LOWA Outdoor Journalism Contest

The Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association holds an annual Youth Journalism Contest. 

Open to all youths, 18 and under, the contest is designed to stimulate an interest in outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, boating, camping, hiking, and most outdoor activities--and the ability to communicate this interest to the public.

This highly-popular contest attracts entrants from all over Louisiana and neighboring states, and is lauded by educators statewide as an effective youth literacy project.

The contest has three categories consisting of Senior Essay (14-18 YOA), Junior Essay (13 YOA and under), and Photography (18 YOA and under) and features cash prizes donated by the Louisiana Chapter of Safari Club International.

Awards are given in 1st through 4th place in each category, and the winning students will be recognized by LOWA at the annual conference banquet which is usually held yearly in August.  Additionally, the winning entries will be published on the LOWA and LDWF websites, as well as in publications and on websites across the state.

Entries accepted from the beginning of each fall hunting season through May.

For more information, visit www.laoutdoorwriters.com or www.2theadvocate.com/sports/outdoors

2014 LOWA Youth Journalism - Senior Essay Contest Winners

SENIOR ESSAY-FIRST PLACE

Brock Blackwell

Age 16

Cedar Creek School, Arcadia

The Buck Above My Bed

It’s the morning after Thanksgiving, prime time for deer hunting. Where else would I be but in a deer stand in the woods? I’m no stranger to waking up early, but sleep overpowers me due to the sheer amount of food that I ate at dinner with my family last night. I rest my head on the rail in front of me and drift off while waiting for dawn. The sound that wakes me breaks the songs of the birds and the movement of squirrels through the leaves: a gunshot. I open my eyes, still facing the ground below me through the railing of the stand. A few thoughts flit through my mind: “Who was that? Could it have been my brother, or my father? Maybe my uncle …” I lift my head to see which direction it came from. That’s when I see the largest buck of my life. Now a million thoughts are racing through my mind: “Did it see me move? Can I grab my gun without spooking it? It’s in between two trees … that’s a tough shot.” I realize it’s eating acorns, so I grab my rifle. It’s been dead-on accurate at one hundred yards this whole season – will it fail me now?

 My thumb flicks the safety off without me having to think about it, and I peer through the scope. Most of the buck is obscured by trees, but there’s an area about two feet wide that allows me to see the shoulder. This is perfect for me. The adrenaline pumping through me makes me nervous, but seems to focus my skills. I aim at the shot just behind the shoulder and squeeze the trigger just like my father taught my brother and me. I hardly even notice the kick of the gun, the sound of the explosion from its barrel. I raise my head and see the buck running off apparently – hopefully – wounded. My right hand automatically operates the bolt action immediately after I fire. The bolt ejects the empty shell and replaces it with a new one. My thumb clicks the safety back on, I pick up the empty .270 caliber shell from its resting place on my seat, hoping and praying that this is the shell that will get a wall-hanger for me. After waiting for a few minutes, I climb down the ladder eager and nervous about what I might find. My feet find the ground and I set off towards the nine-point buck that was waiting for me in the middle of the woods.

That was almost three years ago. Now that buck is right above my bed, keeping watch while I sleep. Many things hang off its anglers, such as turkey feathers from last spring’s youth hunt, a baseball state championship medal, and the empty cartridge that’s responsible for the buck being on the wall, the date of the kill written on the brass.

Deer seasons come and go. Some are successful, others not so much. Still, the nine-point is fixed on my wall, a monument to my greatest kill. One day my children will ask about each head that hangs in my house, just as I have asked my father. I will tell them many stories: stories about my first deer, my first buck, and the biggest buck I’ve every killed. But the nine-point will be my greatest, the first true testament to my skill as a hunter.

SENIOR ESSAY – 2ND PLACE

Matthew McMahon

Age 15

Jesuit High, New Orleans

Bow Hunting: A Wait That Was Worth It

The first time I was introduced to bow hunting was in Oak Ridge, Louisiana, by my good friend, Rusty. Rusty and I share many interests in the outdoors including duck hunting, duck calling, deer hunting and fishing. When he told me that we were bow hunting on a trip to Oak Ridge, I became curious and excited. I didn’t really know what to expect because bow hunting was a new sport for me. That afternoon, we packed up our gear and hit the woods for an afternoon hunt. Although Rusty didn’t get a show, he let me shoot his bow for the first time and I was hooked.

One year later, I found myself sitting in the same tree, except this time with my own bow and I had practiced shooting almost every day after school and all summer. I didn’t see many deer that day, which was a little disappointing but not discouraging. However, the same night as my first hunt, we were practicing behind the camp and my bow broke. During the five-hour car ride home, I wondered who did this have to happen in the middle of the season. As soon as we returned to New Orleans, I was ready to go to the archery shop. Unfortunately, when I showed them the problem, they informed me it would take over a month to fix, so I was done for the season.

After nearly two months, I finally got the call that my bow was ready. I practiced nonstop, shot 3D tournaments, and had competitions with my brothers every chance I got. Needless to say, I was ready for the 2013 season.

In mid-September my dad informed me that my brothers and I had been invited to go on a hunting trip to Texas during our Christmas break with one of his lifelong hunting friends. So I practiced even more waiting for the moment of truth. Upon our arrival at the ranch, the owner said that he has a nice buck that he would like me to shoot. I knew he wouldn’t want one of his trophy bucks to be wounds by an amateur bow hunter, so I wasn’t upset when he handed me a .270 caliber rifle instead of my bow and said, “Good luck!” Shortly after the hunt started, I shot a 145-inch, typical ten point. Although it was a buck of a lifetime, I knew right then I’d rather be a bow hunter.

 The next morning, I woke up ready to go with bow in hand and “today is the day” enthusiasm! We were hunting in a tent blind. As the sun came up, a doe gave me the perfect shot, but it was so dark inside the blind I couldn’t see the sights on my bow. I didn’t want to take an unsure shot, so I held off. A little later, a deer walked out to the side of the blind and gave me a 30-yard shot. My adrenaline had me shaking; but I slowly drew back as my friend turned on the video camera. I got to full draw and asked him if he was ready. When he said yes, I made what I thought was a perfect shot. I then saw my arrow sticking into a tree right behind where the deer was standing. Both of us thought I missed. Quickly, I opened another window just in time to see my deer stumble and fall over! When we played back the footage, we saw that I had actually gotten a full pass-through. Finally, all my hard work has paid off! I was a bow hunter.

 The next day, I was still very excited that I had made my first archery kill! I asked my dad if I could bow hunt again and he said yes. That evening, we didn’t see anything until three does came out, and I waited for one to give me a shot. When the farthest one presented a shot, I got the OK from my friend, drew back, and shot. We saw the deer turn and run off, but I used my binoculars to see that the arrow was covered in blood. We got down and started tracking the blood trail. After only about five minutes, there she lay: a mature doe. I couldn’t believe it, two bow hunts in one weekend and a trophy buck to boot. What a reward after a long wait and a lot of practice!

Since those hunts, I have left the rifle at home and bow hunted all over Louisiana in include fishing. After one trip, I heard my dad say, “Matthew could survive with only a bow.” I tend to agree and am glad I live in a place like Louisiana that will allow me to do just that.

SENIOR ESSAY-THIRD PLACE

Kenny Odinet

Age 15

BG Country Day School, Lafayette

Schools Out

Cruising through the Ship Channel with my mom in Grand Isle, La., I saw what looked like a small island of white caps surrounded by smooth water. I studied the waves and ripples for a while and then noticed mullet torpedoing out of the water. A couple seconds later, I observed the waves were actually the wakes of feeding redfish. Immediately I alerted by mom, and she took a sharp left turn towards the school of fish. I climbed onto the front of our boat with a shrimp baited rod.

Instantly, as we drove into the school of redfish, I tossed my bait out and hooked a fish. The drag was screaming as the monofilament melted off my reel. Then suddenly, I lost the tension. The redfish popped my line. Without delay, we cruised over to the next visible school of redfish. I quickly grabbed another rod with plastic bait. Wasting no time, I cast out and hooked a fish immediately. Subsequently, I lost this fish as quickly as I hooked it. Disheartened, I concluded that another redfish swam into my line, cut his school mate free. We spent the next half-hour desperately cruising the Ship Channel for feeding redfish. With no signs of the fish, we decided to head to our next fishing spot.

Later that week, speeding through the Ship Channel, we again saw a large group of white caps on the glassy water in front of the boat. Taking a closer look, we saw mullet jumping, and redfish chasing in hot pursuit. Quickly we cut the engine and put down the trolling motor. I tossed by bait out. As soon as it hit the water, the cork went under. Instinctively I set the hook as hard as I could. The drag started to scream (ZZZZZZZZ). A few minutes after setting the hook, we landed a 30-pound redfish.

Again the school disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. By this time the school of redfish were nowhere to be found. With the school out of sight, we anchored to catch deeper swimming redfish on the bottom of the channel. As I was dragging my minnow across the bottom of the Ship Channel, I felt a bump. Instantly I set the hook. The fish franticly swam in front of the boat and tangled the line in the trolling motor. In the excitement of catching another big redfish, my brother lunged forward, grabbed the trolling motor, and untangled the line as fast as lightning. Together we landed the 20-pound redfish.

There is nothing better than fishing with my family when school is out … especially when a school of redfish is out.

SENIOR ESSAY-FOURTH PLACE

Malory Savoie

Age 16

Erath High School

Caddo Lake

As we sat by the fire on that cool June night, I doubted that any of us knew that our lives were forever going to be different from that day on. We, like most people, had not expected our lives to have such a drastic impact from a mere camping trip. I look at my friend Lexie to my right and Simone to my left and think about all that we have conquered and accomplished to be here in this monumental moment.

During our eight years at Camp Fern, this is the first time the option of going on a wilderness survival camping trip was offered to Lexie, Simone, and me out of all the other girls on camp. It had to be earned.  We, of course, accepted the invite and began planning the trip three weeks in advance, which was not a particularly easy task because not only did we have to pack basic camping equipment, but we also had to pack enough food for three meals for the all day and overnight camping trip. Next, Lexie, Simone, and I all had to have the meals approved by the head of nature, Emily, and the camp owner, Mrs. Margaret. Everything was approved and a few weeks later we were ready to leave on our survival camping trip.

On June 24, 2014, we left camp at six in the morning and arrived at Caddo Lake about an hour later. The view was beautiful beyond words with the sunlight gleaming through hundreds of towering cypress trees with moss dangling off of them like angels clinging to the branches. Trying not to be severely distracted by the beautiful landscape, we began packing our canoes with supplies, placing them into the water, and eventually starting our journey through the vast unknown of Caddo Lake. Lexie, Simone, and I were each given a compass and a map to navigate through the tranquil water of Caddo. The scenery along the way was simply stunning and awe inspiring; it was the kind of landscape that could inspire poets to write vivid poetry that oozes with imagery. After five miles of canoeing, we finally reached our destination of Hamburger Point where we set up our tents and began cooking dinner on the fire pit. It was impossible to stay clean, so we soon went swimming in the sparkling waters of the bayou. After that, Simone and I lashed a clothesline to hang our wet clothes while Lexie lashed a cutting board holder.

The next morning we cleaned the camping area, packed up our supplies, and began our departure from Hamburger Point. When we left our bags felt lighter, but our hearts felt heavier as we canoed farther and farther away from the place that was so dear to our hearts for the great bonding experience it gave us. As we left our sanctuary of Hamburger Point I felt a sense of appreciation for toothpaste, toilet paper, soap, basically anything that kept me clean, but most importantly I felt a sense of appreciation for my wonderful friends who were essential to the camping trip,  the environment, and the comfort it provided.  This was more than just a camping trip; it was the moment in my life where I found in myself a greater admiration of the nature that surrounds us every day.

SENIOR ESSAY-FIFTH PLACE

Averi Young

Age 17

West Feliciana High School, St. Francisville

The Bow Hunt

I got my first bow, a used Diamond by Bowtech, in October of 2012. I spent all hunting season waiting on my strings to be replaced. When I finally got my bow back it took me all summer to sight it in. My dad and I put me a stand up and I threw corn out at least once a week to draw the deer in. When October 2013 rolled around I could shoot a pear dead in the center 30 yards away. I was still worried about not being able to aim steady at a moving deer. There was also the issue of my weak arms only being able to pull back about forty pounds.

Finally it was time to set out. My dad gave me permission to shoot any deer, as long as it was legal, since it was my first bow hunt. He also told me it would be best if I did not shoot anything more than thirty yards away, because of me only being able to pull back forty pounds. The first hunt was a bust. Along with the second. I only heard some deer snort from deep in the woods. I never saw anything more than a raccoon, loads of squirrels, and plenty of birds.

It was Monday, October 7th. I did not have work after school so I decided to slip out for a hunt. Before every hunt I would shoot the target at least once. So, I went to practice. I missed. I missed the whole target! My arrow flew way off to the right. I was horrified. Desperately I went to search for my lost arrow in the tall grass. As I stood looking I felt something move under my boot. In fear, I lifted my foot and a snake shot out from under me. Being terrified of snakes, whether it is one of those little green snakes, or a huge rattlesnake, I took off running and screaming like a little girl. So, of course I was shaken up after my terrifying experience. I even debated if I actually wanted to go hunting, fearing I would see another snake.

Despite my fear, I went hunting anyway. I cautiously walked to my stand, threw corn out and climbed up. I was only there for ten minutes when a squirrel came close to climbing up my leg. My nerves had finally settled and I was waiting comfortably. Time ticked by slowly and my eyes got heavy. I started dozing off as the sun began to dip behind the trees.

Leaves rustled loudly, breaking me out of my nap. I looked around, expecting more squirrels, or birds, but to my great surprise it was actually a deer. Two deer! Two big bodied bucks with little antlers. They were about forty yards in front of me, covered by bushes and trees. Then they looped around and walked behind the big tree twenty yards in front of me. I had my chance. I slowly stood up, while their heads were behind the tree, I pulled back. My heart was pumping so loudly I was sure the deer could hear it. The bigger deer appeared to my right first. He was in the perfect spot. He began chewing at my corn when I let go. To this day I do not understand how I hit him because I am pretty sure my eyes where closed when I released. The arrow hit behind his shoulder and he took off running about fifty or sixty yards, then he tripped and flipped over twice. All was still. I turned my head around to my left, the smaller deer was still eating on some low leaves, clueless that the other deer was long gone. I sat and watched him for about ten minutes before he shot off into the woods, snorting. I pulled out my phone, adrenaline still shaking my body, and called my dad. He told me to go to the house and wait for him to get home with some ice.

Fifteen minutes later I see my dad's headlights pull in the driveway. I raced out to meet him, ready to see my prize. We hooked a small trailer to my blazer and I drove to my deer. Up close I saw that what I thought was only a four-point was actually a six­ point. We loaded the deer on the trailer, and brought him to the barn to clean him. Carefully we pulled out my broadhead and about five inches of my arrow. As I retold my dad about my day with the snake, losing an arrow, the squirrel, sleeping, then the two deer I began to be thankful that I did not let my fear get the best of me and cause me to not go hunting that day.

2014 LOWA Youth Journalism - Junior Essay Contest Winners

JUNIOR ESSAY – FIRST PLACE

James C. Sanders

Age 9

Fellowship Elementary School, Trout

Little River, Big Fish

I am very fortunate because my home is located on the banks of Little River. This river is formed when Dugdemona River and Castor Creek run together. The river flows into Catahoula Lake then continues on its way.

One day my Grandpa and I decided to go fishing. We put our life jackets, rods and reels, tackle box, ice chest and bait into the boat at the dock. After we put on our life jackets, Grandpa cranked the motor and we started moving up the river to our favorite fishing spot. I looked back toward the dock and saw my little dog Yogi running down the river bank. He did not stop but jumped into the river and started swimming toward the boat. I screamed for him to go back, but as usual, he did not listen and kept swimming. Grandpa turned the boat around and we plucked him out of the river and put him into the boat. Grandpa said Yogi could just go with us because we did not have time to take him back home.

Yogi is a miniature schnauzer and he thinks he is just one of the boys. He loves to swim and play. He sat down in the boat and we turned and started back up the river.

We traveled to our favorite fishing spot. It is a place where a creek runs into the river and it provides the perfect place to catch fish. We were fishing with night crawlers and the fish started to bite real fast. It was so fun. We had caught about thirty fish when I got the best bite ever. It pulled the cork under and started to run with the bait. I pulled and pulled and up came the biggest catfish I had ever seen. Grandpa said "keep the line tight and pull it into the boat." Yogi was barking and jumping up and down in the boat. The people in the boat paddling by were laughing and cheering.

I finally landed the big fish and we weighed it. It weighed over twelve pounds. I know that this fish was not a huge one, but it was the largest fish I had ever caught. It was a real thrill.

As we started to leave our fishing spot we saw a little alligator sunning itself on the bank of the creek. A big blue heron was wading in the shallow water nearby. A mother duck and her three little ducklings were swimming along the edge of the river. It was very peaceful and beautiful.

My Grandpa said we were very lucky to live in an area where we could see such beautiful scenery and wild animals and still be able to catch some fish for supper. I agreed. No one can really understand how wonderful the river is until they experience it for themselves.

JUNIOR ESSAY – SECOND PLACE

Joseph "Scooter" Hayes

Age 10

Avoyelles Public Charter School, Mansura

From Baby Bottles to Busting Big Gators

On a windy Friday in September 2013, our family took off in our go devil boat to set five lines in hopes of catching my first alligator. We passed through the cypress tree swamps looking for signs of alligators nearby. We carefully selected a cypress tree for each of the hooks we set. We used very tough string with large hooks. We baited the hooks with chicken that smelled like rotten cabbage and used a clothes pin to hang the hooks about a foot over the water. Then we returned home and worried if we were going to catch anything.

My family started alligator hunting in 2004, the same year I was born. While picking up her tags for the 2013 season, in Opelousas, my mom found out I could get a helpers license. She returned home so excited. I was impressed to find out that I, at only 9 years old, could become an alligator hunter like my uncle, parents, and grandparents. My mom, Jessica Hayes, had been chosen for the three tag alligator lottery at Spring Bayou WMA, where we live. She proudly gave me the chance to harvest the three alligators.

There was no need to wake me Saturday morning. I had been awake most of the night. As we walked out the house; disappointment came over my family because the temperature had dropped over night. We motored carefully through the cool fog at daylight because it was also opening morning of teal season. As we got to the first line, we noticed a man had set up his teal blind right next to the tree where our first line was set. We apologized for messing up his hunt and explained what we were doing. He did not mind as long as he got to watch the action. The first line was covered and wrapped with marsh grass. My mom filmed very nervously, while my daddy, Douglas Hayes, began pulling the gator up to the boat. I busted out my new twenty two single shot Cricket rifle that I won at the NWTF banquet. I walked up to the bow of the boat and shot the gator. He rolled over and all I saw was the one foot of the gator sticking up out the water. After a few high fives, together dad & I rolled the gator into the boat and began to lock the cities tag on when mom noticed that my first gator was missing a front leg.

Once we got to the next line, I could not believe my eyes! There was one of the biggest gators I have ever seen. He was tearing up the water and struggling to get away. Dad tried to grab hold of the line but the gator still had too much fight in him and ripped the line from dad’s hand. We waited a little longer for the gator to settle down. My mom was scared and wanted me to back out on the shot but, I said "No, I'm not giving up!" It took me, dad, and the gator awhile to get situated, but I did it. The first shot stunned him and put him into more of a rage. He was so mad he was flipping and flopping and water was splashing everywhere. Mom stopped filming and helped me reload another shot. We were both shaking terribly and dad was yelling for us to hurry up. The gator finally calmed down and kept still so I put the sights on the small kill spot and pulled the trigger. In a sudden flash, the fight was over and the gator was floating with that one big foot up in the air! I felt so happy, I was shaking as if I were scared but I had done it! A nine year old boy and I had harvest a ten foot plus gator! There were lots of high fives, laughter, excitement and I think mom may have even had a few tears. It took all three of us to load him in the boat. We took guesses at how long he would measure but guess what? We forgot the tape measure.

We ran the next two lines and found them still hanging in the wind. As we approached the fifth line, we found another smaller worn out gator wrapped in weeds. He did not give me much of a fight as I carefully took a shot on him. So much for the cooler weather cause we were tagged out. The wondering on how long my big gator was really bugging me. We loaded the boat full of gators on the trailer and with big smiles, hauled them over to Big Mama's Gators in Moreauville, Lousiana. This was just as special to me! I was so happy to sell my first three alligators to my grandma Big Mama Janice and grandpa Wolfman. My family was very proud of my bravery and excited that I wanted to be just like all of them. As my mom says, I went from baby bottles to busting big gators in only 9 short years. I finished my first alligator season with a 6'9", 7'10", and 10'7" gator!

JUNIOR ESSAY – THIRD PLACE

Reese Blakeney

Age 13

Blue Pine Academy (Homeschool), Leesville

It Was Big Enough

Kaboom!! A bullet came from the barrel of my Remington model 700 heading for the skin and bone of the biggest deer I had ever seen. As the trees moved out of the way of my bullet, doubt raced through my mind, "Was it big enough? He never looked at me, so I never got a good look at him." I was worried because Jackson Point has a strict 15-inch rule.

Jackson Point is a "Sportsman's Paradise" that my grandfather has been a part of since the 1980's. It is a fertile piece of land nestled between Lake Mary and the Mississippi River. At about 2,000 acres, this land has plenty of room for deer to move around. Not only does Jackson Point have loads of deer, but hogs overrunning the property. There are also lots of turkey, squirrels, and fish. The trees are very old and loaded with all kinds of acorns and fruit for the deer to eat. The woods are made up of hardwood trees including white oak, persimmon, and lots of cypress growing along the banks of the lake. I have seen three times more deer at Jackson Point than I have ever seen in all my other hunts combined.

Every year after Christmas, my grandfather, uncle, cousin and I go on a hunting trip to Jackson Point. We drive four hours to Fort Adams, a small, historic settlement with boarded-up churches and a gas station that is decorated with deer antlers. But we still have one more leg of the trip ... the leg that seems to take the longest, the 12-mile dirt road through the woods and off the grid. This part of our journey never goes smoothly. If we aren't getting stuck in a giant, slippery pothole, then we are wondering if the dirt bridge is even there anymore. Nicknamed ''The Dump," this flimsy excuse for a bridge has a soul-sucking dark, muddy water of doom on each side, and we fear that the truck and all of our belongings will slide in. Old oil wells and other junk line the last two miles of the road, and at this point Papaw always mentions how close Angola Prison is and how he hopes no inmates have recently escaped. When we finally get to Jackson Point, we breathe a deep sigh of relief.

On our first morning there, we all got up at five o'clock in the morning and dressed except for my younger cousin Ty, who was the hardest to wake up out of all of us. It was like waking up a log. The four of us crammed into Papaw's Kubota and road off into the dark woods. It was cold and pitch-black, except where the headlights shone. A mixture of excitement and adrenaline filled us as we came to our first hunting spot.

Uncle Tim and Ty jumped out and went to their stand, and we to ours. The frost was on the leaves, and I could see my breath. As daylight broke, we heard song birds chirping, crickets humming, and Papaw farting. I told him there wouldn't be a deer within a mile of here as he pulled out of his pocket a meal fit for a king: an apple, two Nutrigrain bars and a pack of Stage Planks. He was like a chipmunk pulling out nuts from its cheeks. Now, for all of my hunting seasons, I've been told not to bring snacks, not to pass gas, and not to pee, but Papaw did exactly those three things in the little time we sat in that stand. He told me that deer are attracted to his urine, not driven away from it. I was a little skeptical when he went out the door of the stand to urinate. I heard the trickle of urine, and then I heard the snapping of twigs. A yearling walked out sniffing the air as it went as if it were intrigued by the smell of fresh urine on the ground. Papaw came back into the stand and said while laughing, "I told you so."

We decided to try a different spot a couple of hours later because Papaw had another place in mind. We walked four hundred yards away from our previous stand to a new stand that had deer sign everywhere. He put me in the stand, handed me my rifle and left some fresh "deer attractant" at the base of the stand. Then, he was gone.

There were animals everywhere, birds and squirrels. I was in the stand for not fifteen minutes before I saw a flash of horn two hundred yards away. Two four-points and two does walked in front of the stand, but this time I was not looking for the does; I wanted a big buck. So I waited. Those four came and passed. I saw a hawk swoop for some sparrows but miss. He landed in an old, gnarled oak tree in front of me. Before long Papaw was back, and it was time to make the short ride to the lodge for lunch.

We rode out for an evening hunt that afternoon when Papaw dropped me off at the stand. The surrounding area was full of white oaks and other food trees. Papaw had told me that deer love white oak. I heard some turkeys, but I never saw them. I was in the stand for forty-five minutes before two does walked out. I decided that if I could get a shot, I better take it. I only had one hunt left, so I waited for them to come to a clearing, which took probably an hour. Right before I was about to squeeze the trigger, I heard twigs breaking to my right. I turned slowly to find a spike standing in the brush with one of the earlier four points. "If it's an 8-point, you can shoot him," the words my grandfather had told me echoed in my head.

Disappointed, I turned my head as far as it would go to find to my surprise, a large deer standing thirty yards from my stand. He looked big. He looked very big. He looked big enough.

I was kind of worried how big the deer actually was, because it never turned towards me. I looked through my scope. Thoughts ran through my mind like a runaway train. He paused behind a large tree. All I could see was his head. It was excruciating to watch him from behind the tree. After what felt like hours, he moved. Figuring it was a large deer, I took the safety off my rifle, took rest on the wall of the stand, held my breath, squeezed the trigger, and prayed for the best. As I felt the kick of my rifle, memories came to my mind of the hunter's safety course one year earlier. "After you fire that shot, you can never take it back," the voice in my head told me. The deer trotted slowly, tumbled around, and came to rest under a tree fifty yards from my stand.

Immediately, I called my uncle Tim on the radio and whispered, "Eight point!! Eight point!! On the ground!!"

Uncle Tim replied, "Attaboy!"

I watched the other deer scatter in all directions, until the only one left was one little doe, who looked lost and confused without her mother. She came right beside my stand and darted off to the side.

After a few minutes, I heard my buck breathe his last. I got down from my stand and walked very slowly to where he was. To my surprise I discovered he was not an eight-point, but a nine-point! I sat and counted the points over and over until I was sure I was right. He was old. He had a fat face, which suggested his age. His twisted antlers were large and tall. The surface of his antlers felt like tree bark, rough on the bottom and smooth on the top. Uncle Tim, Ty, and Papaw rode up in the Kubota to see the monster I had sitting at my feet. He was so heavy, I struggled to hold his head up for pictures.

It took three of us to load him into the Kubota. I was just happy we didn't have to drag him all the way back. As we shifted his weight to the bed of the vehicle, it tipped backwards then steadied out.

We skinned the deer and saved his head to mount. He weighed in at an astonishing 230 pounds with whopping twenty-five inch main beams, and a sixteen-inch spread. It was the biggest deer I had ever seen. In the following hours, I relived the shot over and over in my mind. It all happened too fast. I wished I could have enjoyed it longer. I had just experienced "buck fever" as my cousin Ty calls it.

JUNIOR ESSAY – FOURTH PLACE

Ajay Walker Tew

Age: 8

Cedar Creek Academy, Ruston

Lots of Mean Geese

A few days after Christmas 2013, mother loaded my 2 brothers and I in the car for a trip to Oklahoma. We drove 6-7 hours to get there. My Mimi was visiting her family, farmers in Oklahoma, and there was lots of geese which were eating the wheat fields. The farmers wanted the geese gone. It was very cold, in the 30's with a wind of 60 miles per hour. The wind was so strong that the car doors had to be held tight to keep them from being ripped off the hinges. We even got a hail storm, with some hail the size of golf balls.

When mom was letting Dare, my older brother (13) out at Uncle Charlie's house and all the boy cousins were there, and going to spend the night, I got my bag out and decided that I was big enough to be with them. You should see Uncle Charlie's house, he needs a wife bad. His house is filthy with only a path to the room with a wood heater, stuff was everywhere. The bathroom had a dozen rat traps and old and mildew bad. He didn't even lock the doors, with lots of guns in the house. He really needs a house keeper or wife. We slept on cots and got up real early to go goose hunting.

There were 6 or 7 of us boys who climbed into the pickup truck to find which field the geese were sleeping on. We would crawl on our knees to within shot of the geese and the big boys would shoot. I was given a 20 gauge single shot gun to use, it had been modified for small kids. The big boys had used it when they were my age. There was a lot of mean geese. I shot the crippled geese that the older boys had hit. We threw the dead geese in the back of the pickup and went to look for other fields. There were many to pick from. Cleaning the geese wasn't bad cause there was so many of us to do the job.

One day, Uncle Max called to say that the hog trap on his place had two wild pigs in it. He wanted us boys to come down and kill the pigs. Dare shot one pig and killed it. I used the 20 gauge and shot the other pig in the nose. This only made the pig mad. Nathan helped me steady the 20 gauge and together we shot the pig between the eyes. Who was going to get the pigs out of the trap? Cousin Daniel (Boone, IS) crawled into the pen and pulled the pigs out. We took the pigs to Uncle Charlie's house and he winched them up on the bucket of the front-end loader. After we skinned them out, he just left them hanging out in the open. It was in the 30's and high enough that dogs and other critters could not get to them. When we were on our way home, Uncle Charlie cut off hind quarters and threw them into the ice chest for us to take home, along with many goose breasts.

This hunting trip was a new experience for me. I am a neat freak. Mom keeps a very clean house and I can really appreciate her for this now. My cousins are awesome. It was so much fun hanging out with them. Uncle Charlie's house was dirtier in the kitchen, it looked like a dish had never been washed in years. Thank God the older cousins (20-30 yr. old) would come and take us out to eat. Mom found us at Churches Fried Chicken one night. We had been invited to come eat at a church where a meal of wild game had been prepared for prisoners ready for release. We were so caught up in our adventure that we forgot about the dinner. The prisoners were served goose breast over rice. I hear it was really good. Mom fixed us some after we got home and she did good. I can't wait to return to hunt with my cousins.

JUNIOR ESSAY – FIFTH PLACE

Eli Odinet

Age 12

Bendel Gardens Country Day School, Lafayette

Nothing Better than a Limit

One morning, my dad, my brother Kenny, and I went duck hunting in Pecan Island. It was the second to last week in duck season, 65 degrees outside, and the wind was moving. We were driving to the boat launch, and my dad pulled to the side of the road for his friend to pass. Vroom! Vroom! The truck wouldn't move an inch! My dad hit the four-wheel drive button. Vroom! Vroom! It still would not budge! We exited the vehicle only to find the truck was half a wheel deep in mud!

At that moment, we were lucky enough to see our friends pass on the Mule (the Polaris). Abandoning our truck, we hitched a ride to the boat slip with them. We arriving at the boat launch, we slipped our feet into waders, unloaded our supplies, and jumped into the boat. We were 100 yards from success, when we found the boat path that was overgrown with high grass. Thankfully, we had our waders. We trudged to the blind arriving just before sunrise. The pintail were everywhere!

Immediately, we threw out our decoys and loaded our guns. After 5 minutes of waiting, a group of gray ducks buzzed us. We ended up calling them back. Boom, boom, bang!!! My brother and I each dropped a gray duck. My dad dropped air.

Next is the fun part. I'm the bird dog!!! I run in every direction looking left, right, up, and down. That's what you call exercise for a fat boy running 80 yards out on high grass in waders back and forth 20 times. After all, I do grow a keg in winter. I needed to lay off the hot coco.

When I arrived back at the blind, the duck traffic shifted to the other side of the marsh. Thankfully, my dad let me walk 30 yards to the left around the pond. Once I arrived to the hole, I spotted 4 green wing teal that landed right under my nose.

Boom! Boom! I fire two shots and killed one. Another tried to fly off but my dad winged him. Since I was occupied, Kenny was sent out as bird dog number two, to retrieve it before it dove under water. A little bit later, I headed back to the blind since the duck traffic slowed. When I arrived I said, "Dad look what I shot ... Nothing but a duck!!! (because I killed a teal and he did not) Shortly afterwards, Kenny found the winged duck, and blew all the meat out of the duck. Showing the teal with its organs hanging out. Kenny asked, "Hey dad did this bird have a disease?"

Annoyed by my brother's clumsiness my dad rolled his eyes and exclaimed, "What the heck did you do to that green wing?"

With a look of confusion Kenny asked, "T-shot is for teal right?"

"NO." It means tight shot you use it for geese!"

After five minutes our friend Jacob, who had earlier jumped four teal on another pond, joined us. One minute later, a group of spoonbills flew over us. We called the ducks back around. Boom, boom, boom, bang, bang, boom, boom, boom, bang!!! I felt like the luckiest person at that moment, because I just downed my first pintail. It took a while to retrieve but I found it. I saw that I had only hit the wing. I knew it would be perfect for mounting so I drowned the duck instead of shooting it. After retrieving the pintail, we ended up seeing six more flocks of ducks. I knocked out four, my Dad wacked four, Kenny downed two, and Jacob killed two. When we got back from hunting we had grits, eggs, sausage, and biscuits.

At the end of the day there is nothing better than a limit of ducks, and hot food after that.

2014 LOWA Youth Journalism Photo Contest Winners

1st Place – Sunset on the Pier

Ava Lemoine, age 9

St. Aloysius Elementary, Baton Rouge

2nd Place – Black and White Reflections

James Sanders, age 9

Fellowship Elementary, Trout

3rd Place – Too Close for Comfort

Alex Kershaw, age 11

Parkview Baptist School, Baton Rouge

4th Place – Death and Life

Kyla D’Arensbourg, age 14

Zachary High School, Zachary

5th Place – Waiting Patiently

Trey Hunter Spears, age 12

Sacred Heart, Baton Rouge