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The rain was coming down in torrents. Lightning flashed in the blackness. My visibility was limited to a few yards ahead. Red taillights streamed by. I needed to get off the road for a while. An exit just ahead would be a good place to take refuge.
"I never would have made this trip if I knew we would encounter this kind of rain," I told Clayton as we turned into the parking lot of an all-night convenience store.
We took a short break there, and with a slight break in the weather soon got back on the road. We had come too far to turn back.
The rain had started as a light sprinkle just outside of Sumter. I ran through showers and dry stretches all the way to Summerton. There was no rain at Clayton's house in Summerton, but lightning flashed in the distance. We ran into the rain before Santee.
The forecast had been for light showers ending by morning. Now, I had my doubts about that. I wasn't going to spend the day on a deer drive huddled in the rain. Clayton checked the radar on his phone, and it looked like the storm might pass the club to the east. We pressed on.
The rain had slowed to a light sprinkle when we turned into the clubhouse road. There was a gang of trucks at the dog pens and clubhouse.
"Looks like a good crowd," I told Clayton.
At six o'clock, it was still inky dark. Lights in the clubhouse streamed through the windows, illuminating a few hunters standing around outside. Walking through the front door into the bright light, I encountered a room full of familiar faces and a few new ones.
I went through the room and greeted as many people as I could. It was my first trip there this year. Marion Ruple came over and caught my hand. He is the 96-year-old patriarch of the club.
"I've been every Saturday but one," he said proudly, when I asked.
"How about the fish?" I inquired.
"Water's too low right now, but we caught them last week," he said, beaming.
We shuffled outside and stood around in a loose huddle while the club president gave a short safety briefing. After the briefing, Mister Ruple was asked to lead us in a word of prayer. We stood in silence for the prayer with hats off and heads bowed. Afterward, the standers drew a numbered tag from a small wooden box. The tag number would be our designated stand number. These events are repeated every Saturday morning before the hunt.
The standers loaded onto the back of two or three pickups, and we headed out to take our stands. I was on a truck headed to Middle Road. Clayton drew a stand on Ridge Road. We wished each other good luck. There was still just the slightest hint of a fine, misty rain. It wasn't enough to get you wet.
The heavy cloud cover had made the gray morning light come slowly. From my stand, I could see a thin band of light yellow toward the river, above the eastern horizon. Maybe the morning sun would chase the dark clouds and misty rain away.
Pickup trucks loaded with hounds streamed down the road heading to their designated release sites. Within minutes I could hear drivers hollering encouragement as they released the dogs into the woods. Soon there were several races going, and shots were fired in the distance. I stood ready, but nothing came my way.
The clouds were lighter now, and the rain had stopped. The sounds of the hunt had drifted away. A horn blew, signaling the end of the hunt. Back at the clubhouse, a buck was brought in and cleaned. The next hunt was organized.
On the next drive, Clayton and I drew stands next to each other. More races and more shots. Clayton saw a small doe, but I didn't see anything. Lunch was waiting back at the clubhouse. Soon, the horns blew, and we were headed back. Someone had gotten a nice buck.
Mister Tommy had prepared chicken and rice, green beans, slaw, cookies and iced tea. He is an absolute master cook, and I always make sure to compliment his meal and thank him for his work. There was a break while the hounds were rested and the afternoon hunts were planned.
These Saturdays are as much of a social event as they are a hunt. I was glad that I had made the trip after all, and I'll head back again, soon.
Reach Dan Geddings at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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