Remembering a happy place from days gone by

Published 10:18 am Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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Lots of hunters and fishermen have a happy place. It might be a boat dock that gave up a big bass more than once, a favorite deer stand that seemed to almost attract big bucks, maybe a blind where duck after duck came into decoys without hesitation.

I visited my happy place a week ago on a 640-acre farm in Georgia where my father was raised. The occasion was a trip to take him, 92, back to his old home place one more time – hopefully not the last, God willing and the creeks don’t rise. The place is full of memories. I killed my first squirrel there, out of an oak tree along a little branch that now feeds a 4-acre pond. I killed the first deer ever taken on the place, a 4-point buck on Nov. 26, 1976 – Thanksgiving afternoon, my sophomore year in college, after a great meal my dear grandmother made. I shot him right through the white patch under his chin.

I had to look a bit for my happy spot, because the place has changed. My grandfather took it out of cultivation around 1960 and planted pine trees. My uncle bought the place in 1970 and cut most down, plus all the hardwoods he could get to in a couple of big creek swamps. Everything was replanted, and all the pines have been cut down one more time and replanted again.

But the trees being gone made the place a little hard to find. I got up early, the sunlight shining through the window of the room where I was sleeping. Nobody else was up, so I slipped on my boots and made a big loop, marveling at all the deer and turkey tracks. I made a 90-degree right-hand turn where the lane headed east, back toward the paved road, and I looked for the spot on the side of the ditch where it all happened. I found it – I’ve always been able to locate it because a deer trail has left a little impression – and I walked out in the field of junk and the newly planted pines about 20 yards, standing pretty much on the exact spot.

It was 1968, the day after Christmas, after a 10-hour road trip that followed the opening of presents in Virginia. Four of us left the house after breakfast that morning after bacon and eggs and grits and country ham and biscuits – nobody could match my grandmother hunched over a hot stove – we dropped the dogs out of the back of the truck to hunt Mr. Floyd’s field, which was a cut cornfield. Up at the end of the field toward Mr. Floyd’s house, one of the younger dogs busted a covey about 20 yards from the trees that marked the west side of the lane. While my uncle cussed a blue streak at the dogs, my dad and grandfather marked where the birds went. The dogs beat us there, of course, and we made our way through the hedgerow, across the lane, and up into the pines.

Mmy grandfather’s three best dogs – Dan, an English setter, and Mike and Tim, rangy pointers – were locked up when we got there. My grandfather told me to be careful, and we walked in behind them. Somehow, when a handful of birds got up, one of them came up about 10 yards in front of me. My grandmother’s side-by-side 20-gauge Fox double-barrel came up almost automatically – I wasn’t smart enough to do anything that well on purpose – and I squeezed the front trigger. About 10 yards in front of where he got up, the cock bird I’d fired at exploded in feathers.

I can remember my dad, on the far left, shooting at a bird three times as it dipped and ducked through the pines. I remember hearing my grandfather shoot directly to my left, and my uncle shoot to my right. I don’t remember how many birds fell out of the half-dozen or so singles that were grouped loosely in those pines, but when the dog brought me mine, I would have hugged it if it had been big enough. I accepted congratulations from the grown-ups and stuck it in the pocket of my bird-hunting vest.

I killed several more quail during the three or four days we hunted on that vacation. I made several shots that were much more difficult. But none will ever be as important as that first bobwhite. It was almost 55 years ago, but I remember it as vividly as if it was yesterday. I will take that memory to my eternal home, where I hope my grandmother has fried quail and rice, country ham and red-eye gravy and cornbread waiting for that first meal in heaven.

State-record snapper

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries has certified a state-record mangrove snapper caught three weeks ago near Frying Pan Tower.

Adrian Faircloth of Supply was fishing with a live menhaden on a custom rod and Penn International 50W reel when he caught the 15-pound, 3.2-ounce fish, which bested the previous state record by almost 3 pounds.

Faircloth’s snapper was 29 ½ inches long and 23 inches in girth.

New striper slot limit

North Carolina anglers have a new recreational regulation to deal with, a newer, more-restrictive slot limit, for ocean-caught striped bass.

The limit, which brings the state into compliance with a federal fisheries management board’s recent action, began June 1.

Fishermen will be allowed to keep one striper per day, between 28 and 31 inches long. The only change from previous regulations was the upper limit on the slot was 35 inches.

Fishermen are still required to use a non-offset circle hook when using live or natural bait, and it remains illegal to gaff a striped bass.

The regulation will remain in effect until at least Oct. 28 in ocean waters out to 3 miles from shore. It is illegal to keep a striper in federal waters, which are 3 miles out and beyond.