The Washingtons spends lots of time working and playing in the woods of Union Parish — which puts plenty of deer squarely in their crosshairs.
William Washington was just 17 years old back on Nov. 24, 1978, when his grandfather took him on a deer hunt where he killed his first buck.
It was a pretty nondescript 5-point that looks a little out of place today among all the Washington family’s impressive trophies — but that buck changed William’s life.
“Pawpaw paid to have that deer mounted,” he said. “I’ve never taken it down.”
Neither has he forgotten that day 40 years ago. His grandpa took him with the older men, and he took up a position with his shotgun on a big pipeline.
In those days, they ran dogs —and it wasn’t long until he heard them coming his way. Well in front of the sound of the barking dogs, the 5-point started to cross the pipeline.
William took aim and fired. And fired, and fired. He had only one shell left, so he started praying.
He fired again, and the buck fell not too far from where he was standing. In those days, any deer was a trophy — and William was excited as if it were a 12-point.
“I always loved to go to the woods and dreamed of killing a big deer. That day sealed the deal,” he said. “Since then, I’ve spent every minute I can hunting deer. I just love it. Not just the hunting, but being in the woods. It’s so relaxing and it’s not like when I’m out here working. I
“It’s a whole different world when I’m on the hunt.”
Many years before that day, William’s grandfather was making a living in the woods, working in the timber industry so far back that he remembered hauling logs on wagons pulled by mules. Today, William’s family continue both those traditions, running Washington Brothers Logging — and passionately pursuing deer hunting.
Spending so much time in the woods with his brothers Lionel and Stephon is the key to their family’s hunting success. And now his wife, Jenni, has joined the club — and took her first 10-pointer last season.
“There is no question that the more time you can spend in the woods, the better,” William said. “You can’t just go to the woods for a month or two. To be really successful, to get the most out of hunting, you need to keep up with the deer all year long.”
Getting to both work and play in the woods gives him a distinct advantage, but others can do the same thing on a more limited basis.
“The first thing you can do is figure out where the deer are traveling,” he said. “You can find trails easy after it rains or when the woods are green, but even when it is dry, you can see the paths deer regularly take — if it’s no more than a trail where the dirt is stirred up and the leaves are missing.”
Deciding where to hunt along that trail is important, too. The best hunting will be along the trail between where the deer beds down, and where the nearest easy food source is. Set up right off the trail where you can be hidden, but still have several good openings for a clear shot.
And if you’re hunting anywhere near where the deer are laying up, it’s best to walk in as far as you can.
William said hunters shouldn’t kid themselves: Deer hear and understand every sound out there that could be a threat, including the sound of your ATV.
Find the food
Understanding food sources is critical for successful deer hunting.
Deer eat a lot of green browse, but they are drawn to acorns in the fall like most people are drawn to a big steak, so keep watch on acorns all year long.
If there is a big crop growing on the trees, you know the deer will feed on them as long as they last. Washington said for the most part, putting out corn and rice bran will only feed other animals if deer still have acorns.
There is another treat that attracts deer that most hunters call ‘beauty berries,’ tiny clusters of small purple berries found dotted along the edges of openings in the woods.
“The thing is, deer act totally different around acorn flats and beauty berry bushes and other natural food than they do corn or rice bran,” William said. “They are still wary, but they are more comfortable coming to the natural stuff.
“It’s a totally different thing when you are hunting artificially placed food piles. They are nervous all the time.”
As proof, William recalled a hunt from last season when he got off work about an hour before dark and went to the woods in his work clothes.
He climbed a lean-to stand at the intersection of two 4-wheeler trails that had lots of beauty berry (French mulberry) plants on them.
It wasn’t long before a nice doe came out and started eating berries. There was a big deer behind her that hung in the woods for about five minutes, but eventually stepped out.
It was a big 10-point, and William downed it on the spot. If the buck hadn’t felt at ease, it never would have stepped out there until after dark, he said.
As you watch beauty berry patches over time, you’ll notice the lower berries disappearing first, then as winter moves in, the higher ones get eaten. Deer have been seen on their hind legs reaching up for higher berries when food sources are diminish.
Lionel takes a bit of a different approach to hunting than William: He likes deer hunting and spending time in the woods, but he isn’t quite as crazy about deer hunting.
“I do it for the competition,” he said. “Somebody has to go and give them some competition. I’m not as serious about having to shoot deer. In fact, the more relaxed I am and not pressing, the better I do. That might work for other hunters, too.”
Lionel added another natural food source for other hunters to be aware of.
“Deer love persimmons,” he said. “When the persimmons are getting ripe and falling, you can bet deer are coming to them. You need to know if you’ve got any of those trees, because they are great places to hunt.”
While timber harvesting isn’t always viewed as a friend of deer hunters, the Washington’s see it as a way of life and say deer hunters — themselves included — have to adjust. If there was no value to timber, there probably wouldn’t be much. So it’s important to replenish that renewable resource.
“Harvesting timber definitely changes deer hunting areas, but when we cut an area, those deer are going to find another good spot and they will eventually come back in the cutovers,” he said. “That usually happens quicker than people think. It isn’t long until there is plenty of young browse growing back in there to eat, and later, as the brush gets thicker, deer lay up in cutovers near their food sources.
“Some of the biggest deer people kill are taken coming out of the thick stuff growing in areas that have been thinned, but still have big pine trees. The undergrowth is thick and deer lay up there,” he said. “You just have to find the trails where they come and go out of the thick stuff.”
It’s obvious that the Washington family pays attention in the woods.
“My Momma told me one time that I was just like a deer, spending all my time in the woods,” William said. “It’s taught me a lot about life and deer hunting. I think one of the most important things is patience. A deer has a lot of it, and they are looking for you as much as you are looking for them. Know that and you’ll be a better hunter for it.”
That approach has led William to learn something about the biggest deer in the woods: It seems like one of the best places to find them is in a thicket not too far from someone’s back door.
“The big deer will lay up right by where people live,” he said. “Laying up near houses gives them a feeling of safety. They can pattern everything that is going on, and sense there is no threat most of the time. You see that brush right out there behind the house? There’s a big one out there right now, looking at us.
“He’ll step out at night every once in a while, but not often. Big deer will lay up right under your nose. They can tell if you see them or not. If you don’t, you’ll walk right past them.”
Legend in the outdoors
Union Parish is a hotbed for outdoor activity and outdoor enthusiasts in North Louisiana. Each year the local Farmerville Gazette newspaper recognizes that
by naming “Outdoor Legends” of Union Parish.
Two years ago, William Washington was chosen as one of those legends because of his deer hunting prowess. Local outdoor writer, deer hunter and sheriff’s deputy Peyton McKinnie manages that program and explained why.
“We’ve got a lot of great deer hunters in this neck of the woods, but none are any better or spend more time in the woods than William Washington — or his family, for that matter,” McKinnie says. “They have killed some huge deer and have success every year. And they are good people. That’s important, too.”
Jenni get your gun
Jenni Washington is nicknamed Annie Oakley for the famed Wild West sharpshooter.
But she gets more than her guns when she heads to the stand for a day in the woods. She has a backpack which the men in the family make fun of because “it weighs about 30 pounds.” But she doesn’t care.
When she goes to set up on a deer, she’s prepared — and she’ll stay all day long.
So what’s in the bag? Some basic deer hunting necessities and a few extra things: There’s a flashlight, extra batteries, mosquito spray, doe urine, her own special homemade “fruit” attractant, a cell phone, crochet materials (yes, she often crochets while waiting on deer), paper and pencils for drawing, gloves, a knife, extra shells, an extra cap, a rain slicker and some snacks — among other things.
“If I think I need it, I’m going to take it with me,” she said. “That’s one thing I’d tell other women that might like to hunt. Don’t stay home and let the men have all the fun.
“Get out there and go with them. But make sure you have something to keep you from getting bored. And make sure you take the things to help make you comfortable.”
Every hunter has an ‘uh-oh’ moment sometimes
When they found out about his magazine interview, William Washington’s brothers started giving him a hard time and were going to tattle on him — so he beat them to the punch.
“Nobody does everything right every time,” he said. “One day I went out and spent all afternoon and didn’t see a thing. I was complaining and all when I realized, I didn’t even have a bullet with me.”
That also reminded him of another good deer hunting tip.
“Don’t ever think you’ve got them totally figured out,” he said. “Because you don’t. Never settle into such a pattern that you don’t change. Hunt a different spot. Go in a different way. Do everything you can to find the deer.
“Because they are doing everything they can to keep you from finding them.”
Weapons of choice
The Washington’s choice of weapons are as varied as their approaches to the woods. And you couldn’t get them to change for love or money.
William shoots a .308 Remington, Lionel shoots a Remington .30-06 automatic and, even though she has other guns, Jenni sticks with her trusty .30-30 Winchester.
They do say there is one thing in common about their gun selections — confidence. You have to be confident that when you pull the trigger, you’ll get your deer.