It was in the late forties when Walt & Dean Briggs were looking for a place to hunt deer. The brothers happened into a southern tier farmer who was looking to hunt pheasants and a deal was struck. Six decades later, I’m sitting in a tree stand, overlooking what was once the deer hunting realm of Walt and Dean.
It’s the middle of the first week of bow season and on this day the woodland was damp and wet. It also made for silent footing. For that reason the doe was within twenty-five yards before I was aware of her presence. Trying not to make eye contact, I noticed her tongue was protruding from the side of her mouth. I also thought I heard her grunt. Then I heard a stick snap and the buck bounded from the foliage behind her. His antlers were unique, reaching upward rather than protruding around and outside the ears. I could see why the doe’s tongue was hanging out. Intent on breeding, he had obviously been dogging her for some time. She may have been approaching estrus but was neither ready nor willing at the time. The doe kept moving, the buck right on her tail. They exited the woods, entered a clover field and were soon out of sight.
The next day was almost balmy by comparison, and the deer activity had slowed considerably. The whitetails may have been absent, but the woodland floor was alive with small rodents. Gray squirrels, red squirrels and chipmunks were running about gathering and stashing hickory nuts. Though they are in the squirrel family, a red squirrel’s behavior is sometimes akin to that of a weasel in that they are small and feisty. This day, on two separate instances, I watched a red squirrel in close pursuit of its larger cousin, the gray squirrel.
In my fifty-eight years I had never seen so much squirrel activity in one location. It came as no surprise when I was told one of the locals keeps a pot of Brunswick stew simmering on the stove from October 1 to the end of deer season.
Nearly five hours after I first climbed into my stand, the coyotes began singing. I’ve heard coyotes before, but always at night. On this day they began their serenade before the sun touched the horizon - and it was in stereo. It sounded like there were at least three howling in unison, maybe more. And they weren’t far away.
That evening an owl made its presence known. And unlike the coyotes, he was on schedule. With stars illuminating the nighttime sky, the hooter called out from a tree just the other side of the narrow stream which flows past the camp. The owl’s call was always the same, a single note, deep and sonorous.
On my first overnight to the cabin thirty-eight years ago, I remember the sound of flying squirrels scurrying across the tin roof at night. Walt, Dean and a few friends built that first cabin way back when, working with the materials available. Since that time the cabin has been enlarged, a deck has been added and a new roof put on. You don’t hear the flying squirrels on the roof any more. I’m sure they are still around and I’d be willing to bet the owl knows where to find them.
Walt & Dean have both passed on, but the tradition continues.
The clearing where the cabin sits is now called Whitetail Hollow. As it was in Walt and Dean’s day it serves as a base camp and the numerous antlers and whitetail mounts adorning the cabins interior will attest to decades of memorable hunts.
I’ve enjoyed the times spent at the Hollow, but not for the hunting alone. The football tradition here is storied as its deer hunting history.
The five people who now own the property are also the core group of hunters at the Hollow. And they were, for me, the face of high school football in the sixties.
The Briggs brothers, Jim and Tom, captained two of Danny Van Detta’s Blue Devil juggernauts. Tom in ’64 and Jimmy in ’68.
Buddy Houseknect, who won’t be in camp until mid-November, was recently elected to the Blue Devil Athletic Hall of Fame. Bud captained the ’67 Batavia grid squad.
Playing our home games on Friday nights, we were able to watch Notre Dame High play on Saturday afternoons. On a Saturday afternoon in the autumn of ’66 I saw a halfback wearing number 23 sprint through defenders for a long touchdown. That is my earliest recollection of Jim “Gramps” Fanara. He captained the Little Irish the following year.
Bayne Johnson was both quarterback and captain for the Little Irish in 1959. Bayne went on to quarterback the LeRoy town team of the early sixties. Like Jimmy Briggs, Bayne went on to become a highly successful football coach. Both were elected to the Section V Football Hall of Fame.
Stepping back even further in time, Walt Briggs was no stranger to the grid iron. He too played for Danny Van Detta before going on to excel for the Batavia Essos, a local semi-pro team.
I’ve barely scratched the surface here. But the next time I’m at the Hollow, We’ll throw another log in the wood burning stove, kick back and talk about one of our favorite topics - Pigskins & Whitetails.