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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

SEC Football Weekend

SEC football weekend
This weekend I spent the weekend at the farm of a good friend of mine.  The farm has basically been our deer camp for the last few years and over that time he has been steadily adding features to this property.  What used to be a 280 acre plot with an unheated barn has grown in a wonderful weekend get-a-way destination.  In my friends words this place is perfect “because it’s one step short of a place where the women want to stay for a whole weekend.”
This is a man’s getaway destination.  You can hunt, fish, hike, shoot guns, blow stuff up, ride four wheelers, heck…you can shoot four wheelers if you want…there really are no limits.  It was at this location nestled into the hills southwest of Oxford MS that I had so much fun this past weekend.
This was a big weekend.  Alabama was playing Ole Miss in Oxford, MS.  This weekend’s activities would start at the farm and then move onto the Ole Miss campus for tailgating in The Grove.  For those of you who don’t know anything about SEC football let me tell you…this is unlike anything else you’ve seen.  The term “tailgating” is a bit of a misnomer.  “Tailgating” evokes images of a group of people in hunting clothes gathered around the back of a pickup truck eating moon pies and drinking RC Colas...and I like all of that stuff…but “Tailgating” in The Grove doesn’t involve pickup trucks, or any other vehicles for that matter, and it doesn’t usually involve much in the way of camo clothing. 
Vehicles were banned from The Grove years ago.  Tailgating in The Grove now-a-days is a high-end, tent oriented affair.  It’s not unusual to see generator powered flat panel LCD TV’s being fed signals by portable satellite TV dishes.  Huge spreads of food and drink grace enormous tables under the welcoming roof of a big open sided tent (no alcohol of course…wink wink).  Many times these meals are catered by local restaurants, or even better they are stocked with the best recipes of those in attendance.  I don’t care where you go in this country…if you get a group of women together who are all trying to bring their best dish possible…you are going to eat like a king.  My friend’s tents are no exception.  We had a tent one year that converted into a parquet dance floor with a DJ after the game….disco ball and everything. 
The dress code for tailgating in The Grove tends toward the formal side of things.  The girls definitely dress to impress and the guys try not to look like slobs.  If you took a random sample from the crowd and invited them to a high end cocktail party very few of them would have to go home to change.  Women will frequently be wearing  dresses and high heels and most of the guys are wearing khakis and a collared shirt.  It’s not a shorts and flip-flops affair for most.
So that’s a brief look at tailgating in The Grove.  This is where the day would end…and it’s always a great time…but I’m more interested in where the day would begin. 
Meanwhile back at the ranch…
As you might imagine, the center of activity at the farm is the barn.  This is not your ordinary barn though.  It is a big sheet metal building with a concrete floor that was originally designed to hold tractors and farm implements, but has seen significant additions that transform it from a simple barn to a country paradise getaway.  It’s like superman’s hideout…it’s that cool.   There is a stack of wide wood shelves along the right hand side with perhaps 4 levels of shelves, each 3 feet deep…these rise perhaps 12 feet from the floor and provide a tremendous amount of storage space for all of the “stuff” that accumulates on a farm.  A sampling of the shelves inventory from last week would include a few dozen duck decoys, a few thousand rounds of ammunition, charcoal, lighter fluid, paper targets, Tannerite explosives, paper towels…you name it and it can probably be found on one of those shelves.
There is a single waist-high shelf running the length of the opposite side of the barn that serves as a handy work space.  In the back left hand corner up high hangs a 50 inch LCD TV that is hooked up to the Dish Network.  Also on the left side of the barn is an often overlooked creature comfort when people build a barn…a bathroom.  And this one comes complete with hot and cold running water and its own ceramic/gas heater…and I can’t explain to you how nice this is on those cold winter nights.  There used to be an old iron stove on the back wall that has since been replaced by a multi-panel ceramic/gas burning heater which does a much better job of warming things up quickly when needed.  Everything in the middle is wide open space. 
As you stand out front and look at the front of the barn you’ll notice there is an overhang on both sides.  The overhang on the left is wide enough to keep the smaller tractor out of the weather, and to park the fleet of ATV’s.  This consists of three or four “four wheelers” and two Bad Boy Buggies (essentially camouflaged electric golf carts.) 
On the right side of the barn the metal roof slopes out another 40 feet or more.  This is where my friends’ genius really shines through.  Just to the right of the barn there is a concrete courtyard framed by two 30 foot RV’s.  Everything here is protected by the metal roof that kicks off to the right side of the barn.  Now you have a weather protected, concrete floored courtyard with a big screen TV, picnic tables, fluorescent lighting, RV’s, ceiling fans, portable heaters, and a 25 foot long stainless steel sink and countertop.  Just out in front of the courtyard sits a huge smoker and a small gas grill.  If this isn’t starting to look like heaven then you might want to quit reading right now and go back to your “Occupy Wall Street” rally or go plug in your Toyota Prius. 
From this setup you could easily sleep 8 people in the RV’s with room for another 20 in the barn if they put out cots or sleeping bags. 
Hopefully by now you are imagining a very casual and fun atmosphere that serves as the hub of the weekends’ entertainment.  I couldn’t tell you how many people I saw here over the weekend.  The day started early when I took my two children for a quick scouting trip in the woods on the back side of the farm.  We walked silently, talked and made jokes in hushed voices so we wouldn’t spook any game, and we took in the beauty of the morning.  It was cool, clear, and sunny, and the kids chased lizards and tracked animals, and relived memories from prior trips to the woods.   I had my kids all to myself for a few hours…it was great. 
After a while I began to hear gunshots from the barn area.  For those who aren’t accustomed to guns or gunfire it might have been alarming.  I imagine there are a number of people who’ve lived in cities their whole lives who might have begun to freak out at the sound of gunfire…but to the rest of us...that is the sound of FUN. 
We quickly made our way back to the barn and there was a small group of people on the firing range.  After grabbing our hearing protection we made our way down to the range.  My friend had simply backed his truck up and let it serve as a table of sorts.  He has a system of lockers and trays in the bed of his truck that are well suited to this task. 
When you walk around to the back of the truck you are greeted by a wonderful sight.  I counted no less than 20 guns on display.  There were multiple AR15’s, tactical shotguns, semi-auto pistols of all sizes and shapes, and a multitude of revolvers from Ruger and Smith & Wesson.  There were stacks of ammo in appropriate calibers nearly everywhere.  We had nowhere to be for hours and we had literally thousands of rounds of ammunition to play with.
Want to shoot a .44 Magnum?  No problem…load it up and punch some holes in the paper.  How about a .357?  Yep…got one.  10 millimeter semi-auto?  No problem…even have a 10mm in a revolver.  12 gauge?  Got it covered….four times.  .223?  Yep…lots of AR platforms to play with. 
The real beauty of this setup is that we have nothing but safety conscious people on our range.  I’ve educated a lot of new shooters here and this weekend was no exception.  Anyone who wants to learn how to shoot will learn the right way to do it here.  The rule at our range is safety first at all times…and I’m always impressed by everyone’s dedication to this.  With a safe range, and tons of ammo we had a blast.  I watched as my 11 year old got to shoot everything he desired.  He shot the .357 S&W revolver, the 10mm, my .45 Sig, the Remington 11-87 Police 12 gauge tactical shotgun, the AR15 (kids love this gun) and he shot it all competently.
I would love to see the face of a west coast liberal that comes to this farm in Mississippi when they see a 9 or 10 year old kid pick up a big revolver.  They would probably faint.  What’s more true is it would probably completely escape their attention that the child knew how to safely and properly manipulate, load, make ready, fire, and make safe the very same gun.  I’m certain they wouldn’t notice that the kid displayed proper muzzle discipline as he moved around the range…even without someone hovering over him.  Now that I think about it, this might serve as the basis for a great reality TV show where we mix liberals and rednecks together for weekend adventures.  Ted Nugent could host…hmmmmm…this could be a money maker.
For those that didn’t care to shoot, there are three stocked and managed ponds on the other side of the farm that are stacked with fat bass.  These lakes are built to be bass factories…and they are starting to earn a reputation.  The lakes are only two years old but the last time I fished them I caught 5 largemouths in about 10 minutes time.  I’ve never caught a limit of bass in 10 minutes anywhere.  And these were healthy 1.5 to 2.0 lb. fish…very respectable for how long this lake project has been underway.  It won’t be long before these waters will begin producing fish in the 3 to 5 lb. range…and then you’d better be ready for a fight.  Now imagine fishing THIS good just outside your barn.  It doesn’t get much better.
After a few hours of hanging out and talking and shooting guns someone came down to inform us that chow was ready.  That was very welcome news.
We piled into electric buggies and onto ATV’s for the short trip past the lake and up the hill to the barn and we were rewarded with a beautiful sight.  There was smoke pouring off of the grill, people lounging around watching another SEC football game on the flat screen TV, kids running here and there, people coming and going on 4-wheelers, and food.  Oh the food.  The long stainless steel counter top was packed end-to-end with big foil pans full of burgers, ribs, steaks, beans, chips, you name it and it was here.  There was almost too much food…but like money, ammo, women, and beer…there can never really be too much food. 
This is camaraderie at its finest.  Everyone was mingling and talking and eating and joking.   During this time, Ole Miss and Alabama fans stood side by side shooting guns…and not at each other.  For a few short hours Alabama fans and Ole Miss fans forgot that they disliked each other.  This was made easier by the fact that at lunch each group sat at their own tables and limited the conversation to talking about the food and not the football…but it was good…really, really good.
The great outdoors, guns, food, football, this is a classic SEC football weekend.  I couldn’t imagine it being any better.  Well…I can…if I imagine a game where Alabama’s running back Trent Richardson didn’t rush for 5,000 yards against us, or maybe if I imagine he became a conscientious objector and sat on the bus the whole game, or perhaps if I imagine something more realistic like we had someone who could tackle him…then I guess I could imagine it being better.   But the reality is that none of that is going to happen and that I’ve got to be content with what I have.  In this case I’m happy to “settle” for a day in the country making noise with my friends, eating well, and enjoying the pre-game festivities.  As one visitor put it this weekend after looking around at all of the cool stuff that was used to create this hideaway: “it took YEARS of bad football to make this place happen.” 

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