Hicks uses the woods behind his rural Carrrollton, Ala., home for target practice.
The wind had Ricky Hicks wondering.
It was cold, as dawn hadn’t arrived in the central Alabama woods. The shooting house was creaking and groaning in the blustering winter wind, old pieces of tin clanging and scraping against each other. Like most hunters, Hicks wanted to hear squirrels and birds start going about their everyday lives, reassuring him that he was undetected.
“We built that (shooting) house with any old material we could find,” says the 39-year-old owner-operator from Carrollton, Ala. “I couldn’t hear anything else that morning.”
Hicks grew up around hunting and trucking and he has never strayed far from either. Both of them are a way of life for him.
Hicks had reached the house at 5 a.m. on a morning close to the freezing point. When dawn arrived at 6:15, he was looking out over woods that he had scouted a few days earlier with buddy Ben McDaniel, who was in another shooting house not far away. Hicks’ shooting house looked straight down a ridge, which fell steeply into hollows on either side.
“We knew there were bucks there, somewhere. We’d found a lot of paths and the scrapes they leave behind to mark their territory, and we found damage they’d done with their antlers in the brush,” recalls Hicks. “I saw some does just after sunup, then nothing. Then I saw a deer coming up the ridge. It was 300 yards away and behind all sorts of cover. All I could see was the shape.”
The loose tin kept rattling in the wind, but the shape kept moving behind the cover of the trees. “I couldn’t tell if it was a doe or a buck or even how big it was,” says Hicks. “But when it got to one of the scrapes, I guessed he was a buck looking for his does. He was stamping his feet and shaking his head. He kept coming up the ridge, but I still couldn’t see him clearly.”
Hicks raised his Savage 300, trying to find signs of antlers in the scope. That’s when the icy wind helped him. “The buck smelled the does and he just took off. The minute he moved there was no doubt he was a buck, he was big and had a nice rack, that’s all I knew,” Hicks says. “I was aiming and moving with him but the rifle barrel hit the post on the corner of the shooting house. I had to pull it down and aim again, and man, was he moving.”
Hicks knows these woods extremely well. Carrollton was where he was born and he began hunting when he was barely a teen. A lot of the hunting was not for trophies, but for food. To this day, with the help of McDaniel, he processes much of what he kills.
Carrollton was where Hicks learned to drive a truck, too. “Daddy drove anything up to about 300 miles out,” he recalls. “In the summer my job was to go with him and help with whatever he was hauling, whether it was mail, a van or a flatbed.
“I probably wasn’t 14 years old when I’d hear him coming home and I’d run out and he’d get out of the tractor in front of the house. It was my job to turn it around and back it up – no matter what the load was or what sort of trailer – so he’d be ready to go in the morning.”
Hicks went straight to work as a trucker, pulling flatbeds, mostly out of the Southeast and the Carolinas into Texas. “I could swing through this way and stop at the house and see my wife and my girls,” he says. “But when they got a little older I wanted to be home with them.”
So Hicks began hauling logs. These days his most valuable skill is loading so he’s just underweight and his axles aren’t over. He uses his eye to assess different-sized lumber on ground that ranges from muddy to rock hard. His 1993 Peterbilt 377 works weekdays when it’s not raining out in timber country.
Hick’s family shares his love of hunting. His daughters, Jessica, 12, Ashley, 10 and Meagan, 9, often go with their parents on hunts and are eager to hunt on their own as soon as they can. His wife, Lori, took up the sport when Hicks bought her a Browning 270. He privately admits to buying it so he could use it, only to find Lori was a natural with it. Two of Lori’s trophies hang in the living room – a seven-point buck and a largemouth bass.
On another wall is the buck Hicks killed that cold, windy winter morning. “He was going so fast, I fired just as he got to the edge of the ridge, about 100 yards away,” he remembers. “He just crashed off out of sight. There’s a bluff there, it’s a straight drop down. I kept the scope on him but I couldn’t tell. But I found him; he was right where he fell.”
Hick’s trophy was an 11-point, typical buck that weighed 200 pounds. It made the Alabama Whitetail Deer Association’s record book with a rack score of 162 5/8th.
Hicks was so elated he let his pickup slide in the mud and snag a ditch. He had to go back to Carrollton for a ride to pick up the trophy. “I was so happy and so proud,” says Hicks. “I had to show that buck to my girls. I just had to. So on the way home I went by their school, backed the pickup up and went and tapped on the windows so they’d come see.”
Montana — top
Wyoming — bottom
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Where Montana meets Wyoming is one of America’s biggest parks, with big game hunting, upland bird and waterfowl hunting, fishing (including world-class trout), boating and canoeing, mountain biking and hiking.
And one other plus: you can drive you rig in and park it, using it as your own little vacation home. Of course you have to be bobtailing, because no working commercial vehicles are allowed in the giant 70,000-acre park.
The 70-mile long Bighorn Lake is host to walleye, trout, sauger, perch and rainbow trout. If you love fly fishing, you can find streams with brook, rainbow and brown trout, and if you love winter, there’s ice fishing on the south end of the lake.
This National Recreation Area provides views that can take your breath away and a variety of wildlife you will see inside few parks. The park was set up after the construction of the Yellowtail Dam that harnessed the waters of the Bighorn River.
Some parts of the park are open year round, some only in the summer. As with any of Truckers News destinations, we suggest you contact the park in advance. The main office number is (406) 666-2412. The park is a great buy, at $5 a day or $30 for a yearly pass.
How to get there: The north entrance to the park is at Fort Smith, MT. I-90 to Hardin, MT, then Hwy 313 40 miles south to entrance. The south entrance is near Lovell, WY. From 14A go north on Hwy 37 nine miles to entrance. Also accessible via U.S. 310 from Billings, MT, or U.S. 14A from Sheridan, WY. The north and south ends of the park are not connected by road.
Cruise Cajun Country Swamps
Louisiana’s ancient wetlands are a sportsman’s paradise
After driving through Northern ice and snow, the swamps of southern Louisiana can provide you with some warm family-style relief and face-to-face contact with some of America’s most unusual outdoor life.
And the chance to fish for unusual species, canoe through ancient land and maybe hunt gators.
But if it’s civilization rather than backcountry you want, there’s always fabled cities like New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette with their jambalaya, shrimp and gumbo, and of course there’s always jazz, blues and zydeco music to keep you jumping.
Many of the areas you can venture into are Spanish moss-draped, fragile ecosystems that are very little changed from the way they were in the days before Columbus reached the New World. You can find yourself lost among the alligators, snakes, egrets, herons, Cajun villages and Indian burial mounds. Black bear, red wolf and deer can be seen on occasion too. You might also find your way into the swamps of Barataria, where legend has it that pirate Jean Lafitte, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans who used it as a hideout, buried some of his plunder.
The watery land around New Orleans is so low that only one place in America is lower – Death Valley – and makes the city virtually an island. For fishermen, Louisiana is indeed, as the state license tags say, a sportsman’s paradise. You can catch bluegill, redear sunfish, largemouth bass, warmouth, alligator gar, flathead catfish, freshwater drum, and buffalo fish.
A company called Louisiana Swamp Tours offers everything from airboat tours to fishing trips for redfish and speckled trout in traditional Cajun backcountry. And if you want take a whole lot of family or some fellow drivers, they also have a big party boat that cruises these ancient wetlands.
Cypress Swamp Tours is based in a working Cajun fishing village, Bayou Segnette. Captain Nick’s Wildlife Safaris offers you the chance to fish either in the bayous and swamps or to sail out from the marshy coastline into the Gulf of Mexico for some of the bigger stuff.
If you go to Alligator Bayou you can see a green, moss-draped alligator swamp, a 700-year-old cypress tree with five-foot-tall knees (root above the water), and the spectacular Cypress Flats, a lake of lightning-burned cypress trees teeming with egrets, herons, ibis, cormorants and hundreds of bird species migrating along the Mississippi River flyway.
Dr. Paul Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tours provides ecologically themed tours of a rare piece of the swamp, a place also accessible by other tour companies. Honey Island, named for its honey bees, is 20 miles by five miles of bottomland timber barely touched by man.
There have been numerous reported sightings of a Bigfoot creature in these swamps, several in
the Honey Island area. Some witnesses claimed he was about seven feet tall and somewhere around 350 pounds.
Many of the tours give you a chance to dance – sometimes to traditional Cajun zydeco music. But if you want to hunt gators, come in September. It’s the only season.
For information on Louisiana and on tourism in the state, log on to Louisianatravel.com or Louisiana.com on the Net.
Louisiana Swamp Tours
1 888 30-SWAMP
Cypress Swamp Tours
1 888 554 8574
Captain Nick’s Wildlife Safaris
1 800 375 3474
Honey Island Swamp Tours
1 985 641-1769