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Six Generations of Deer Camp Traditions

Nothing says tradition like deer camp. Just ask this old-timer whose hunting party now spans six generations of family and friends ... and sometimes deer. 

When Mr. Raymond Long, 87, hunts the woods of the Atchafalaya Basin south of Baton Rouge, he no longer hears baying hounds, the whump of Winchester Model 12s or the three-peat blasts of a bullhorn signaling a deer for the camp’s buck pole. Still, those sounds remain rich memories more than 30 years after they routinely echoed through the basin’s briars and bayous. The hunting camp itself, however, remains much the same as when his grandfather, Joseph Oscar Long, founded it in 1935 with Mr. Raymond’s father, Rauhman Oscar Long.

The Long family’s deer hunting legacy lives on through Mr. Raymond’s friends and grandchildren like John, Chad and Evan Steib, and great-grandson, Wade, who all live about an hour north of camp near Mr. Raymond’s home in Lottie, La.

Six generations have shaped the Long Camp, which also has embraced women and children throughout its history. Of course, its members must follow camp rules, customs and superstitions. That means no swearing, no hunting before signing in and no wearing hats at the dinner table.

No one questions such rules. The Long Camp’s members cling to their heritage like Spanish moss to swamp oaks. When meeting guests, most members explain their presence by tracing their roots to men who hunted the camp years before. Among those on the camp’s storied rolls are Mr. John Barton, Mr. H.B. “Cotton” Fairchild, Mr. Ramie Fairchild, Mr. Wick Babbin, Mr. Morris “Colonel” Wimbley, Mr. George Connell, Mr. Charlie McKay, Mr. Bert Newsome and son John; and the Piries, which included the father, Mr. Gordon, and sons Gordon Jr., Thomas and Frank.

Notice all those “misters.” Southern culture quietly mandates the title before a respected gentleman’s name, be it his first, last or both. Sure, Mr. Raymond’s grandsons call him “Pa,” but no one calls him just “Raymond” or “Long.”

Just as certainly, the Louisiana lowlands they hunt remain shaped by fabled rivers like the Red, Grand, Mississippi and Atchafalaya. The camp’s first building was actually a houseboat the founders dragged in alongside a government levee that protects the camp from the Atchafalaya’s floodwaters. They towed it at 2 mph with an 8-hp Lockwood-Ash inboard engine, doggedly negotiating the river, bayous and—finally—the Rahma Bar Pit, the moat between the levee and swamplands.

The houseboat eventually sank after settling onto an old cypress stump that punched through its bottom. Undaunted, the hunters salvaged it, pulled it across the pit, and put it up on blocks. In 1961, the houseboat finally gave way to a cabin and inevitable additions. The big cabin and its tin roof have served as the camp headquarters and bunkhouse ever since.

Hounding Heritage
How did the Long Camp’s founders choose this remote setting? After all, even 80 years later the camp remains miles from paved roads and main river channels, and only intermittently within range of cell-phone signals.

“When Highway 190 got built through Lottie in the early 1930s, the men started losing their dogs when cars ran them over,” Mr. Long says. “They soon had enough of that. They moved down to where the cars wouldn’t run over anymore dogs. Dogs were our deer hunting. Some guys would have quit deer hunting if they didn’t have hounds.”

When Mr. Raymond visits camp today, he gets wistful when viewing the long-vacant kennel. Rusted fencing clings to the kennel’s posts of willow logs and railroad ties, which are slowly decaying into the briars, sycamores and inky soil. At its peak, the kennel corralled about 20 howling hounds, each demanding to be among the 10 or so chosen for the next chase.

Mr. Raymond says the competition between dog owners was just as relentless. They never stopped claiming their dogs were the camp’s elites as they waited atop the levee by the old houseboat. There they listened as their hounds ran deer, identifying them by their barks and howls. “There’s old Juel’s dog,” someone would say. Or Cotton Fairchild would announce, “There’s ol’ Fancy,” and shush everyone so they could hear his prize hound.

“Cotton had dogs, Daddy had dogs and Mr. George Connell had dogs,” Mr. Raymond says. “Not many of us had dogs, and not many dogs stood out much, but Cotton sure liked Fancy. Ol’ Fancy: Cotton thought she was the next best thing to the old preacher we had. One time I killed two bucks when Cotton was across the levee from me. Every time I’d get ready to shoot, he’d be over there yelling, ‘Don’t kill ol’ Fancy!’ He wouldn’t have cared if I had shot the rest of them, but don’t kill Ol’ Fancy!”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Raymond shot his first buck over hounds. He was 10 years old and shooting a .410 shotgun. “Before we’d go deer hunting, I’d sit in front of the fireplace, take the buckshot out of an old 12-gauge shell and fill my .410 shells with them,” Mr. Raymond said. “I’d stuff them down in there. They’d hold about five buckshots. I killed several deer with that old .410, yes sir. The first deer I killed was right in front of camp on Bayou Hooper.” (For the record, Mr. Raymond pronounces Bayou Hooper as “by-houpa.” Only Yankees like me pronounce it “by-oo hooper.”)

Mr. Raymond continues: “I heard the dogs coming and heard that buck hit the bottom below me. He was in the water, cooling himself. I eased over to the bank and he saw me about the time I saw him. He wheeled to go back, and I shot him going up the bank. I broke his shoulder, but he crossed over the bayou and another man shot and killed him about 200 yards away from me. The deer had hardly hit the ground and I was over there. I told him, ‘You killed my deer.’ I showed him the broken shoulder. He laughed and said, ‘You sure did.’ He gave me the horns, so I was happy.”

Bayou Memories
When Mr. Raymond later shot his biggest buck—a big-racked 11-pointer—his excitement almost got him killed.

“I was 16, and I took three dogs and put them out on Grand River,” Mr. Raymond says. “They ran out and jumped a buck. I was standing broad open when that deer ran 30 yards from me. My first shot broke his left shoulder, but he crossed the river. The dogs swam after him. They bayed him on the other side and brought him back to me. I shot him again. He ran into the woods and they bayed him across the river again. The dogs were up on the bank and the deer was down on the bank’s edge. I jumped into my boat, ran it up behind him, and shot him in the back of his head.

“That was the biggest deer! I pulled him into the boat and laid him up front because I wanted everyone to see him. I got the dogs in and we started off, but the boat went under and came up half-filled with water. I cut the motor and bailed. After I got the water out, I pulled the deer into the bottom of the boat, got the dogs back in, and went on in. I nearly sank that boat just because I was so proud.”

One of the camp’s most somber stories also involves hounds. Here’s Mr. Raymond’s account: “Mr. Bert Newsome was with the FBI. He was there in Chicago, outside that theater, when they shot John Dillinger. Mr. Bert must have been in his 40s, and his son was about 10.

“Anyway, it was 1950, and Mr. Bert had come down with a bad heart. His doctor told him to stay home and rest. Mr. Bert said, ‘Doc, do you think I’m fixin’ to die?’ And he said no, he wouldn’t say that, but he wanted Mr. Bert to stay home. Mr. Bert said ‘if I’m going to die, I’m going to die in camp.’

“He came down to camp and the next morning we went hunting. I put him on a stand, and in the middle of the morning the dogs came by and he shot twice. I waited about an hour before walking over to see if he needed help with his deer. When I got there I saw him lying on his face. He had dropped dead. The dogs were lying around out there in the woods.

“That was so strange because those Walker hounds never stopped for anything. When you killed a deer, they’d go out and jump another deer and keep going. But this time they all stayed right there. There was also a group of cattle standing there in the woods. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen and experienced. Those animals all knew something was wrong.

“Anyway, I picked up Mr. Bert, put him in the wagon and brought him out. That was really an experience. It turns out, Mr. Bert had killed a deer—a 7-point buck. I never noticed his deer that day. A few days later I went back to look around and found that buck right where the dogs had been. I cut off its horns and gave them to Mr. Bert’s son.”

Summon Them Home
A deer camp with hounds is seldom quiet, and the Long Camp’s hard-working dogs often kept hunting past sunset. “We got a lot of use out of our hunting horns some nights,” says Mr. Raymond.

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1 Response to Six Generations of Deer Camp Traditions

Chad Steib wrote:
October 22, 2013

Thank you Mr. Patrick for writing this amazing story about my families hunting camp! It is truly an honor to be in this magazine.