Knock, knock, knock.
Groggy, my brother looked at the clock beside the bed – 2:57 am.
What in the world???
Stumbling to the door and flipping on the outside light, Ronnie finds a guy he does not know standing there on the porch. In the cold pre-dawn of a 17 degree morning January morning, he wears jeans and a flannel shirt.
Cracking the door open, Ronnie peers out.
Hi, I’m Keith. My wife knows your wife – Carol - and she said you would take me hunting this morning.
Keith, huh? Hunting, you say. You know what time it is, buddy?
Yessir, my wife said Carol makes the remark all the time that you do not like to be late.
I see. Hold on a second. (closing the door).
Moments pass and Keith waits.
The door reopens, wide this time.
All right, I checked with Carol – I think she meant next weekend, but come on in, I will start the coffee.
OK thanks, it is cold out here.
Coffee is started and Ronnie starts to get dressed and gather his items.
He wanders back into the living room and addresses Keith – largely thinking out loud…
It is 80 miles to the farm and – let’s see here – we need to be in the stands by 5:30 am… that will give us a good hour before daylight… So, allow an hour and 20 minutes travel time… we should get to the farm at least by 5:10 so I can get us both in the stand by 5:30… we need to leave here just before 4:00 am…. We have a few moments… it is only 3:30 now.
They chat for a moment feeling each other out.
Keith glances at the buck over the fireplace…
That‘s a nice buck, where did you get him?
At the farm where we are going.
Looks great – I would love to see one like that!
Well, you might. We will take my truck – go ahead and get your stuff put in the truck and I will fix my thermos. Got some leftover ham and biscuits – you want one?
Yeah, a biscuit sounds great. Coffee, black, too it that is possible.
All right – go ahead and get your stuff loaded and I will meet you outside.
Ummm, I have all of my stuff with me.
What? Where is your camo and jacket – gloves – hats… all that?
Well… you see… I don’t really HAVE any of that stuff.
You know it is 17 degrees out there, right? Where is your regular jacket?
Ummm, this shirt is pretty warm, I will be all right.
All right??!? – man, are you mad? It is cold as a well digger’s butt out there. Hold on a minute….
Ronnie is gone for several moments and comes back lugging boots, coveralls, gloves and a cap.
Here, load these in the truck – you can wear all of this – you are gonna need it… and get your rifle and put it in the truck also.
Ummm, well, ah, you see, it is like this… I don’t really have a rifle, either… I was kind of hoping that….
Geez, man… no rifle? Hold on a darned minute.
Ronnie returns with an incredibly battle scarred Winchester 30-30 and thrusts it toward Keith…
Here, I will give you the cartridges later.
So – here we go, dear Reader, follow along as we ride with Ronnie and his new hunting partner on a very cold January morning to the Bulloch County farm. The conversation turned, of course, to hunting as they made the ride.
Ronnie discovered that Keith had NEVER been deer hunting and did not even own any firearms, bows, stands, gear – anything!
They arrive at the farm, parking at the old farmhouse. The walk to the backside of the property is about 1000 yards, so they bundle up and start walking along the pecan orchard, headed toward the other end of the agriculture field.
Ronnie discovers that Keith has shot some and is semi-familiar with a 30-30. They chat quietly on the long walk in the darkness and Ronnie explains where Keith will be hunting – he will be in a chain on stand that is located on a small pine knoll and the swamp is below him – the land falls away and with most of the leaves off of the trees, offers a commanding view of the now semi-open bottom area.
Ronnie will be down in the swamp proper (try getting that boy out of the swamp… good luck) and after making sure that Keith had gotten into the stand and loaded his rifle – making sure the hammer was not cocked – Ronnie moved down the hill and the 300 or so yards to his deer stand.
Wading through the cold, black water – Ronnie wondered how long Keith would last before he called down into the swamp and was ready to head for the warmth of the truck.
Arriving at the small island in the swamp, Ronnie climbed up the well worn oak tree that was home for his climber most of the year. This was a great location and over the years, Ronnie had taken more deer from this tree than you could count.
Dawn was brisk, clear and very cold that morning. With temps in the middle teens and a scrim of ice on the mud puddles – heck there was even some ice on the standing sloughs off of the main run in the swamp – Ronnie watched as the eastern sky began to lighten.
The arrival of a new day is an odd thing in a black water swamp. The light does not so much arrive as the darkness just seems to merge from black into various shades of charcoal until eventually; the last vestiges of the night have been chased away by the ambitious advance of the sun. It is hard to explain – and I just wish that all of you could see it one time…
Dawn did arrive and the sun pushed the darkness back… and the minutes turned into blocks of time that were measured, for Ronnie, by small cups of black coffee enjoyed on the stand.
Eight o’clock came and went, as did nine… not a peep was heard from Keith.
Several does had threaded their way through the swamp below his stand, but Ronnie held off – thinking that Keith would see and shoot one…
Ten o’clock finally arrived – Keith must have gotten down by now, thought Ronnie – it is still bitterly cold down here and….
The sound wave of a shot rolled across the swamp, like a visible hand….
Wow! Keith either shot one or shot at one! Neat… this is going to be fun!
BBOOOOOOOMMMMMM – again!
Oh crap, he wounded it and had to shoot again… well, at least he probably knocked it down this time, for sure.
BBOOOOOOOOOMMMM – a third time!
Jesus, son… what are you doing to that deer?? I know the rifle is shooting true… how many times is this idiot gonna shoot one darn deer?
The woods quiet now.. and moments pass.
Ronnie spies a group of a dozen or more does moving through the swamp and thinks – heck, I have to clean Keith’s bullet riddled deer – I might as well clean two!
The 30.06 comes up, a fat doe comes into alignment and Ronnie neither hears the sound nor feels the recoil as the round is touched off… the doe hits the ground and the group of deer scatter like frightened quail!
Not knowing where the danger lies, they make the grave mistake of trying to regroup under Ronnie’s deer stand.
The -06 comes up again and the process is repeated… and another doe makes the transition from deer to venison.
Well now, thought Ronnie, I reckon I can clean three as easily as one!
What in the world is he doing up there - well, he can not shoot again – I only gave him four cartridges, Ronnie thinks….
Ronnie gets down, drags his two does up to the edge of the swamp and makes his way up the hill.
As he approaches, he finds Keith relaxed in the stand, in spite of the cold.
Man, what is going on up here?
I don't have any more bullets.
I know that... what did you see and what was all the shooting?
Well, none came out early… and then later, I saw three of them… over that way (pointing down the hill).
OK, that is fine, did you shoot one of them?
Yes, I did! My first deer ever… it is too cool. I can see it from here!
OK, great…stay there and I will get it for you.
OK, but while you are over there, can you get the other one?
What other one?
Remember, I said I saw three over there.
Yeah, right… you saw three.
Oh yeah, there should be a third one maybe about 40 yards further down the hill…
You shot all three of them?
No. One of them got gone before I could shoot it.
What do you mean another one then?
Oh, after than, two more came out in the same area and I shot one of them – but it ran off down the hill… I saw it stumble, though…
Jesus, Keith, you killed three of them?
No, I shot three over there.
What do you mean – you shot three “over there”???
Oh, yes, I shot three over there – and one more (pointing toward the upper side of the hill) up there. Is that ok?
One more…. Beside this three????
Four all told???
Yes, is that ok?
Well, ummm, sure…. Where is the other one?
I shot him right over there - but he ran off... it's a buck, I hope he is big enough....
Fast forward three hours to a scene behind the old farmhouse – out at the skinning rack.
Five does and a buck lay sprawled out by the grape arbor.
Five does and a SUPERB nine pointer.
Thick necked, with a line backer type appearance and great antlers... he is a genuine beast, particularly to be taken this late in the year.
Keith sweats as he digs the gut and carcass hole… even in the now 30 degree weather, the shovel is taking a toll on him….
Ronnie sips his last coffee and sharpens his knives - then he asks the one question that has been bugging him for hours now…
Keith, did you have to shoot all of them?
Well, Ronnie, I tell you… they kept coming by and I kept shooting.
A deer hunter was born that day and it all started with a knock, knock, knock just before 3:00 AM!
(Keith has since gone on, in a fairly short period of time, to become a very good - and often successful - deer hunter. The date on the camera was wrong... this was in mid January of 2004)