‘Bear’ly a Deer Hunter

My weekly column from The Stone County Leader:

“Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning, and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.”

-Bill Bryson
A Walk in the Woods

There it was.

Unmistakable, though I’d never seen one in that context before.

Eyes don’t lie. And with a few buttons pushed here, and a few arrows pressed there, the number four slide on my partner’s game camera jumped out, commanding immediate attention.

She was on all four, big, black, with a massive and burly form that just looked onery. Must have been 400 pounds, and right there not more than a few yards from my hunting spot for this year. The one I’ve been so excited about as I take an all-new adventure into the world of deer hunting.

Immediately, my thoughts turned to the potential headline, likely one my boss would bury on page 5B of next week’s Leader.

Bear Eats News Reporter: Good While it Lasted, the inglorious news likely lining someone’s bird cage a week later.

Ah, the adventures of the great outdoors.

With most of my years spent in the heart of the Mississippi River Flyway, I’ve logged many more hours in a St. Francis River duck blind than in the deer woods. It’s an exciting prospect as opening day approaches this Saturday – my first major investment in pursuing the elusive giant buck. Those days growing up on the St. Francis produced some of the richest experiences a young boy can know, and some of the fondest memories I had with a father who wasn’t exactly Ward Cleaver. Here’s an excerpt from a recent writing about those good times:

•••

When he wasn’t in the duck blind, my dad would sit at a bedroom window for hours, binoculars pointed to the river just a mile and a half west. Duck hunters dream of that magical day when there are so many ducks you can’t keep them off your pond, and the steel of your gun barrel stays hot, no time between rounds.

In those days, you’d find dozens of pickup trucks scattered about Highbanks Landing and the more northerly Jackson’s Landing, hunters having gathered for boat launches oftentimes long before there was enough light to maneuver the tricky river runs. Most could navigate by memory, jumping one log after another and dodging brush along the way. Shooting hours began precisely at sun up, and mallards move early for the day’s first feeding. Run a boat to your blind late between prime shooting hours of six and nine in the morning and you might just find it unplugged and half sunk at the landing tomorrow morning. One of the first rules on the St. Francis River is respect for the other guy.

If you’ve never been there, if you’ve never felt the adrenaline rush that overpowers you when 25 mallard ducks decide they’re coming into your pond, it goes something like this:

Three hundred yards out, a spotter first sees them headed due north. The blind’s designated chief caller, oftentimes an old river veteran in his fifties or sixties, makes his way to the shooting window as he reaches into a camouflaged vest pocket for his long caller. The call, maybe a black P.S. Olt, or a smooth, synthetic Rich-N-Tone, is doubly secured around the caller’s neck with a lengthy cord adorned with duck bands from past hunts. These bands, likely placed around the bird’s leg in the northern nesting grounds, are a research and reporting tool effective only when the hunter harvests the duck and returns the band to the research organization. Many prefer wearing the bands like an Indian bead necklace, each representing the memories of a past hunt and signifying their place within the tribe.

The chief caller takes a deep breath bringing the mouthpiece to his lips and the hopeful long call begins. The long call has a rhythm. A series of loud duck-like calls that grow shorter and closer together as the caller manages his breath with as much perfection as a first- chair trombonist. Almost like a plea of sorts, the long call is loud and imprecise, designed only to get the attention of ducks moving at a distance. Get their attention, and maybe they’ll like what they see. They’ll assess the wind, the pond configuration, decoy pattern, water clarity, and other factors before moving on or breaking for a descent. If he gets their attention, the caller then has a “working” bunch of ducks. Things are serious now, and the beauty of a seasoned caller unfolds.

Instinctively, the mood changes. Hunters give a quick check to their Brownings, Winchesters, and Remingtons. Safety on. Chamber full. Locked and loaded.

There is anticipation in this critical moment when it’s important to read what’s happening outside the blind. It takes years to get really good at this. The chief caller and the spotters now work together watching the ducks work the pond, their necks twisting and turning out the shooting window. The calling changes, now more intentional, more precise, as the ducks assess everything around them and make a final decision about a water landing. This is the moment a seasoned duck caller shows his skill alternating between working calls. There are calls to get the ducks’ attention, others that lure them in, feeding chatters, and a “come back” call for those that want to move on. The pros give the ducks exactly what they want to hear. This can go on thirty minutes or more, and callers frequently become so short on breath they find themselves light-headed.

There is not a memory from childhood more vivid than the clarity of my father’s eyes as he worked a bunch of mallard ducks on a freezing cold St. Francis River day. In those moments, all self-consciousness, issues of self-worth, all his imperfections vanished. Fluid, at ease, and seasoned with experience, he demonstrated complete control, perfect peace.

The call is reduced to the occasional soft chatter now. This is what separates the great duck callers from the good ones. A great duck caller knows when to call, and when to be quiet. Then, it’s in that quiet moment you first hear it. They’re coming in right over the blind. If Dad said it once in that thrilled whisper, he said it a million times. Grab your guns, boys. Get ’em on three …
You hear them before you see them, and the sound is unmistakable. Once a four-pound mallard duck commits to landing on water there is no turning back. With feet extended, body bowed, and wings cupped, the ducks flap wings violently for a soft landing. As they do, the wind whistles across long feathers in increasingly quick repetition. Shew-shew-shew-shew-shew. All movement in the blind ceases and you can hear a pin drop. Guns up. One, two, three!

The purest sportsmen will set their gun sights and pull triggers just before the ducks hit the water. Some prefer allowing the ducks to land, giving them even more time and accuracy for a maximum harvest. Either way, there’s not a moment more thrilling than the sound of wind over wings. It’s rare, but on the good days this scenario may play out six or seven times. They are the days you recount to your grandchildren.

•••

I’m hoping to share a few fireside chats with my own grandchildren from this deer hunting thing.

Here’s hoping not to be a mid-morning snack before a long, winter’s nap.

See you in next week’s newspaper.

(Steve Watkins is a reporter for The Stone County Leader. He is the author of two books, Pilgrim Strong, and The King of Highbanks Road.)

All Things Self Publishing: Join Our Virtual Retreat Oct. 22-25

If you’ve ever thought about self-publishing your own book, but just get overwhelmed at the thought of all that’s involved, and if you’d like to discuss best practices with two seasoned pros who have been in the self-publishing trenches, read on.

Our virtual retreat is scheduled for Oct. 22-25 and we’ll spend two and a half hours each evening speaking directly with participants in an interactive forum covering everything from craft of writing, to audience building, to sales and marketing ,and after the release … what then?

Beth Jusino and I are friends and colleagues. We’ve both authored books on our pilgrimage experiences walking the Camino de Santiago. Beth’s book, The Author’s Guide to Marketing is a fantastic guidebook for all things promotion. She’s a veteran writer, editor and writing coach who launched her career as a literary agent with Alive Literary Agency, and she’s also the author of the award-winning Walking to the End of the World: A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago. Beth has worked as a developmental editor for some of the best authors in the business and counseled dozens of clients as they maneuvered both the self-publishing and traditional publishing realm. She speaks and teaches at the international level.

Check us out on this recent podcast.

I’m a mass communication professional with 25 years experience in the world of journalism, and someone who loves all things self-publishing. My first book, Pilgrim Strong: Rewriting My Story on the Way of St. James won several awards across the country and launched a nationwide speaking tour at 54 locations from the Potomac to San Francisco Bay. My new release, The King of Highbanks Road: Rediscovering Dad, Rural America, and Learning to Love Home Again was an Amazon #1 New Release 10 hours after it debuted just a week ago.

Beth and I love to talk about this stuff and share our experiences! Won’t you join us?

It’s affordable, convenient, and designed to include everyone. There’s even an opportunity for individual consults on your latest WIP, your platform, or even if you just want to talk marketing strategy.

Check us out here, and get signed up today!!!

The King is an Amazon #1 New Release!

My deepest gratitude to all who bought and helped spread the word on our pre-order launch day September 1. With your help and kindness, The King of Highbanks Road been designated an Amazon #1 New Release in not one, but two categories!

But we could still use your help, and this is why.

From now until release on October 1, we’ll give $1 of every book sale to programs created from Sowing Seeds of Hope, a non-profit organization (1999-2014) dedicated to helping rural and farm families with behavioral and mental health issues. Most people don’t know the American farmer is among the most likely of professionals to take his/her own life. Farm life stress can be overwhelming.

Please join us in our mission to spread the word about this historic time in rural America, and to give back to one of the greatest unsung heroes of our nation – the Great American Farmer.

My New Book is Now Available!

Okay friends, this is the BIG DAY. The King of Highbanks Road is now available for Amazon pre-order!!!
This is the day I ask for your help, and hopefully, in return, give something back to you that is meaningful. Let me explain briefly why this day is so important.
Every single sale, especially today, is super important. Amazon rankings can make or break a new book, and I believe we have a legitimate shot at a #1 ranking today. It appears readers are already buying and we’re already moving up the charts, as high as #11 in one category. With your help, we can make this happen, and I’ll tell you why this is important.
It’s not for my sake, or for the pure sake of a ranking, but a #1 book “gets legs” and is all the easier to place in stores, especially across the South and Midwest, where this book really belongs. A #1 ranking will help assure our foot in the door at this stores. So…..
Buy a book for yourself today, and some for your friends, and more for your family. You won’t find a better $17 Christmas gift for a father or a son or someone connected to rural America or the farm. I promise, there’s something in it for everyone.
I’ll report our rankings through the day. We may need a push here and there, so please not only buy, but share this opportunity with YOUR friends and family and ask them to share it with theirs!
Whatever happens, I’m dedicating this day to anyone who comes “from the country,” and especially to the Great American Farmer, the unsung hero of the world.
God Bless, and thank you all SO much. Stay tuned. More to come as the day progresses!!!
Here’s the link:

10 Things I Learned to Love About Home Again

 

As we wrap up the finishing text for The King of Highbanks Road, I reflect on so many things from the experience of putting it all on paper – and how the place I will always know as home has impacted me all over again.

• The art of loafing and sitting around a coffee table with a group of men just shooting the bull, telling tall tales, even a few lies.

•Massive Crock Pot gatherings after church where the food is so good it makes you want to melt, but the older ladies say, “It must notta been fit to eat. They barely touched a thing.” This, although every last crumb was scraped from the bowl.

•The smell of fall. For cotton farmers, this is distinct, unique, and like nothing else in the world.

•Four-wheel drive pickup trucks so tall you need a step side to get in one … and the bird dogs and retrievers that ride in back of them. I recently got one of those trucks for myself.

•Watching the fall migration of Canadas, Snow geese, and mallard ducks navigate the Mississippi River Flyway.

•The sudden power jerk when a 2-pound crappie hits a 12-foot pole, and the battle that follows in the seconds afterward.

•Going out of my way to see the senior members of community families who raised me.

•Listening to the satisfying, nostalgic, mechanical hum of a distant cotton picker in a field miles away as it tries to beat the rain.

•The smell inside the old church where I was raised.

•All those small-town stories, and people, especially the local farmers who for better or worse, shaped me into the man I am today.

-30-

 

Stop the Presses! But Go to 500!

After eighteen months of writing, and a half-year of (ongoing) editing, we’ve set Saturday, October 3 as the release date for The King of Highbanks Road.

There is much to to share. The book’s foreword is set to be authored by a New York

Our hardback and paperback cover.

Times best-selling author at the top of his game. We’ll have some commemorative ceremonies, but more about those things later.

Today, I’m happy to tell you that KOHBR will release as a traditional limited-edition hardback with a 500-volume numbered press run. That means you can get a “one and only.”

So I hope you’ll make plans to buy one one of these signed, limited-edition books now. They will be released for sale in two phases: first at a ceremony in the King’s hometown of Monette, AR; the second phase a few hours later via online order. Hardback copies will sell for $24 each, plus shipping. #1 goes to my mom. #2 goes to my wife. #3 through #500 are up for grabs.

Both unnumbered hardbacks, and paperbacks will also be available via Amazon. The paperback will sell in the $15 range.

I’m also pleased to report there will be an audio version of KOHBR, narrated by yours truly. More to come on that as well.

Stay tuned for future announcements. We’re not finished yet!

Which number will be on your bookshelf???

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Pilgrim Strong Readers: We Need Your Review

Did you read Pilgrim Strong? I could use your help.

We need 36 reader reviews to reach 100. The Amazon gods are saying magical things happen to a book’s visibility at 100 reviews. All our reviews are legit. We’ve never attempted to pad our page with fake reviews for the sake of numbers. But if you”re a reader, and can take a moment to help with an honest opinion, we’d be grateful. You must have an active Amazon account in good standing. Here’s a sample, and thank you!

In Case You Missed It — Wendi Lou Lee

Join me this Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 2 p.m. CST for the premier of my social media livestream news magazine, In Case You Missed It.

This week we’ll visit with actor/author Wendi Lou Lee, who you may better recall as Baby Grace from Little House on the Prairie. We’ll visit with Wendi about her career as a young actor, an extraordinary turn of events in her adult life, lessons learned from Little House, and a wonderful book she’s authored titled A Prairie Devotional.

Watch for our interview Wednesday at 2 CST. Set your VCR or Beta Max or whatever you have to do!

And subscribe to our email newsletter to keep up with all the upcoming shows and breaking news!