It was my second year cooking for the Texarkana Hunting Club. The club's deer lease encompasses several hundred acres of wooded ridges and bottom lands and extends partially south of and adjacent to Hwy 287 in Nevada County, Arkansas. (between Hope and Camden)
I looked forward to being the camp cook again that particular hunting season. Maybe it was because I added just enough spice and Cajun seasoning to the foods I prepared the year before that prompted a re-invitation to be their camp cook again.
The challenge I faced that year was to prepare hearty dishes from the game bagged on the hunting lease...which was mainly deer and wild pigs. This challenge was met head-on and no one went hungry on my watch.
I arrived at the deer camp around noon on a Friday. My time that afternoon was spent getting settled-in at the bunk house, taking inventory of the galley provisions, and getting reacquainted with friends I had met at the camp the previous year.
All afternoon the hunters trickled in at the camp to set up for the following opening day. One of the hunter's age was 84, but if I had to guess the average overall age of the members, it would be around fifty.
I had to awaken early enough the next morning to prepare breakfast for everyone; early enough so that the hunters could eat a hearty meal and still have enough time to take positions at their respective blinds or tree stands.
This meant getting up at 4 o'clock every morning. In most cases I could have everything prepared within one to one and one half hours. After all the hunters left, I would clean the galley and go back to the bunk house to get a couple more hours sleep before preparing the afternoon meals.
It was Saturday, November 11, 2006. It was also Veteran's Day.
Everything progressed smoothly that first morning. I had the hunters in and out in less than a couple hours before ambling back to my bunk house to listen to the morning news and eventually get some more shut-eye. I had a special treat in mind to cook-up for the sportsmen for our Veteran's Day supper so I would need lots of rest.
That afternoon, while in the galley peeling potatoes, I heard a small commotion outside the building. I went outside to check it out and I noticed a couple hunters. They had just arrived at the camp. I didn't recognize them from the year before so I naturally assumed they were invited guests.
I took particular notice of the less tall of the two hunters because of the way he interacted with the other hunters, most of whom he had never met before.
He was gregarious to say the least. Although he was of a smaller stature, he strutted around like he was ten feet tall, in full hunting regalia, (just shy of a Gillie suit), and exuded more self-confidence than a rogue porcupine.
He could tell a story and spin a yarn that would make Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn green with envy. His name was Gage Paul Wylie. He liked and wanted to be called Gage Paul by the other hunters in the group. He was proud of his name.
That evening I prepared a hearty meal for the hunters. The main course consisted of chicken fried venison back strap with mash potatoes and gravy. I noticed Gage Paul tearing into his fair share. He acted like he needed to store as much energy as he possibly could in preparation for the following day's hunt.
While the other hunters gathered around to talk about old times and drink beer, I noticed that Gage Paul wasn't particularly interested and made his way back to his travel trailer to get some early rest, I supposed.
It wasn't long after that when I also made my way to the bunk house to get some shut-eye of my own. It was tough enough under normal circumstances for the cook to get some sleep, let alone jaw boning with a group of hunters who had another year's worth of tall tales, light beer and football under their hats.
I awakened at 4 PM the next morning to prepare breakfast. (scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy). Everyone was in and out in about one hour.
"Doing good!" I thought to myself.
I cleaned up the galley and went back to bed and before long I was getting some peaceful rest. There was no one around... just pure silence... the perfect setting for peaceful sleep.
I don't remember what I was dreaming about that particular morning, but it wasn't about tall tales, football or bagging deer.
Suddenly! Out of the peaceful silence and sweet dreams, I heard this voice. It kept repeating itself and getting closer and getting louder.
"I killed two!"
I heard it again. "I killed two!"
I remember jumping up from the lower bunk, where I slept, and nearly knocking myself out when my head hit the top bunk. I couldn't find my glasses. (not good for a near-sighted cook)
I bent over and closely examined the alarm clock on the bed stand and it said 8:30. It was still dark in the bunk house.
At that point I didn't know if it was in the A.M. or the P.M.-- I was totally confused.
Don't laugh. You should try thinking strait when it's dark and you can't see in the first place... and with a knot on the head that you feel is slowly growing by the minute.
I found my specs and finally figured out that it was still morning. I figured I got almost exactly one and a half hours of sleep. Imagine that!
I slipped on my overalls and made my way to the door to see what all the excitement was about. As soon as I opened the door there he was--Gage Paul Wylie.
"I killed two!", he shouted; "just fifteen minutes apart!", he added.
There he was... Gage Paul Wylie... a bit loquacious, in my opinion, and now a whole lot on the braggart side.
He touted his weapon of choice -- a 243 rifle like a gallant warrior after his first exhausting battle with the enemy.
So, Gage Paul bagged two whitetail deer in fifteen minutes on the first day. Big deal! Right?
For Gage Paul it was a big deal. It was a big deal because the sharp, self-confident, nonchalant, keen eyed whitetail deer hunter was only 9 years old.
As a well known radio commentator loves to conclude: "now you know the rest of the story." But, not quite.
When I was composing this story I couldn't help but think that perhaps there were other nine year old hunters, like Gage Paul, who bagged two deer in just fifteen minutes; that perhaps there were other nine year old hunters who have a good story to tell.
But, the amazing thing about this story is that on that faithful morning in November of 2006, a day which I will always remember, was the day when Gage Paul Wylie participated in his very first deer hunt.
Nine year old Gage Paul Wylie of Cabot, Arkansas stole the show that day as he out shined, probably for several more years to come, all of the other deer hunters in the hunting club.
He had been accompanied by his grandfather, Roy. As Gage Paul repeated his story to the other hunters who trickled in that afternoon, one of the older hunters asked, "Gage Paul, how many times do think you need to tell that story?"
Gage Paul responded by saying, "As many times as it takes. I just wanted you all to know that you may have won the battle, but my papaw and me...we won the war."
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