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The Last Hunt
by Robert S. Lumsden, Sr.



My father learned to be a hunter from his father. When my dad and his brother could earn twenty-five cents they would buy a box of black powder shotgun shells and hunt in the woods and fields around Mendenhall and Mount Olive, Mississippi. Any game that was taken was brought home for my grandmother to prepare. The hunting tradition was passed to me at an early age. I started shooting BB guns around the backyard and graduated to a pellet gun and finally a shotgun on my fifteenth birthday. The gun was a Winchester Model 12. My father was so very proud to give it to me that Christmas of 1959.

During that period, my father was largely a duck hunter. He and Walter Stockfish, Herman Smith and Dr. Jack Tendall would travel west and hunt the water of the oxbow lakes along the Mississippi River in both Mississippi and Louisiana. Names like Eagle Lake, Chautard, and Sardis were discussed at length. I was introduced to this activity several years prior to owning a shotgun. I remember taking my pellet gun on one hunt and forgetting the pellets.

These hunts were always very involved. We started by getting up at two or three oíclock in the morning, loading large quantities of equipment that included guns, shells, decoys, food and large amounts of warm clothing. Usually we traveled with other of the hunter friends and arrived before daylight some two to three hours drive away. The alarm would sound in my parentís bedroom and I'd hear my Dadís feet coming down the hall to wake me. Somehow my feather bed never felt better than on those cold dark mornings. It would have been easy to ask him to leave me behind, but I didnít dare. I never wanted to disappoint him, and to decline his offer to do something that he so enjoyed would have been a great disappointment. So, I'd get up and don lots of wool clothing so I could assist in the loading process.

When we arrived at the lake some hours away, we always boarded a boat of some kind and motored across cold dark water to spend the day inside a duck blind. My father became the primary duck caller for the group. This was a skill he took quite seriously. He had ordered a duck calling record and practiced calling around the house. He was constantly taking the call apart and fine tuning the reed. A traveling salesman, he took the call with him on trips and entertained himself by perfecting the highball, the comeback, and the all-important and most difficult cackle, chuckle, and feeding calls. All of these were used to say different things to the ducks and ultimately bring them within shotgun range. He found duck calling was also an excellent want to get his children up for school.

Some of these hunts were productive and involved lots of shooting and lots of ducks. On one trip we exceeded the legal limit and hid the excess in the bottom of the decoy bag. Many hunts were not successful and meant sitting for long hours in an aluminum boat with a cold wind blowing in our faces. It was on these days that my dad and I had chances to talk about many things, to eat our fruitcake and sandwiches, and to become father and son. It was here that he fumbled through his obligatory discussion of the birds and the bees. I have always admired and appreciated his effort in this regard, but the talk ended up making both of us nervous and uneasy. I never wished for ducks any more than on that day and at that moment. Iím sure he felt the same.

As the duck hatch became less plentiful in the North of Canada, the Mississippi flyway suffered. Duck limits were reduced to the point of forcing many duck hunters to consider other hunting options. We became what I heard Dad and the hunting buddies describe as ďthose darn deer hunters.Ē I, however, looked forward to being a deer hunter. I always envied the deer hunters. They may be cold and possibly wet, but at least they could stand when they wanted and move about. This seemed to me a great advance over hours in a boat where comfort was never even a remote possibility. A deer club opened around Port Gibson, Mississippi, and several of the Brookhaven, Mississippi, men joined with their sons to make the Sunset Hunting Camp the place where we spent the last years of high school hunting whitetail deer.

As the years unwound, I finished college, moved away, married and had children and hunted around Tallahassee, Florida. Most of my hunting was in the National Forest that boarders the county. My parents now lived in the same area. With the acquisition of a small boat, I began to wonder about duck hunting in a lake east of Tallahassee known as Lake Miccasoukee. The lake was reported to draw a large number of Ring Necks, a species that, while far inferior to the Mallard of the Mississippi Flyway, was still a worthy duck.

By this time I had reached my forties and my Dad was in his seventies. On one cold Friday night I called him and told him I wanted to take him duck hunting the next morning. He was a bit apprehensive and noted several reasons why it might not be a good idea -- lack of equipment and planning largely. When he could see that I was set on it, he relented, and the next morning I picked him up at his house across town. On the way over I realized how the roles had reversed and now I was making him get out of a warm bed to go with me. At my arrival, I could still detect a small lack of enthusiasm on his part but, like me many years earlier, he agreed.

We landed the boat and cranked the 1957 Johnson outboard that had belonged to my grandfather. It performed beautifully. We had only reached open water and were not within cover when ducks began to fly. That old feeling stirred, and before long we were shooting ducks. During the action my Dad began to call. His eyes rolled from left to right under the brim of his hat and he began to give the highball, the comeback, and the feeding calls, and all I could do was watch him. It was a beautiful thing. His calling echoed over the water through the cypress trees and the hardwoods. It was his song and his concert, and he gave a beautiful performance.

For a few brief moments I was fifteen again and we were hunting the oxbow lakes of Louisiana. His gift for calling had not diminished at all. The ducks responded and made pass after pass on that morning. It was for me a moment to relive in my mind for eternity. Even now on those rainy mornings in the fall I reflect on that so distant past. I will always treasure the last hunt with my dad.

__________________________


Dr. Robert Lumsden is a Program Director for the Florida Department of Education in Tallahassee, Florida. He is a graduate of Mississippi State University and Brookhaven High School in Brookhaven, Mississippi.

~ Read more of Lumsden's stories at USADEEPSOUTH ~
Doctor Calhoun Day
Rusty


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