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Smoke School Stories
Road Kill - The Thurdy Point Buck- Our trip to Chetek Northwest Wisconsin Smoke School
Yet another smoke school story from the desktop of George Artie "Butch" Whitlow and Whitlow Enterprises
I'm A deer hunter. How do you do? I've got this deer hunting tail for you. He was eight foot tall and weighed one thousand pounds. So beautiful, so dutiful. Created by God just for outdoor magazine.
Billy Bob, Bubba and I pulled Big Bertha and the Phantom 309 smoke machine into the Kingfisher Resort on March 29, 2004. I grew up on Southern Hospitality coming from the small north Louisiana town of Monroe. But Wisconsin hospitality was like something I have never ever witnessed. Bob and Lois Hartman treated us like Kings. When we checked into our CCC built wooden cabin, they had the fishing bait, minnows and maggots, or as Lois called them flatworms -- maggots. They had the bait lined up in the common day room for all of the campers and cabin dwellers. They took us out to fish in their pontoon boat. All five of us fished comfortably for three hours. I guess we caught maybe 75 crappie. Well I grew up calling them white perch. Folks form south Louisiana call them Saco late. They were about hand size, depending on who's hand you were holding. I recon they weighted about a third of a pound. In Woolen Lake where I fished most of my life in Hebert, Louisiana, the same fish weighed over a pound and were about 6 or 7 inches across. Maybe it was the DDT from the yellow by-winged crop duster converted from a World War Two airplane. The plane routinely flew across the lake to spay the cotton crops so the farmers could get them in before the cotton balls could get rotten. You just can't pick very much cotton when those cotton balls get rotten. I just remember the white perch were huge, and so were the bass. Dove hunting was excellent along the goat weed fields along the edge of the cotton field. In north Louisiana the town of Hebert would be pronounced "HE- Bert". In south Louisiana they would pronounce it "A- Bear" and that is a fact Jack.
The cabins were just great. They were rustic but well maintained. The cabins were fully equipped including bedding, clean towels, pots and pans, stove, and barbeque pits. They don't have television, in the cabins which maybe a blessing. They cost about as much as a single motel room, very reasonable. Ours had three bedrooms and three double beds. I chose the bedroom that was actually on the back screened in porch. It was almost like sleeping outside but you had a nice comfortable bed instead of that old hard sleeping bag on the ground, or the cot in the tent. I do prefer beds, although I can sleep just as well standing up and teaching the lecture of a smoke school. I can sleep pretty well sitting on the passenger side of Big Bertha, the one-ton van we use to haul around the smoke machine, the Phantom 309, across the nation. The night turned a little cold so I bundled up. The first urge hit me about daylight and it was a cold damp trip to the screen door. I could not wait to get back under that huge pile of cover. The cabins are not winterized and they close them down from October to May.
The Hartman's took us fishing in their pontoon boat. They provided us with bait, fishing rods, drinks, and great conversation. Heck, they even baited my hook a few times. I was looking at my nicotine stained fingers while holding a Winston. I thought in my head. A few seconds ago this hand was threading a fish hook through a maggot. The Winston just did not taste just right. I wonder why.
After we finished fishing at dark, Bob filleted the fish. The lodge offers a dock, boat landing, rental boats and motors, and a fish cleaning house. Bill and I cooked up some chicken, sausage, and shrimp jambalaya for the five of us to eat. You just don't see many lodge owners who takes you fishing, baits your hook, filets your fish and then sit down at the picnic table eating supper with you. In fact I usually don't filet white perch. I usually take a spoon and remove the scales, then gut the fish, fry them up and eat them. I reserve filleting to catfish and redfish or speckled trout I catch in the salt in Florida, Georgia, or Venice, Louisiana.
The next day, we got the Phantom 309 smoke machine setup for the school early and we wanted to set out for some sight seeing. Bob said there was an elk farm not far from the lodge. For a thousand dollars or something, you can set up in the woods between the soybean field and the cornfield and shoot a genuine elk. The only Elk I ever seen had their heads poked through a wall over a fireplace. We found the 10-foot fence designed to keep in the elks and keep the hunters out. However, someone had broken down about 30 yards of the fence where it went across a soybean field. We supposed the elk had gotten out and tried to survive in the wild. Or maybe a black bear ate them, who knows. Anyway we abandoned the elk hunt and photo mission and headed on down the road passing cow pastures, cornfields, soybean fields, and woods looking for a cranberry patch that Bob had told us about. You can pick your own cranberries.
Catherine and I owned a you-pick blueberry farm back up in Baton Rouge. We sold blueberries under the honor system. You pick your berries, you weigh them, write us a check and mail it in. They even showed our farm on Channel 9 News watch. I loved it. It was a huge tax write off. Farming is the only business I am aware of where you can claim a loss every single year without limits. Every time I built a tree stand, the materials were a tax deduction and so was my Massey Ferguson tractor I used to haul the deer across the beaver pond to the kitchen table. One year I planted soybeans but the deer ate them all when they were 3 inches high.
I fell asleep in the passenger seat of Big Bertha as we were heading for the cranberries. Bubba woke me up when I heard him say, "There is a dead deer in the ditch?"
I said, "Where?"
I opened my eyes and saw a ford minivan with a crumpled fender and a broken headlight parked dead still in the right hand lane beside us. I got out. The woman was obviously going to a wedding with her two older children. Well they were nearly grown. The back of the van was filled with presents all neatly wrapped. She wanted to put the deer in the back of the van. I wanted that deer. I haven't had a place to hunt, not really since we sold the blueberry farm and moved up here to Indiana so Catherine could take care of her ailing parents. Smoke school takes up just about all of my time and when I am home, I like to spend quality time with Heather, my 12 year old. I have had a few packs of deer meat that friends in Crossett, Arkansas gave me. Bring some to your next smoke school. I love it. If you have a place to hunt when we are in your neck of the woods, let me know.
I estimated the deer was trying to maneuver across the road form the soybean field to the cornfield. They had planted each right up against the white line on the two lane country road. I ain't never seen so much fat on a deer. We cut three inches of fat off the meat. It sure was tender. They say they have to fatten up to survive the winter, because there just ain't much to eat other than twigs when you have 15 inches of ice and snow on the ground.
The lady was on the cell phone first with her husband and then with the insurance company, and then the sheriff's office. She was crying and panicking all at the same time. I told the lady she would end up with 20 pounds of blood all over the back of the van with those wedding presents. She said we could have the deer. He was a beauty. I guess he weighed 300 pounds, a perfect 11 point buck. We put some bisqueen down in the back of Big Bertha and loaded that mother up. I ain't never seen such a deer so heavy in my life. We had to go down to the nearest sheriff office to get a road kill tag.
Bubba said he wanted the horns. His uncle killed a Boone and Crocket 20-point Buck last year across the Wabash River not far from here in Illinois. I think I need to start hunting with Bubba's uncle.
Even the female sheriff deputies were very hospitable. Garrison Keeler, a Prairie Home Companion, from St. Paul, Minnesota calls the people up there, God's Frozen People. He may be right, The first time we conducted smoke school in Milwaukee just before Christmas, the chill factor was minus 37 degrees below zero. It was colder than a well diggers ass in China. Could be the cold that makes people worm up so fast when they meet a stranger.
The deputy asked me where we found the deer, then she remembered the lady in distress who called to report the road kill. The deputy said we picked up the deer in another county and that we would have to go to a different sheriff office to get a tag. I explained to her that back home in Louisiana, I wouldn't think twice about hiding that deer in a sleeping bag in the back of a picking up truck. I just wanted to be legal. It did not matter to me where the tag came from or who signed it. But the bottom line was the deer had been dead over an hour and it needed to be skinned. Such a waste to let it rot on the side of the road. She agreed and put the tag on the deer.
We hung the deer on a skinning rack in the barn at the lodge. Bob let us use the knives and the meat saw. My favorite way to eat deer is cut it up in cubes, all of it. Roll it in salt and flour and fry it up with rice and gravy. Uuuuum yuuuumm. We fried up a batch of tenderloin back strap that very night. Boy let me tell you what. That sure was good. It was so tender you could eat it with your fork. You did not need a knife.
The next day we had the smoke school, trained about 30 people and everybody passed and they loved the fresh white perch that we caught right there on the lake. Most people say their favorite part of smoke school is the fish we cook. Some like the stories I tell to keep myself from falling asleep while I am giving the smoke school opacity certification test. Some just like the atmosphere which always reminds me of the first week of deer camp. All these fine people sitting in yard chairs under a picnic shelter watching smoke, laughing, listening to stories, and basically having fun. Some just like how simple and honest we make the test. What ever it is, it works. We are growing by leaps and bounds. Thank you very much Jesus. And thank you for coming and for keep coming back year after year.
We made it back to Indiana with most of the deer. I had been having trouble with my freezer. I had lost fresh Florida Shrimp, Louisiana crawfish tails and the Ed Lundergan's garden raised sweet corn. Oh -- without a doubt my favorite dish is fresh sweet corn on the cob. Ed Lundergan is Catherine's daddy and she and he both were raised on the 180 acres of corn in southwest Indiana.
I did not trust my freezer. So I rented a freezer drawer with the help of my Amish friend, Sharon Yoder, who makes all of the peanut brittle we pass out at the smoke schools during November and December. She cooks all of the brittle on a propane burner. The Amish don't use electricity as we know it, so they have a community freezer in every neighborhood within a quick black buggy ride. I rented the drawer inside the walk-in freezer for $8 a month. It was almost as cold in that freezer as it was the first time I set foot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I shivered.
Road kill. I'm a deer hunter how do you do. My momma started taking me deer hunting when I was 4 years old. We hunted along the levees of the Mississippi River near Ferriday, Louisiana the home of Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Mickey Gilly. My grandfather, Roddy White, leased the land for his logging company. He used the three roomed tin, dirt floored building for a logging camp for a while, and then we used it for a deer camp. Roddy's Model Tee engine worked great for a generator. Roddy believed in giving the deer a fighting chance. He rode a quarter horse and trailed the deer with a pack of about 30 blue tick, walker, and redbone hounds with long floppy ears and black cold noses. My first gun was plastic and it shot ping pong balls. I reckon I shot about 30 deer and one bear with that gun.
I remember one particular hunt when I was about nine. Roddy put me in an old leaning ladder tree stand. It seems it was colder in Louisiana back then and it wasn't long before my fingers were frozen and hurting. Especially in the dark before daylight. By about 9:00 my fingers and toes were hurting so bad, I broke the cardinal rule and left the deer stand. The dogs jumped and ran the other way. I was waling along the old logging road through the woods when I came upon about 100 deer having a feeding frenzy on acorns in a pen-oak flat. Roddy gave me an old 410- 22 caliber over and under for my birthday and he taught me how to shoot it. My fingers were so cold I couldn't pull the trigger. Half of the deer were thurdy pointers. I never will forget it. I can still hear those deer popping acorns in my head. That would have been 1957. "You ain't Nothin But a Hound Dog" was on the radio then. And Elvis was the king.
After we lost the lease on that camp to the Glascock Island hunting club, we started hunting closer to home at Five Points, on Castor Creek by the CCC water well, in Caldwell parish Louisiana off Louisiana Highway 4 between Columbia and Chatom. Back then the land all belonged to Olin and International Paper and it was all open hunting, no posted signs. After the land leasing and posted signs, hunting just hasn't been the same. We liked to hunt the hardwoods in the bottom land but the deer liked the cutovers. They had a few years of drought. I guess when we stopped running dogs, things just went downhill. We built tree stands and put out corn feeders and did more sitting and watching rather than deer hunting. Many years we ended up feeding on coon, squirrels, posem, rabbits and fresh road kill. Gary Watts, the local game warden felt sorry for us and brought us all the road kill he could find. We even called the camp the Road Kill Hunting Club. We moved the camp form place to place close to Kelly, Jena, Olla, Hootersville, Pistol Thicket, Holum, and Old Bethel Church. We even rented a house one year up around Winnfield in the Kisattchie National Forest. It just never was the same after we quit using dogs. Well, times they are a changing. These are the good old days. And that is the story.
Photos, click the link to see photos. Hit your back button to get back here.
Wisconsin Bait shop and the biggest bass I ever seen
Bubba and me under the big bass
Billy Bob, Bubba, and Bob Hartman getting the pontoon boat in order
Bob Hartman smiles
Lois Hartman smiles
Bob Hartman getting our fishing gear ready Picture 1
Bob Hartman and the pontoon boat
Bob Hartman driving the boat
Me fishing and sleeping at the same time. This is a self portrait, I took it myself. Now that is talent.
Me snoring and fishing
Me, loose strap well LSMFT
Me, Good ole Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola, and ice cold beer fishing
Bubba fishing on pontoon boat
Spray behind the pontoon boat
Our cabin on Kingfisher Resort
Billy Bob catches deer with fishing pole
Billy Bob and Bubba catch deer with fishing pole
Thurdy pointer with road kill tag on horns
Road kill stamp
Chetek Wisconsin smoke school
This is the typical crowd at a Whitlow smoke school
Motor Cycle Momma and boyfriend eating catfish at smoke school
Motor Cycle Momma and boyfriend ready to saddle up and ride back to Green Bay
Catfish feast at Chetek Wisconsin smoke school
Catfish feast on a Wisconsin creek bank
Road kill porky- pine- we did not eat this. This was the first time I ever seen a porky-pine
more smoke school stories and fire side chats
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