Introduction to Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife

Map: Cultural Micro-Regions of the Delta, Northeast Louisiana

Working in the Delta

Making Music in the Delta

Telling Stories in the Delta

"The Big One": Deer Hunting in Northeast Louisiana – Janery Wylie
Landmark of the Koroa – Sam Dickenson

Delta Archival Materials

"The Big One": Deer Hunting in Northeast Louisiana

By Janery Wylie


With virtually every family member involved in some aspect of deer hunting, from the actual shooting to cooking the meat or to tanning the hide, this sport has become recognized as an important part of life in Louisiana. Getting ready for the opening of deer season in October is a major fall event. Preparation can start as early as the summer, with hunters slapping mosquitoes as they scout the woods searching for tracks and scrap marks.

For opening morning, every detail must be perfect. For the dedicated hunter, no detail is too trivial. For example, many hunters will only bathe with unscented soap, wear no aftershave and refrain from smoking, lest these odors alert the deer to their presence. Nothing quite equals the hunters' excitement in the chilly dawn of early autumn, as they load four wheelers and rifles onto pickup trucks getting ready to ride out to shoot the "big one."

After returning from the morning and afternoon hunt, the hunters wearing their camouflage, congregate around the table to share gumbos, stews, and stories. Because the folklore of the hunt is such a vital part of life in Louisiana, these communal stories have become an essential rite for initiation into the world of hunting. Often these tales are not entirely true, but that is unimportant. "In the South, as elsewhere, myth and legend have a way of rewriting history to confirm to what is memorable" (Botkin 146). These folktales are based on the teller's original perception of events that often have altered with time or recounting.

A folktale with which every Southerner is familiar is the sighting of the "big one." The format for telling the "big buck" tale is similar in every camp. The youngest member narrates first, then the more experienced hunter follows. The bigger the buck sighted; the higher the teller's status. As each hunter takes his turn, the buck, understandably, grows in both size and beauty.

The theme of the story is also consistent. The hunter, who always gets a good look, never gets a good shot. The hunter usually blames his failure to shoot to being overwhelmed by the magnificence of the animal. Another consistent theme is the method of the sighting of the "big buck." Each buck just seems to materialize out of thin air. Suddenly, he is "just there." One hunter described his sighting: "Amazing. It was the largest buck I had ever seen. It was almost like he dropped out of the sky." Although overwhelmed by the sight of the buck, each hunter can provide specific details about the location and time of the sighting along with graphic descriptions of the buck, such as point spread, body size, and markings.

Apparently even the most experienced hunters do not question the veracity of the storyteller. It is assumed the hunter is telling the truth. After all, each hunter knows he will have his turn, and no one wants his story questioned.

The Tellers and Their Narratives

To obtain information about the folklore of deer hunting, I interviewed hunters ranging in age from thirteen to sixty-eight. I collected this information in informal conversations and group discussions. From these interviews, I selected the following folk stories as most typical of the big buck sightings.

Billie Wylie, age 65, delivered this narrative of the big buck story.

The morning I saw the biggest deer of my life was really a warm one for hunting season. I was sitting on ground still wet from the last night's rain. We didn't use to have the nice comfortable stands you see now. I hadn't been there but a couple of minutes when I looked over to my left. There he was...between two pines! I was so excited I couldn't get my gun up! After a few more minutes of each of us staring at the other, I finally raised my gun but he was gone. I spent the rest of that morning thinking about that deer. In fact, I have spent a lot of mornings thinking about him. I can remember that day like yesterday. Sometimes, I can still close my eyes and see that buck.

Billie Wylie's buck story, indeed, illustrates his awe and respect for the deer, and contains the same sense of disabling excitement as do many other big buck narratives.

I asked a fellow hunter standing by his pickup on the side of the road one morning about his big buck story. His produced the following variant:

I was 20, a junior in college when I saw the biggest deer I have ever laid eyes on. That morning a buddy of mine and I were hunting in the same area. Since it was getting near dinnertime, I was about to head for camp. All I had seen were does and nubbins.

Suddenly, I heard a snort behind me. I turned around. This huge, twelve point buck was starin' straight at me! Actually, I think he was laughing at me. I blinked. Bam! He took off. A funny thing is that my buddy was hunting in the same direction that deer ran. He claims he didn't see a thing, but I think he must'a been sleeping.

This narrative contains the mystic elements of the overwhelming power of the buck and a disappearance motif as well.

Ali Wiley, age 13, tells this narrative.

Last year my dad and I went out the last morning of deer season. Since I hadn't killed anything yet, I was carrying the gun. As usual, Dad fell asleep.

Then a group of deer came out of the woods to graze on a patch of grass in the clearing.

I got so nervous, I forgot to wake up my Dad. Then I saw him. The biggest deer you could imagine. I'm not good at counting points, but that buck's antlers were HUGE. Finally, I remembered to nudge my dad. He made so much noise waking up; he scared off the deer. They scattered like ants in all different directions.

Was I mad at my Dad! One good thing though is that I got to tell this story. Wow, and do the men ask me to tell it a lot!

Like the other big buck stories, Ali's contains the same elements of nervous anticipation and awe at the sight of the huge buck. Similar to the other stories, the buck runs away upon the awakening or appearance of another human.

Another unidentified hunter age 23 recounts this tale.

Early in the morning, I was easing up to my lean-to. Right there under my stand, stood this huge 15-point buck! I almost swallowed my tongue! Before I could get my gun up to shoot, a friend decided to "drop by" to see how I was doing. That buck took off so fast.. . I was so mad, I almost shot my friend! One day I will get that deer. I swear it.

Within such texts as the one above, the elements of the mystically disappearing deer and the loss of the opportunity find their ways into the tales. Note a similar pattern which occurs in the following passage. John Wylie Sr. related this story, and it is narrated here by his grandson.

Papa Wylie swore to his last day he saw a 20 point deer. He guessed it would weigh more than 300 pounds. He never would tell anyone just where he saw it, only that he saw it twice in the same spot and at the same time of day. While the narrators and story elements may diverge in setting and other details, the basic story motif remains consistent throughout these stories.


All of the information gathered share three important aspects. Each story involves a large buck, only one witness, and a storyteller. Each teller whole-heartedly believes in his story. The fact that each hunter believes so forcefully in the sighting makes the story special. When people from each camp are asked if they believe these stories, they look at the questioner as if he has told a joke. Big buck stories are an integral part to deer hunting season and to deer hunters. A season would not be complete without every hunter telling his/her story at least once. Big buck stories run deep in the heart of Southern deer hunters. To these hunters, the stories are gospel.

Works Cited

Botkin, B.A. A Treasury of Southern Folklore. NY: Crown, 1932.

Randolph, Vance. Hot Springs and Hell. Pittsburg: Folklore Associates, 1965.

Wylie, Ari. Personal Interview. 10 November 1997.

Wylie, Billie. Personal Interview. 5 November 1997.

Janery Wylie Barnes was a student at Northwestern State University. This article was originally published in the 1995 Louisiana Folklife Journal, Volume 19, Issues 1/2.