Three is no place on earth I'd rather be in early November than in the middle of a dry Delta cypress brake. The brakes extend all the way from Cairo, Ill., along the Mississippi River down to the Gulf and are also scattered all over most of the Southern states, especially those in the coastal regions.
Down in Florida they call them cypress heads. I recall once talking with Tom Gaskins (of turkey caller fame) and being mystified at first when he talked of hunting the heads. I'll say this for Tom — he could not pick out a better place for a true outdoorsman, especially a turkey hunter or a deer hunter.
In October and into November, those fine places are often dry underfoot, due to drought and heat. Walking is easy on a carpet of needles, the foliage that is shed and usually covers the ground in such brakes. A man can fool himself into believing the clock has turned back a hundred years when he is sitting quietly in the middle of a brake. Sometimes you can almost expect to see a Choctaw brave creeping through the wilderness with bow and arrow, ready for whatever game might present itself.
Wildlife of every sort love the brakes. When filled with water, they are used by ducks and even a few geese. I recently have seen a large drove of the non-migratory Greater Canadas using a brake I often hunt. The geese are becoming almost a nuisance in some localities, taking up residence in all sorts of unusual places like golf courses, catfish ponds and even large backyards on country estates.
The most interesting sights we see are the abundant deer and turkey that apparently feel secure in the somewhat primeval wilderness.
A few years back, when the turkey population along the river was unusually high, an almost unbelievable number of those wonderful birds roosted regularly in one of my favorite brakes. Old-time turkey hunters agree turkeys love roosting in cypress trees, especially those that stand out in water. They apparently feel secure from predators and perhaps they are right. At any rate, the brake was roosting a drove of at least 200 birds, maybe more, and it was a wonderful sight.
During open fall seasons I would slip quietly through the woods to the edge of the brake in total darkness before dawn and stand waiting for daylight and the sound of early tree calls that usually began shortly before daylight.
Almost as soon as the early birds begin calling, they are joined by the rest of the huge congregation and by daylight the noise that the 200 wild turkeys make is scandalous. They then begin to fly down and to trade back and forth between trees. It is a sight that produces an elemental excitement in old turkey hunters. It is unequaled by any other spectacle I've ever seen or heard. With 200 birds flying all over the brake and with many of them on the ground arguing and squalling at each other, hunters with weak hearts should be at home. Once all of them seem to be on the ground, you can ease out of the brake, find a good seat and begin calling in an attempt to get one back — which, incidentally, is not nearly as easy as it might seem.
The cypress knees that surround most old growth trees are actually above ground portions of the trees' root systems. Some of them grow into weird and unusual shapes and some people harvest dangerous amounts of these knees that they make into interesting items such as table lamps and other decorations. One of the strangest I have seen is in this same favorite brake. It has grown into a semi-circle almost 3 feet high with an opening just large enough to permit a man to enter it, sit down and be perfectly hidden in a natural blind. From time to time, I have used this strange knee as a turkey blind and down through the years have bagged from it several gobblers that were unaware of my presence.
Once during a fall turkey hunt I was visited by three big buck deer one morning. One of them was a real trophy, with at least 10 points. The deer walked within 10 steps of me and were never aware of anything wrong. A few weeks later during deer season, I sat in the blind for three straight mornings and never saw a deer. Turkeys were all over me! Ever so often I search out this strange cypress knee just to make sure it is still there. For now, it still remains.
Visit a cypress brake in hunting season or out of season. They are some of the Delta's best productions.
This Outdoor Observations column is a reprint from the Oct. 10, 1997, issue of Delta Farm Press.