by Russ Lumpkin
The deer-hunting bug bit my father and brothers and never let go. My father, especially, loved hunting whitetails. He spoke in glowing terms on the joys of sitting in a stand-—watching the sun rise or set, the sounds of a day opening or closing, and the sudden appearance of a shadow or a flicker that concentrated his focus. But as he reached 82 and my mom struggled with dementia, he couldn’t hunt, could hardly leave her sight. I believe an inability to climb into a deer stand hastened his death.
He had mostly good years, preaching and hunting and doing about what he wanted. He died at age 84 on November 11, 2015—just a few days prior to peak rut in the coastal plain of Georgia. It must have been eating at him. He whimpered and passed early morning, just as shooting light encroached on the horizon.
I’m the youngest of four children—a far sight younger. But of three boys, the middle brother, Tim, loves to hunt as much as my father did. He spends summer preparing for autumn and during the season, hunts before work and after. The oldest of all, David, doesn’t go to the woods as much as he did years ago but hunts enough to procure meat. My sister, Sharon, raised three deer hunters, including her daughter, and now has a passel of grandchildren who hunt deer. In short, hunting deer is a family tradition.
I, however, am the black sheep of the family. I prefer to cast a fly or shoot a bird of some sort. I hunt deer each season but only until I kill a doe, and unlike my brothers, I don’t enjoy hunting deer from an elevated deck. Perhaps our preferences differ because they began hunting from stands, while I stood on the ground and waited for dogs to push deer my way.
In 1971, I was four and the family was new to Wadley, Georgia, a genuine little postage stamp of earth surrounded by farmland, swamp, and pines. Not much has changed.
“Then, from somewhere down the line, I heard shots. Later and nearer, more shots and men hollering. The howls of the dogs continued, grew closer, then dissipated in the distance.”
Soon after we arrived, men in the church invited Dad to visit the local hunting club. He came home from the hunt and spoke of the dogs and the howls and the howls growing nearer. On the surface, it seemed grand.
Dad took me to the club one time before I began grade school. I had begged to go, and he wanted me to experience the atmosphere. I remember fidgeting unbuckled in the passenger seat as he turned down a familiar dirt road, then down an unnamed sandy drive that bisected a field of soybeans. Ahead, men with shotguns milled around a weathered cabin that sat hard against the track. We ate lunch, and before leaving I toured the shack. The clapboards on the outside formed the walls on the inside, which were lined with mounts of small bucks and wild boars. The men cooked, served, and cleaned while one older gentleman stirred a huge pot of stew with the working end of a boat paddle.
A few years later, Dad gave me a Remington 1100 20 gauge. By the time I was 10 or 11, I could hit a dove on a regular basis and manage the gun safely. He felt…