Luke Clayton: Back in the day

Outdoors columnist reminisces about his experiences in the wild

Luke Clayton
Daily Light contributor
In this week’s column, Luke reminisces about his life in the outdoors and some of the things he has experienced such as this old abandoned schoolhouse on a remote ranch in New Mexico.
Luke Clayton

Setting in a tree stand last week attempting to harvest a big whitetail buck I’d seen on my trail cameras, my mind began to backtrack over my many years as an outdoorsman. Just how many times since about the age of ten, way back in 1960, had I set in a deer stand waiting for “the big one?” How many hours had I spent in the woods in pursuit of game? Could I calculate the approximate number by estimating how many hunts per year and the average time I spent on stand on each hunt? I soon gave up on this idea and lost myself in thought.

At this stage of my hunting career I am very thankful to still be able to climb up in a treestand or drag a buck out of the woods; I have friends much younger that cannot. Granted, I do both tasks much slower than when I was a young man but I am grateful to have been blessed with all these many years of fine memories.

Approaching age seventy two, it’s a no brainer that my days of hunting from trees or dragging game out of the woods are numbered but being the eternal optimistic, I am making plans to hunt from ground stands a decade from now!

Looking back on sixty years of spending time in the outdoors, I have seen many changes. I thought it might be fun to recap some of the things I remember from bygone days when I was a whipper snapper roaming the woods up in Red River County.

I REMEMBER using my little single shot J.C. Higgins .22 rifle on my first squirrel hunt with my Dad in the late fifties. It was a windy morning and a big fox squirrel was perched on a limb high in an oak tree in the woods behind our house. I timed the swaying of the branch perfectly and shot that squirrel squarely through the head. In retrospect it was a lucky shot but one I will never forget.

I REMEMER riding a Greyhound bus from Dallas to Houston when I was about 13 to hunt deer down in Waller County with “Poppa Dinkins.” I walked into the terminal in Dallas with my trusty 30/30 in a soft gun case with a box of “shells “zipped inside. The driver informed me he would have to stow my rifle in the luggage compartment. Nobody gave me a second look as I walked through the terminal with the rifle.  Now, could you imagine doing this today?

I REMEMBER my dad ordering by mail a British 303 rifle when I was a kid. In a couple of weeks the rifle was delivered by the postman. When I told this to one of my grandsons recently, he stared in disbelief. Oh, he had read about the lack of regulations back in the day but I guess he never thought his old Grandpa actually lived in that era.  

I REMEMBER my first real deer hunt in northern Red River County. My brother in law and one of his friends invited me to join them. I had an old .410 Mossberg bolt-action shotgun loaded with rifled slugs, not the best choice for deer hunting but it was all I had and I was very proud of it. I was positioned at the base of a pine tree with low limbs and instructed to climb up and set tight till dark; “we will come get you” were my only instructions. I’m sure I was squirming around too much for any deer in its right mind to come anywhere near that pine but I was actually deer hunting and felt as though I had been on a safari in the wilds of Africa.

I REMEMBER every seven weeks, when my Dad sold the chickens he raised, we would load up the 1950 International Pickup with trotlines, tarps, cooking gear and bait and head up to southeast Oklahoma near Idabel to camp and fish for a couple days at a lake we called “Long Log Lake“ somewhere near Idabel. Our goal was to get the “lines“ set and catch a mess of channel catfish before dark for a fish fry. I’ve looked for this lake on maps but can only find a lake called “Long Lake“ in the vicinity. I want to take a day soon and go back to explore the area.

I REMEMBER my dad keeping me stocked with “rat shot“ for my .22. When the 14,000 chickens sold he would turn me loose with my rat terrier Pokey to decrease the number of rats that moved from the woods into the chicken houses to eat the spilled feed. One evening my brother in law and I, with Pokey’s help removed a total of 52 rats from the empty chicken houses. This remained our record for several years!

I REMEMBER borrowing a big black and tan hound from Mr. Guthrie to go squirrel hunting. The dog was well-trained but getting a bit “long in the tooth.” He made up in experience what he might have lacked in endurance. Still hunting for squirrels was fun but nothing like hunting with a dog when you went into the woods knowing you would find squirrels. Back in the sixties squirrel numbers were nowhere near what they are today. Once the whitetail deer boon occurred, many hunters’ interest turned from small game to deer. It’s a shame more young hunters today aren’t introduced to squirrel hunting. Wild squirrels in the woods are far different animals from the tame squirrels many of us encounter at city parks or in our yards.

Yes, I’ve seen many changes in the outdoors since my boyhood days. I can truly say that we are currently living in the “good ole days“ when it comes to deer hunting. Deer are plentiful all across the state and opportunities to hunt them abundant. May this lifestyle go on forever!

Our weekly outdoors show, “A Sportsman’s Life” is now available on Carbon TV. You can download the network on ROKU or watch on your device at www.carbontv.com. Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org.