I grew up in Clarke County, arguably one of the best counties in the great state of Alabama for hunting. Boys in my high school class would go out for a morning hunt before school started and finish up just in time to make it in for homeroom.
During hunting season, the local newspaper had more pics of smiling little kids with bloodied faces holding up their first deer than city council coverage or reports of car wrecks. My hometown of Jackson even hosted an “armadillo supper,” where all sorts of wild game was cooked and served. I remember being told there were “mystery meat” and “best use of roadkill” categories, and that one year someone cooked a snake —although I now wonder if all that was just an urban, or rather, rural legend.
It was not out of the ordinary to pull up to the drive thru at Hardee’s — one of the only local culinary establishments when I was growing up — to order your Cinnamon and Raisin biscuits and see a “fresh” dead deer on the back of the pick-up truck in front of you.
So I guess you could say, I grew up around hunters. But my own family wasn’t really into it. Not that we were sissies or anything, we just spent our weekends out on the Tombigbee, jug fishing with Clorox bottles and putting out catfish boxes loaded up with the most heinous smelling cheese on the planet.
My fondest memories of childhood are indelibly tied to the aroma of rotten cheese.
But the older I got the less interested I was in the Great Outdoors, primarily just because I was a teenager and there were other things to be interested in. And because the grandparents who were responsible for creating those memories were getting older and ill. Boats were sold and barrels of stinky cheese were moved from the garage to the street.
Fast forward to Jan. 30, 2009. I get hitched to my honey, and marry into his family, who grew up in Choctaw County, also arguably one of the best counties in the great state of Alabama for hunting. And unlike mine, his family was really into it. When we were planning our wedding, they kept making little remarks about our nuptials being on the last weekend of hunting season. At the time I thought they were just joking, but now I am not so sure. (Just kidding, in laws…I think.)
Frank obviously grew up hunting, but he will be the first to tell you he was never that passionate about it. And though we would go up to his family’s hunting camp for visits and have fun riding the six-wheeler and tromping through the beautiful woods, neither of us were ever all that interested in going out to find Bambi’s daddy, certainly not as much of the rest of the family, all of whom had a buck or two mounted on the wall of the camp house.
But for whatever reason, over Thanksgiving weekend, we both decided we would give it a go.
My husband and his brother, Stephen, went out for the early morning hunts, though they didn’t have any luck. My sister-in-law, Amelie, took me under her expert wing, and we went out in the late afternoons.
In chatting at the camp, someone said something about deer loving the smell of vanilla, which was excellent because I just happened to have some Warm Vanilla Sugar body lotion from Bath & Body Works in my bag. Win! I lubed myself up with it, camou-ed up and she and I headed to the hunting stand known as the “Road House.”
After creeping into the woods as quietly as possibly, we got settled in the house. She pulled out an aerosol can of something called “Deer P” and sprayed it all around to attract the deer men. I thought the P stood for something else at first, but apparently it is pee, as in doe pee. Apparently bucks are kind of kinky.
So with the smell of girly deer urine and vanilla wafting from the “Road House of Ill Repute,” as we began to call it, we waited. And waited.
We would hear a noise and stay completely silent for long stretches of time, only pointing to the direction where we thought we heard movement. From time to time, we would whisper about various things, the turkeys who were crossing the road (literally, though no word why they were doing so); there was quiet talk about our husbands and kids, intermingled with her tutorials on what we should and shouldn’t shoot, why it was important to manage the population, how healthy the meat was, and family stories about who had killed what where — some hogs across the road, an eight-point across the green patch.
That weekend, I realized hunting was about so much more than hunting. I don’t think I would have cared if we had seen a thing, but we did.
On the first afternoon, we both spotted a seven- or eight-point through our binoculars. Amelie said, “Get your gun up, get your gun up.” I spazzed out. “I can’t get it up fast enough. You shoot it.”
So she did. After a couple of literally deafening shots, she said “I think I got it.” At least I think that’s what she said. My ears were still ringing. Ear protection is important.
We high-fived and headed down the road to look for it. But after an exhaustive search, with us literally jumping over creeks and searching for a blood trail like we were “CSI: Choctaw County,” we gave up.
The next afternoon, we went back out to the Roadhouse, once again reeking of vanilla body lotion and deer tee tee. Amelie suggested I just keep my gun ready and she would just be the “Binocular B*tch” that day.
I guess the bucks just found our scent irresistible (I mean, how could they not?) because not long after we settled in, a six-point appeared through the Binocular B’s lenses. She quietly and quickly told me to find him in my scope. I did as my guide instructed.
“OK, I’ve got him,” I said.
“Take your shot, take your shot,” she said excitedly. My heart was beating faster than I think it ever had. I took a deep breath and tried to keep my rifle steady. As my finger pulled the trigger I think I closed my eyes, and I thought there is no way I would get him. By the time I opened my eyes, she said, “You got him. You got him.”
We climbed out of the House of Ill Repute and were just about to start high fiving again, but stopped before we jinxed ourselves, remembering the previous day’s fruitless search.
But it didn’t take us long to find him. I had indeed gotten him. My first deer. A six-point. Such a beautiful creature, I can’t say I didn’t have mixed feelings about the whole experience.
We got him back to the camp, and the whole family was so proud. And I felt like a real girl from Jackson. As they were taking pictures and getting ready to take him to the processor, Stephen came up behind me and bloodied my face. Such a gruesome rite of passage, but somehow it felt right — a mix of accomplishment, guilt and maternal bad ass-ness, like if a zombie apocalypse happens to occur, momma is going to be able to feed her babies. (Unless the deer turn into zombies too?)
This Christmas, I didn’t get an orange hunting vest or cap from my in-laws, but a fully processed deer and an antler mounting kit. So far, we have had some delicious venison chili, meatballs and steak roll ups. And those antlers will soon be mounted and hanging in our living room, but the real prize of that day was something far more special — a bond that can’t be put on a plate or hung on the wall.
Thanks Amelie. I’ll be the BB next time.
And Frank and Stephen, if you want to borrow our Warm Vanilla Sugar Urine concoction, just let us know.