By Mike Handley
Before the alarm clock sounded a seventh time, Susan Chapman kicked her husband, Mike, out of bed. He'd planned to get up at 4:30, plenty early enough to walk the 10 minutes to his deer stand under the cover of darkness.
It was a clear and cold Sunday, the beginning of the last week of West Carroll Parish's firearms season.
Gun-toters there have only four weeks: two of rifle season bracketed by early and late primitive weapons seasons. The 40-year-old spends as much time in the woods as he can during that span.
It had rained the previous day, when the Chapmans celebrated a late Christmas with family at his brother's house. The cold front followed.
Mike walked the lane he'd bush-hogged in a friend's overgrown cotton field and reached his elevated box blind about 5:45. The stand was tucked in the 40-acre plot's tree line.
The first order of business at daybreak was to announce his arrival.
Mike flipped his bleat canister. Afterward, when he reached over to place it on a shelf, it fell and hit the floor.
"It wouldn't work after that," Mike said. "Something got jammed up."
The next best thing he had was his grunt call, which he blew a couple of times.
At 7:00, a deer wafted out of some saplings and into a shooting lane. As soon as Mike saw it, he wanted it. The thick rack stretched well beyond the animal's ears.
"When I saw the right side's mass, I kept my eyes off the rack," he said.
"I knew better than to look at it again, even though I'm not a trophy hunter. All I usually care about is putting meat in the freezer. I knew that if I kept staring at those antlers, I'd mess up."
So without a second glance, he eased his .45-70 out the window.
Prior to the 2008 season, the single-shot rifle chambered for the 19th century government cartridge would not have been legal that time of year. But Louisiana had just adopted Act 51, the same rule that Mississippi added to its books three years earlier.
The new regulation changed the wording from "blackpowder" to "primitive firearms" season to allow the use of single-shot, breech-loading rifles with metallic cartridges .38 caliber or larger. The rifle must be a "kind or type manufactured prior to 1900 and replicas, reproductions or reintroductions of that type rifle having an exposed hammer." Scopes, however, may replace the old tang sights.
The new rule spurred Mike and countless others who weren't huge fans of muzzleloaders to go out and buy the appropriate cartridge-fed rifles, the most popular being the shoulder-jarring .45-70.
"It'll kick your arm off," Mike laughed.
When he first looked through his scope, the lens had fogged. Fearing the deer might somehow spot the movement, he didn't bother trying to wipe it; he just took pains to breathe through his mouth, and he blew his breath away from the gunstock.
The 250-pound buck was at 100 yards, a chip shot if Mike could only see it.
When Mike tried looking through the scope again, it still was fogged. But he could at least see the crosshairs, which he moved over the approaching whitetail.
At the shot, Mike saw his bullet strike standing water beyond the deer, which bolted to the right toward a water-filled ditch. He was afraid he'd missed.
Turns out, he didn't. And the buck never made it to the water, which Mike says was deeper than he is tall.
After admiring his biggest whitetail ever, Mike slipped out to get his four-wheeler. When he passed by a neighbor's house, the man asked "What did you shoot?"
"It's an 18- or better," Mike replied.
"Sure it is," the man smirked.
It was actually a 16-pointer, according to the inch-long rule, but no less a giant. Mike couldn't budge the deer by himself. His slack-jawed neighbor helped.
Susan has never shown much interest in the deer her husband shoots.
This one was different, however, and - perhaps because she had to roust him that morning - she remained by Mike's side throughout the three-hour skinning process.
The slow removal of the hide was due to interruptions, as news had traveled fast in Oak Grove, which might well contain more deer hunters per capita than any other town in northeast Louisiana.
Susan even accompanied him to Simmons' Sporting Goods' big buck contest in Bastrop, La., where his buck was eventually declared the overall winner.
That distinction earned him a much needed new four-wheeler.
"She normally pokes her head out, sees a deer and says 'Oh, that's nice.'" Mike said. "With this one, for the first time, she's proud. It's been great.
"She knows I hunt only close to home. I don't go off on any hunts across the country," he added. "That also makes this one special."
Hunter: Mike Chapman
Official Score: 187"
Composite Score: 204 4/8"
-- Reprinted from the September 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.