Then in year 2002

Located in Leake County where the Tuscolameta River empties into the Pearl River about five miles outside Carthage, Tuscolameta Hunting Club is a multiple-use, 4,000-acre camp offering its 60 members a broad array of hunting, fishing, camping and swimming activities. Among the game pursued are deer, turkey, duck, squirrel and coon as well as great fishing in the nearby waterways. A $25 bounty is paid also for coyotes.

But make no mistake about it: It's the dog days of fall that most members of this camp live for. These members love "them dogs" so much one unnamed member even gave one dog that had nearly drowned mouth to mouth resuscitation!

I had been invited to this camp by Louis and Courtney Guichett who had stopped by our magazine's booth at the Wildlife Extravaganza. Louis is also active with the Magnolia Retrievers Club, and Courtney is a longtime Texas hunter.

Camp President Ricky Bradshaw and his wife Stephanie graciously set up their camper right beside the main camp house for my stay, which put me close to the outdoor fire pit where large logs light up the dark skies each night, and many tall tales are told and hilarious pranks pulled. There is also a second camp site a few miles away called "The Annex," where several more campers/trailers are parked.

Operating under the state DMAP guidelines (6-point) and an 85-pound doe minimum weight, the surrounding woods come alive with heart-pounding excitement when Dogmaster Danny Torrence turns loose his beagle/walker crossbreeds on opening day of the season. If the sound of those hardy howls and bawling bays doesn't light your fire, then your wood's wet! Rusty Harris also ran some dogs.

I had signed up for one of the camp's 52 stands (which are each set up a safe 0.2 mile apart) on opening morning, which starts at 4:30 a.m. on a first-come basis. When I walked inside the cabin, I heard pots and pans banging, and found several early birds chomping eagerly on biscuits with sausage or figs and gulping down large mugs of hot coffee. The outside temperature was 25 degrees with a light northwest wind under clear skies.

Ray Harrington took a nice doe on that opening day, plus several large bobcats were also shot, but no one took a buck.

Tom and Vonda Dickson cooked a large vat of hot chili for the camp lunch and then topped that off with cream banana pudding for dessert. Tom is the camp's secretary/treasurer and Mike McGraw is vice president and camp manager. Each day, my gracious neighbors, Frieda and Obie Germany, kept me supplied with hot coffee and homemade pecan pie.

Afterwards, a large camp meeting was held before everyone went back out for the afternoon hunt. Ricky and I set up on a shallow slough finger, but didn't see a "shooter."

That night and each night, the members all gathered around the huge fire pit, fellowshipping and spinning yarns.

The work load at Tuscolameta is divided among its many members with food plots and workdays handled by Paul Warren; David Young oversees the shouting house; Greg Bradley handles the DMAP and turkey issues.

Now in year 2007

Now fast forward to today's Tuscolameta Hunting Club, which has made some radical changes since my first visit in 2002. I revisited the club during an October work day, and met the new officers - President Tim Rester, Vice President Craig Jurey and Secretary/Treasurer Mike McGraw - along with several other members in attendance to work on roads, fields, plots and stands under the guidance of Mark Scaradina, who headed up the work crew.

A long drought had left the dirt roads with 4 to 6 inches of dust atop them, and the dust had also coated the dry leaves on the roadside trees with a thick layer of brown. Streambeds that were normally filled with clear water were dry and cracked, hard as concrete.

Nevertheless, the enthusiastic work crew labored steadfast with their appointed duties as they moved from place to place.

I learned from the new leadership that all hunting dogs were banned from Tuscolameta Hunting Club, which was now on a new "big buck" program that called for a buck to have at least 6 points and a minimum weight limit for both bucks and does of 85 pounds.

During my stay, I rode an ATV all over the camp to watch the various work crews going about the business of getting the camp ready to function come opening day. I was impressed by the good attitudes and hard work all the crews had that day as I moved about from field to field and stand to stand. I didn't spot any "slackers" anywhere, and several times would find the various crews several fields ahead of where I tried to intercept them for photos.

I was also impressed by the new "Operations Guide," which is probably the best rules guide I have ever seen at any camp. In today's lawsuit-happy environment, other camps would do well to emulate this concise eight-page document, which, without being verbose, covers many acts of members and/or their guests that I had never given any thought to, but which do need to be addressed in writing by the camp. Some of the more interesting were:

• Physical acts of violence on another person (several examples described) are not tolerated. The person doing such on camp property no matter the reason will receive an immediate suspension and require immediate departure from the premises.

• Other acts that would require review by the club officers include stealing or moving a member's stand, habitual rules violations, carrying game from camp without properly recording for DMAP and/or not paying appropriate fines for illegal deer.

• Members should at all times be considerate of other members and adjoining landowners, and at no time should a member venture onto a neighbor's land without permission.

Based upon my recent visit, I predict the future of Tuscolameta Hunting Club to be very bright, and look forward to a return visit during the upcoming deer season.

For autographed copies of Mississippi Hunting Camps ($81) or Tales of Old Rocky Hill ($18), mail check/money order to: Bill R. Lea, P. O. Box 321023, Jackson, MS 39232.

To schedule Lea to visit your hunting camp, call 601-502-4720 or email billrlea@yahoo.com.