Outdoor sites become part of our being

In a recent column, I wrote at some length about the drastic shake-up in hunting club land ownership that is depriving quite a large number of hunters of lands which many of them had been enjoying for more than 50 years. I added that hunters in this region are very fortunate in having thousands of acres of public hunting land that is open to everyone and that there is no reason for any hunter losing a club membership to feel that he has no place to hunt. Within not more than a two-hour drive are game management areas and national forests open to all and, believe me, with wildlife in abundance.

This fact, however, does not relieve the loss many of us will feel about the right to hunt or just visit some favorite spot or area that has been considered almost “yours” for many, many years.

A hunter worthy of the name spends lots more time enjoying his surroundings than he does killing game or catching fish. I still recall with great pleasure and nostalgia my early years fishing in what was then a wonderful lake called Grassy in Tallahatchie County, Miss.

The atmosphere of the place is what counts and after all of these years, I can still remember exactly how the sky looked at dawn as I rattled my way to the lake landing on a worn out Indian motorcycle.

Even today, I would rather spend a day drifting along through Grassy Lake's cypress- and tupelo-filled waters and catch nothing than spend the same amount of time on a huge reservoir that might produce lots of fish.

The sad fact is that I, too, am going to lose the right to visit and hunt a certain cypress brake on the river front that has been “mine” for 50 years. As cypress brakes go, it is not particularly outstanding except that I “discovered” it many, many years ago.

It was, and still is, a much favored spot for roosting turkeys in both fall and spring. In some years when we had exceptionally high turkey populations, I sneaked my way in the dark to its edge and watched while as many as 200 roosting turkeys waked with the dawn and began their daily yelping, squalling and flying in waves from tree to tree. It is a gut-wrenching elemental experience that has nothing whatever to do with killing a bird.

Manifestations of the wonders of nature like this are common to people like me, and we feel sorry for folks that can't see this and feel it the same way we do.

Some of the most satisfying outdoor experiences of my life have come about in this particular area. My discovery of what might be the biggest cypress tree in the state in the middle of a brake has been a source of pleasure for years. This big fellow measures more than 48 feet in circumference where it comes out of the ground. Experienced foresters estimate its age at 800 to 1000 years.

It remains in almost perfect condition, and I have no trouble at all visualizing Hernando DeSoto and his men camping under it back in the 1500s when he is reputed to have discovered the Mississippi River just four or five miles from the site of this ancient monarch of the forest.

In addition to its wonderful ability to stay alive and healthy for this long, it is also one of my favorite “stands” when spring turkey hunting. Make no mistake, I am going to greatly miss visiting this old tree even though I have lifetime hunting rights on 5,000 acres of almost identical woodland that joins this property and a lifetime membership in a 10,000-acre hunting area in the hill country near Winona, Miss.

Nevertheless, lakes, rivers, fishing holes, and specific wooded areas manage to impress themselves into our very being. If you lose one, you are never quite content even though what you still have might be more productive than the place you have lost. This, to me, is the real tragedy in losing out on lands that you have almost come to believe belong to you. Suddenly you realize that you were wrong!

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