A hunter’s deer stand is a sacred place, a peaceful fortress of solitude where a man can go to sit quietly and be surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature on a glorious fall afternoon. A place free of all care, worry and disturbance.
But not my deer stand.
For beneath my stand, despite my best efforts and a fluent cussing, the family dog sits, barking and baying at me and alerting every whitetail deer in North America that Michael M. DeWitt Jr. is hunting in this particular stand at this particular moment. Oh, I’ve been tempted to shoot him so many times, and I’ve even had him lined up in my cross hairs with the safety off, but he is the wife’s dog, and I don’t need that kind of heat.
And, about a pine cone’s throw through the woods, lives my neighbor’s donkey, Doc, who is better than any watch dog and waits until that perfect time of day when a deer is likely to step out of the woods and into my little corn-pile-baited trap, and then commences to hollering and carrying on and scaring off all signs of wildlife, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing, apparently.
And then there are the neighbors. Cousin Wilson’s family. They’re my family as well and I love them, of course. And they are also University of South Carolina Gamecock fans.
To say that they are diehard, loyal, bleed-garnet-and-black fans would be an understatement. Every year, just prior to the big rivalry, the USC Gamecock vs. Clemson Tiger football game, they burned a tiger in effigy in the backyard. Stray cats, especially orange ones, say that it’s not safe to travel down that dirt road at any time during the month of November.
They have a pet chicken, Squeaky, that plays with the kids and by all reports is “spoiled rotten” like a favored child. He doesn’t live in the house, I hear, but he comes inside on fall Saturday afternoons to cheer for the Gamecocks on the gridiron.
Even Doc the donkey is a Gamecock fan.
My eight-year-old son and I were sitting in the stand a few weeks ago, sharing a quiet father-son afternoon, each reading a book while waiting on the deer that would never arrive. It was about 6:30, roughly 30 minutes before kickoff of the USC vs.Georgia game, when we started hearing loud, disturbing noises.
At first, it sounded like adult voices crowing. Crowing like chickens. Getting louder and louder, echoing across the pines and the donkey pasture.
“Daddy, what’s that noise?” the boy asked fearfully.
“That’s the Gamecock fans next door. But don’t worry, I don’t think they’ll hurt us. We’re family.”
Nevertheless, the kid took his Clemson hat off and hid it under his chair in the stand.
Then it sounded like the kids were crowing. Then a real, live chicken began crowing.
“Daddy, what are they doing?”
“Son, I think I’ve heard of this kind of thing before. It’s some kind of pre-game ritual. That’s how the Gamecocks have been winning so much the past few years: every Saturday, all across the state, USC fans go outside and start crowing and cackling for good luck.”
“I’ll bet if you could see through the woods with your binoculars, they’re probably scratching and pecking at the ground, too,” I added.
“Daddy, why don’t we Clemson fans do something like that? We could start roaring and meowing like Tigers and get us some good luck before every game.”
“Because we’re too busy tailgating and drinking beer and bragging about all the games we used to win back in the good old days.”
Then, as it drew closer to kickoff time, it grew strangely quiet next door. But moments later the place erupted. The Gamecocks must have scored. I could hear excited adults yelling, kids screaming, and feet stomping – I’ll bet even Squeaky was stomping his little yellow feet and jumping up and down.
The sun slowly sank behind the trees, and with all the deer scared away – they must have been Clemson fans, too – the kid and I trudged back home in the near darkness. The boy was nervous, looking over his shoulder.
“Daddy, are they burning another Tiger over there?”
I looked. It was just a glowing orange Halloween Jack-o-lantern yard decoration.
The Gamecocks must have scored again up in Columbia, because the roaring began anew.
“Daddy, it sounds like they’re having fun. Hey, is it okay if I become a Carolina fan?”
There must have been something contagious in the air back there, drifting over the pines toward our unprotected deer stand and infecting my son. I looked at my child sadly.
“You can be whatever you want to be son. But just don’t tell your mother. It’ll break her heart.”
Squeaky and family roared again, and my kid started chanting, “USC! USC!”
I put my arm around my son, slung my rifle over my shoulder, and we walked on toward the fading sunset. I still loved him.
“It was a good hunt, son. But I’m sure going to miss having you on our team.”