Brad Launey (left) and Gene LaTour (right) check the beef tongue and smoke pounce that Launey cooked on the eve of opening teal season at their Miller’s Lake camp. (Gazette photo by Elizabeth West)
At Miller’s Lake, hunting isn’t just about shells, shotguns, duck blinds, and camouflage. It’s more about a tradition of long time friends gathering on the eve of opening teal season to cook good food, share in lots of laughs, and tell Miller’s Lake stories from the past.
The hunting club where it all takes place according to member Joffre Fusilier “is not just a hunting club.” He says “its a lifestyle.”
The eve of opening teal season each year is when this lifestyle is awoken, and it is that night that these hunters say is more important than even the first hunt of the year.
Gene LaTour, who has been a member of the lake for 11 years, said, “The night before opening of teal season means more that the hunt itself. This is the biggest night ever. This is the coming out. It’s like squirrel season for duck hunters.”
Instead of being in a wooded area enjoying the company of friends before the hunting begins like for squirrel season, at Miller’s it’s all about camp hopping along the levy of the lake.
It is while visiting with their fellow hunting buddies that the drinks start flowing, the music starts playing and the stories of the past are re-told. And, it’s the stories of their forefathers that they enjoy telling the most.
Cody Vidrine said, “A lot of the members, their dads and grandfathers were in the lake. It’s those men that we owe a lot to because they kept this place going so that we could enjoy it.”
Two of the individuals that this younger generation of hunters spoke about the most through the night were Harold “Bozo” Stromer and Gene Buller, which are the two current members who have been a part of Miller’s Lake for the longest amount of time.
With the telling of old stories, they not only pay tribute to the older generation of hunters that are still living, but also to those who aren’t there to enjoy this special night anymore.
One of Vidrine’s favorite stories to tell about the lake involves Burk Eastin, who is LaTour’s grandfather, Bozo, a spoonbill, and a band that was much older than their hunt.
Vidrine said, “Burk and Bozo supposedly had this thing that went way back where Bozo would tell Burk that the State ain’t gonna waist no money banding spoonbills. Burk didn’t believe him though.
“One day when they were hunting Burk knocked down a spoon, so when Bozo went to pick it up, he slipped an old band on the spoonbill. When he gave the spoonbill to Burk, he said, ‘Well, you see. All them years you been telling me the State don’t band spoonbills and they do. You see. You were wrong.’”
Unfortunately for Eastin, not long after the hunt he learned that his hunting buddy had played a little trick on him. He figured that out only after calling to get all of the information on his spoonbill kill.
Laughing Vidrine said, “After about two days, Burk got the band number and called it in to the State and they told him, ‘well this duck has been killed 15 years ago and it wasn’t a spoonbill. It was a mallard.’”
Playing pranks on their fellow hunting buddies is a huge part of the Miller’s Lake “lifestyle.” For those still in the club though, giving up names of who plays the pranks will never happen.
Member Gabe Soileau said, “People definitely play tricks on opposite blinds, but I ain’t naming any names.”
His fellow hunting buddies, including Brad Launey, said the same thing.
Even if they aren’t naming who played the tricks, they still love sharing exactly what was done.
Soileau shared, “The jokes are all in good fun, like when someone put a toilet in B.J.’s blind.”
LaTour then added, “People like playing jokes on B.J. (Fontenot) so that means his hunting partner David (Ortego) unfortunately catches the brunt of the joke too because they are in a blind together.”
Laughing, LaTour then said, “They were both good sports about it though. B.J. ended up using the toilet seat to sit on in the blind and he used the tank to put the ducks he killed in.”
A toilet in a blind is a small prank compared to the four live chickens someone left in B.J., Ortego and George Penn’s blind one year.
Ortego said, “We got to our blind one year for opening day and they had four live chickens in there. When we got there it was dark and we started hearing the chicken. We had to shoot some of them and break the necks of others. There are always some pranks being played, but no one ever tells who did it.”
The fun happening the night before the season opens lasts for hours, but they must eventually call it a night and retreat back to their own camp.
They may not all remember everything they said and did the night before, but they never forget the stories.
That is because the stories remind them of why they choose to continue to be a part of a beloved tradition.
Fusilier said, “The wood of these camps will fade in time, but there are people along this levee that are like fifth generation hunters. This isn’t just a hunting club. This is a place where legacies are passed on, culture continues, booray games are played, people cook, people dance and people laugh. This is a tradition that has to last.”