Deer Camp

By Luke Boyd

A long time ago when I was younger, I used to go to deer camp two or three times a season. Back then a lot of the Delta had not been logged, so there was a lot of the big woods left and a lot of deer.

There were several camps around. I liked to go to one down in Sharkey County.
The folks who ran them would usually set up about the same place every year. They had to be close to a spring or a good source for water. Some of them would drive down a pipe and make an artesian well. The underbrush would be cleared and tents set up. Each tent might have five or six hunters dependin’ on how many canvas army cots would fit in. There would be one large tent with rough tables for cookin’ and eatin’.
Hunters would pay so much per day or week with most staying a week at a time. The camp provided a cook, food, dogs, and dog handlers. Hunters just had to have their huntin’ clothes, guns, and shells.
One year me and a friend of mine, Ozzie Williams, went together to this one I was tellin’ you about. It was way back in the woods. They picked you up at the end of the road and took you the last two or three miles by wagon.
There wasn’t much to do after supper except to play poker or drink or both. One night toward the middle of the week, Ozzie and I were sittin’ around havin’ a drink or two. We were sorta feelin’ sorry for ourselves because neither one of us had killed a deer yet. I suppose that caused us to have one or two too many and led us to doin’ what we did. I don’t think we’d ‘a done it otherwise.
The cook was a little ole gnarled up man we all just called “Cookie.” His real name was James or somethin’ like that, but nobody ever used it. A lot of the hunters gave him a rough time about the food and teased him about most anything. With the kind of food he had to start out with and the cookin’ facilities he had, there was no way he was goin’ to cook up anything real good. But I thought he did a pretty good job.
Well, Cookie’s big aim was to kill him a deer and he worked at it real hard. Everyday after he’d cleaned up after breakfast and before he had to start supper, he’d walk out to a stand he had pretty close to camp and wait for a deer to come by. He’d been at this for four or five years and hadn’t even seen a deer. But his lack of success had not reduced his enthusiasm. If anything, he’d gotten more determined with the passage of time.
Cookie’s gun was an old, and I do mean old, muzzle loadin’ musket with a bell-shaped barrel. It was the only one I ever recall seein’ outside a museum. Of course, he got teased about it a lot, but he was not fazed by all the jokes at his expense. Much of his conversation around the cook tent was about what he was goin’ to do when that big buck came into range.
Well, on the night I was tellin’ you about, Ozzie and I got to talkin’ about Cookie’s musket. We decided that if he were going to kill a buck with it, he’d need a big charge of powder. So, we went over to the cook tent where he kept it and fixed it up. We pulled the ball and charge he had in it and put in a whole bunch of powder and tamped it in with some waddin’. Next, we figured that much powder needed more than one ball, so we just put in a double handful. By the time we got the last waddin’ tamped in, the barrel was about full. I guess we thought he’d just find that barrel full of powder and shot and take it out. Even if he didn’t find it for a day or two, we didn’t think he’d have any reason to fire it, since he never saw a deer anyway.
The next morning after breakfast, the dog handlers loaded the dogs up in a wagon and headed out. Some other camp folk took us to our stands. Ozzie and I were pretty close together that day. We all had to be in place before daylight ’cause that’s when the handlers would turn the dogs loose. They would get the deer stirred up and movin’ around, and if they stayed on any of the trails they’d been usin’, they had to go by somebody’s stand.
About an hour after daylight, I heard the dogs. From the sound, they must have been pretty close on some deer’s trail. The sound changed directions two or three times and then swung over in the direction of the camp. Before long, there came the most gosh-awful explosion I’d ever heard. It sounded like somebody had fired a cannon. Cookie had shot off that musket with that charge of powder and ball!
I set off to runnin’ through the woods toward camp. Pretty soon I spied Ozzie doin’ the same. We knew Cookie had to be dead. That old musket surely exploded and probably blew Cookie into several pieces. I could see me and Ozzie in jail for the rest of our lives. From the look on Ozzie’s face, I could tell he was thinkin’ the same thing.
When we got close to camp, a lot of shoutin’ and other commotion led us to Cookie’s stand. We both pulled up in amazement. First of all, Cookie wasn’t dead. Those dogs must have run a whole herd of deer past Cookie’s stand and he had fired into them. That old musket had to have been made out of some heavy, strong metal. It hadn’t exploded, but it did have a split barrel. Those musket balls must have gone through those deer like a load of grape-shot out of a cannon. Two deer were dead on the ground and two more had been broken down in their hindquarters so they couldn’t run. Blood on the trail indicated that several more had been wounded.
Although Cookie was alive, he was not without injury. The musket had kicked back so hard that it dislocated his shoulder and knocked his arm out of its socket, so that it was hangin’ almost down to the ground. He had the musket in his left hand and was goin’ along beside one of the wounded deer which was trying to crawl away, and he was hittin’ the deer over the head with it. When Cookie saw us, he yelled, “Y’all come help me! If I’d ‘a had another half a charge, I’d ‘a got ’em all!”

This story is can be found in the book.
Coon Dogs and Outhouses, Volume 1

Tall Tales From The Old South Great Southern Short Stories