fork.

I was getting desperate. The next limb seemed a little smaller, but since it was all I could find, I decided to chance it. I shouldn't have. I made it up on it and could feel the fork and seat if I stretched high enough.

Suddenly I felt the limb upon which I was standing give away. There was a loud breaking noise, and I was in space with a downward trajectory. Limbs that a few minutes before held me could not withstand the impact of a falling 300 pounds worth of hunter and gear. I stripped one side of the tree and came to rest in a prone position flat on my back. The only thing louder than the breaking tree limbs was the rifle stock when it broke completely apart at the place where it joined the metal.

I wasn't concerned about the rifle. All I wanted was air. I had knocked the breath out of my lungs. As I lay gasping for air, everything else paled into insignificance. Broken gun? Forget it! Broken glasses? So what! Broken back? I had already been called spineless! Cuts, abrasions, broken legs and arms, and bruises? Maybe they would heal in 10 years or so! I didn't need or want anything but air.

I don't remember how long I was on the ground. I was sure that if I moved, broken and jagged bones would protrude from bleeding flesh.

In the midst of all this pain and confusion I can remember one thing. Little Charlie had pointed over there in the fog and said there was a cane-break in which the deer bedded down each night. I remember hearing a thundering herd of about 100 deer running in all directions and thinking maybe one will run over me and break what is not already broken.
I was glad my first deer hunt was over and out of the way. After all you can only have one first of anything, be it good or be it bad. I had had mine.

By the time Little Charlie came I was sitting on the ground with my broken back against the tree just enjoying being able to fill my lungs with air.

One other thing I do remember. A new stock for a Marlin lever-action 30-30 carbine cost about $75 in the late 1950s.

Bill Allen
El Dorado, Arkansas

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