The Bubbacracy of Bonneau

An opening day in August, this August, should be a bit more primal. Modern technique for the kill is ill suited to a pre-dawn that is already in the eighties. Cammo gear is hot. Perhaps we should just go Tarzan, loincloths in jungle pattern. Even so I’d wear my snake boots.

I walk down the dirt road in the darkness, shotgun in the crotch of my arm. A flickering light draws me closer, to see shapes emerge, shapes soon to dissolve into the woods. Painted faces offering a silent stare, an occasional white grin, a scene surreal as if I’d wandered into Kurtz’s compound. Apocalypse here.    

These men are primal in a way we should not forget. They are hunters of sustenance, killers of food, with weapons that descend from slings and arrows to buckshot and bullet. Where high dollar shoppers and chefs elite bestow the virtues of organic, here is as organic as it gets. You hunt to eat and you eat what you kill. This day will not end in a cabin with catered meal and single malt scotch. It will end in the hutch out back, with a knife in hand, carcass on a hook and beer.

Junior killers come in tow. Some get low stands, others first blooded will strike their own spots, already seasoned in the ways of the woods. Imagine the conversation with your friend from New York, describing lessons learned since childhood; the significance of the turned leaf, the print on the ground, following a blood trail, or try to describe the smell of a snake, before you see or hear its warning. It is a comforting lesson, when talk turns to global economic collapse, to know a country boy will survive.

Few are fully awake. Conversation is muted, mostly cracks aimed at the poor aim of the man who missed the last deer of the last season. His name is Bubba. In fact, you only need one name to enter the circle. A smirk outsider might say the nomenclature has gone little further than the gene pool. But in these small few hundred acres being hunted, this kingdom for a day, being greeted by the name makes you a member. The Bubbacracy of Bonneau.

A man of scraggly beard and beer belly puts a cup of coffee in my hand. There’s no question of cream or sugar, it is black and strong against the tongue. It is a stripped down essential. There is a brief circle before heading into the woods. In the darkness they assume a timeless look. These are the same men of later day who fought in the nearby swamps with Marion, they charged at the bloody Wheatfield at Gettysburg. The family names of men from such southern towns are found on the still crosses in military graveyards wherever this country has done battle.

Into the dark woods, we went down different paths, each to a spot picked days if not weeks before. Scouting for sign and traffic through the dense brush, tree stands went up, locations spotted, fields of fire confirmed. I knew the path, but walked slowly seeking the carpet of pine needles for silence. The moon was but a crescent, like the little sliver on the flag above the palmetto. It lends little light, but somehow above the trees it seems to follow, with either a wink or a grin, depending on how you look at it.

Deeper, step by step, I reached to my brow and felt a cut as a reminder. I’d walked this path at the same time two mornings earlier, when there was no moon, to get my bearings. It was just about here, where a forgotten ditch yanked me down, rattling my teeth on landing and pitching me forward off balance. My head stopped me, against a tree. That morning I rolled to the side with a silent curse as the warm blood mixed with the sweat, a taste of iron and salt on my lips. As I lay on my back I heard the sound of a deer snort, then break through the brush. This morning I wasn’t going to make the same mistake and stepped slowly down, patting the tree that cut my head and pulling up to the other side.

The stand was close. A tall hickory was already dropping nuts on the ground. I felt them underfoot then touched the rough bark of the tree. There’s nothing like a nice piece of hickory. I shouldered the shotgun and climbed up, settling into the stand, the tree and the moment. In the darkness all you have are the sounds of the woods, different with the approach of dawn from those of the evening. The light comes gradually and adds another sense. The test is to add neither sound nor movement to that of the awakening world.

A head emerged from a deer track that runs perpendicular to the path running in front of me. Eight points above wary eyes that seem to look both ways. He doesn’t look up. My view is down a barrel aimed just behind his shoulder. The tip of my finger tickles the trigger, a caress like the touch on a nipple.

Behind me I heard a whippoorwill. 


______________________________________________