Red Letter Days


Red Letter Days is a collection of tales that I have experienced as a young boy and in my adulthood in the outdoors. Most of the stories revolve around my hunting and fishing experiences with my Dad, my two boys and other family members and friends. Hopefully, you will have shared similar events and that these stories will allow you to relive some of your most precious moments out-of-doors. There are also stories in this book that are fictional. The stories are entertaining to young boys to teenagers, but grown-ups will enjoy these old stories.

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EXCERPTS FROM YE OLE BLIND The afterburners of a shooting star pierce the abyss of darkness—studded with diamond twinkles of starlight and with a brilliancy unknown in the city—as we arrive at Annis Brake where everyone is gathered at the clubhouse.
We unload our 14-foot aluminum boat, powered by a 25-horsepower, Mercury motor and disembark into the darkness. Chris’s black lab, Bo, will be our mascot for today’s hunt. Buckbrush, water oak, cypress trees, and button willows adorn Annis Brake, located just off “Ole Miss” near the little town of Alligator, Mississippi, that is just south of Clarksdale. Joining this brake on the north is Bobo Brake, four miles long. Clarksdale, just north of here, was settled early on by the English and the Irish.
Spot lighted, the boat trail’s reflective tape guides us through the darkness. Methodically, we slice our way through the mild current of a log-jammed creek that meanders through this four-mile long paradise. Strobe-lighted ducks take to the wing prematurely, ahead of our boat, not at all happy being flushed so early and disturbing their peace. The ducks, startled at the light, get up within boat paddle distance, close enough that we could have caught several. Gadwalls, widgeons, and mallards erupt a few feet away from the boat, fly several yards and down again, determined not to depart their roost. How easy it must have been in the old days when the market hunters spot-lighted at night for their kill.
Catching my attention, as we amble slowly at trolling speed, is an old blind located below the silhouetted spires of cypress trees. It is supported by four ancient cypress trees; daubed with green moss and mud, it blends in naturally with its surroundings. Built by some unknown fowler, he long ago departed to duck heaven. His blind, we will inherit for this morning’s shoot, hoping the old fowler’s ghost brings us luck.
On a breezy crisp January morning, three dozen G&H magnum decoys are meticulously tossed out. No light can be seen, save for the stars overhead. Distant, thunderless, jagged lightening streaks in the distant south provide a photogenic backdrop for the towering cypress trees. One of us, in water to his knees and outside the blind, is juxtaposed tightly against a lofty, feathery bald cypress trees and ready for the shoot. Alfred and I are affixed to the inside of the ancient blind. The floor is carpeted in leaf and limb litter; the wood roof is tiled with the same. A dry cypress board seat is upholstered in moss green velvet. How long has it been since the old blind has been hunted, I ponder?
Still early, I crank up my Heavy Duty Duck Call with a lonesome hen call. Returned melodies greet me from every direction. The host hoot owl, from a distance, is giving its morning speech to his audience and doing a very good job of it. Instinctively, I cut my eyes aloft as whistling wings and ghostly waterfowl voyageurs fly overhead, which I can’t see.
Barges on Ole Miss send their greetings when they toot their horn as they round the bend of the river. Daylight has not yet penetrated the jungle of darkness. Nevertheless, in the east are signs of the coming day—a gray light rises above the horizon, changing to a roseate flush which soon overspread the whole sky. Nature appears to stir herself.
Birds venture forth to chatter with a little hesitation, gradually becoming more assured. Night will soon be conquered. Reveries consume my conscious mind; apparitions consume the reveries. An ancient waterfowler is sitting beside me, as the old blind begins to talk.
“The talisman, sitting next to you and smoking that Henry the Fourth cigar, is Mistah Ben. He’s the one that built me in 1920. Before that time, Mistah Ben considered the highest type of sport to be obtained was waterfowl hunting. He much preferred this sort of method, feeling that in the quest he was always doing something. He was the best duck hunter in this part of the state, in consequence of which he was much in demand as a companion.
“Due to advancing age, he built me in 1920, when he was 50 years old. Not able to crouch in his boat anymore due to rheumatism, he wanted to be able to stretch-out, as his rheumatism bothered him greatly in old age. He owned 12 live decoys, “Dicks and Susies,” and Uncle Bayhoo, his black paddler, would tether them in front of me. He set out ten of these live decoys, five hens and five drakes, and kept two inside the blind with him. These two, he blindfolded with a handkerchief around their eyes. When ducks flew over, the Susies outside the blind would squawk and squawk. As the wild ducks made their swing out front, Mistah Ben would release from the blind one of the ducks that had been blindfolded. It would flap its wings two or three times, then glide down to the water some 20 to 30 yards away, right into the decoys. The wild ones couldn’t argue with this. They would fold their wings and here they would come.
“Now, Mistah Ben didn’t like shooting ducks when they were close-in. ‘No sport shot them when they were cupping,’ Mistah Ben would say. Uncle Bayhoo would hide back in the buckbrush in the draft boat, and when the kill was made he retrieved the game plus the released decoy.
“Mistah Ben quit hunting in 1935 when they outlawed live decoys. The season was 30 days with shooting hours from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and the limit was ten per day. He refused to buy a license which cost $3.00 for the state and $1.00 for the county, nor would he buy one of those federal migratory bird hunting stamp which cost $1.00.
“‘Too many changes,’ he said, ‘and not enough days or ducks.’ Lord, I can hear him now talking about all those ducks in the old days. ‘Around here we had a rare solar eclipse, a few lunar eclipses, and lots of duck eclipses. Why, we didn’t see daylight a-many a day around here during duck season. They were so thick that they blackened the sky.’
“Well, Mistah Ben died in 1937 to the dirge of ‘Amazing Grace.’ Uncle Bayhoo died in 1945. Although, I have been repaired and rebuilt several times years ago, no one took Mistah Ben’s place. I doubt that they could. So I guess I quit hunting about the same time as Mistah Ben.”
With this, I was aroused from my dream by Alfred, sitting next to me, whispering, “Shooting time!” Mistah Ben had disappeared as quickly as he appeared. . . . . . . .


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