The Warfords are a deer and turkey hunting clan and have been as far back as anyone remembers. All my life I have been hearing deer and turkey hunting stories. As a kid I tagged along on several deer hunting trips but was never present when a deer was killed. My father was in the Air Force and while we visited as often as we could we were rarely in Arkansas during deer or turkey season. We were in Germany from the time I was 13 (1973) until I was 16 (1976). I was home for only one deer season before my grandfather passed away in 1977.
In the winter of 1976 my Pappaw sat my brother, cousin and I along a fence line on the old Griffith place and then let the hound dogs lose on the other side of the woods we were facing. We all heard the dogs coming toward us and then we heard what we thought was a deer moving parallel to us out of sight just inside the tree line. David, Shane and I were cold and frustrated when we headed back to the truck. The day would probably have been forgotten entirely but for an incident on the way back to the truck when a flock of black birds flew too close to our little group. Without one word being said by anyone the sky was suddenly filled with buckshot. That day has since been referred to in Warford family folklore as “the day it rained blackbirds.”
Little did I know that my first deer hunting trip would be my last for almost 40 years. From 1976 until 2006 deer and turkey hunting stories were rarely part of my life. Then in 2006 my oldest daughter, Melissa, married Heath Freeman. Heath is a hunter and comes from a family where women as well as men were hunters. It was not long until he had both of my daughters not only in the woods but killing deer and turkey. It was good to hear deer and turkey hunting stories again. It was after all part of our family heritage.
The girls, especially Melissa have been after me to let them take me hunting. This past week I decided to make time to go hunting. I was counting on what my Pappaw called beginners luck and it showed up big time. We were on the deer stand about an hour when Melissa, who was acting as my guide, spotted a young buck that was not legal. I was watching the young buck when Melissa became very excited. “Dad, dad there is a big buck coming through the woods.” He is going to pop out. Do you see him, do you see him?” She was whispering but very excited and I was staring up and down the tree line, I could see nothing. I was breathing hard and my glasses started to fog up. I told myself, you better calm down or you are going to mess up. You know how to shoot, focus – sight picture, breath control, trigger squeeze. I was calming down but I still could not locate the deer. Finally I realized the deer was to my side almost behind me and my view was blocked by a cedar tree. There was a gap in the cedar tree’s branches where I might have a shot but the deer was going to have to move out a few more steps. He was an older deer and he did not get that way by being reckless. He looked back and forth before he moved as if he were about to cross a busy street. Finally he stepped from the woods right into the only spot where I could have taken the shot. Call it beginners luck if you like but everything went perfect. I squeezed off a shot and the deer bolted down the tree line and out of sight. I was sure I had hit him but he sure did not act like it. Melissa and I ran ten yards or so in the same direction he ran and then we heard a big crash. He had run thirty or forty yards, jumped a brush pile, a fence and fell. I had killed my first deer. It was a nice nine pointer. I think Melissa was as excited as I was. I know my Pappaw would be pleased and I sure was. It was a good hunt. When is turkey season?
Lloyd Warford with daughter Melissa and his first deer.
Kenneth Warford and Sally Warford in her Kitchen
Now my cousins and I called our grandmother, Mamaw, but the whole community called her, Aunt Sally. One cold November morning around 1968, or maybe 1969, I was staying with my Papaw and Mamaw. I was sleeping on the couch and I was awakened by my Papaw stoking the cast iron firebox in the corner of the living room. They were country folk of modest means and they did not have central heat and air. I’m not sure what time it was but I am guessing it was three-thirty or four o’clock in the morning. From where I was laying I could see into the kitchen that my Mamaw was cooking and a half-dozen men were sitting around the table eating. My Papaw said, “Lloyd, there are going to be a whole bunch of people in here in a minute why don’t you go back and lay down in my bed.” I could see one of my uncles, my grandfather and several men I knew from their church. I remembered then that it was the first day of deer season. I wanted to get up but I was so tired and I dozed off for just a little bit. I was startled when another group of men burst through the front door.
One of the men that came in was my cousin, Eddie, as he came in Eddie, shouted, “city boy what are you still doing in that bed don’t you know it’s the first day of deer season.” I got up and I followed the men to the kitchen. I couldn’t believe all the food that was on the table. There were all the normal things she cooked for breakfast, big homemade biscuits, slab bacon, ham, white gravy and my grandma’s specialty rice and chocolate gravy. It was a southern style breakfast feasts but there were other things you did not normally eat at breakfast like mashed potatoes and venison. I think my Mamaw might just have cooked everything she knew how to cook. Over the next hour or so one group of men after another came to the door, some knocked and some just walked in. My grandma greeted them all and offered them a plate. I have no idea how many men came through and ate that morning but I would not be surprised if it was 50 men. Now later in the day I did hear Mamaw tell my Papaw that she was getting too old to cook all night but that morning she insisted everyone eat and everyone did. In fact I am pretty sure her feelings would have been hurt if anyone had not had a full plate of food.
Some men ate and took off but most stayed. They were waiting on something. Some were concerned that it was not long until sunup. Finally a man arrived I knew him as the pastor of Ten Mile Baptist Church. The preacher wasn’t dressed for the hunt and made and excuse that he had some business to attend to that morning. One of the men joked; we ought to cut your shirttail off for missing the first day of deer season. Everyone laughed. The pastor then asked, “will everyone join me in prayer.” The Pastor asked God to bless the hunt and he pray for the safety of the men in our community. There was a hardy Amen all around and they were off.
Regrettably this was the only time I was at my grandparents for the first day of deer season. I don’t know if this was a one-time event or a community tradition. Either way it is a wonderful memory and I am glad I was there. The world has change a lot since 1969. In those days we killed deer we didn’t harvest them. I suspect my Pawpaw would snicker at harvesting deer and figure that was something some city-slicker must have come up with. There were no women on that hunt. Today both my daughters are deer hunters. I would give anything if I could send a text or email to my Papaw with a picture of one of the deer they have killed. I know that would bring my Papaw a great deal of joy.
Papaw Warford and some of my Cousins and Family Friends
Melissa Warford Freeman