It was the hike from hell! To get into the mountainous fold of land so that the wind would be in my favor required me to go straight up a bluff that was thick with cedar and limestone boulders. Then I had to slide down a steep hillside that was covered with cedars, briers and rocks. I was soon in the rocky crevice I had selected as a stand. It looked into a large white oak covered basin where three hollows came together. Once settled in the rock stand, I glanced down at the little G2 Contender rifle I had assembled just for hunting in the Cumberland Mountains.

Within an hour a large nine point buck came to the low grunts I made and the 7-30 Waters handload I had developed for this semi-custom rifle took the buck cleanly at just under 200 yards. Following that first hunt I named the rifle the Cumberland Deerslayer.  Since then the little rifle has taken many deer in the rough Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama.

To say the Cumberland Deerslayer is a custom rifle is not correct, for it isn’t. It is a rifle I assembled to hunt a specific region using after market parts and a few friends to help me assemble a short rifle that is perfect for the area I love to hunt. Any hunter can do the same.

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Christmas in the mountains of north Alabama was a special time for me and my buddies, Punky Kelly and Chipmunk Green. School was out, there was plenty of time to put out rabbit box traps, and there was the Christmas pageant at our little rural church, which meant food and presents.

 Setting rabbit box traps was a high priority for us as we thought of ourselves as being mountain men. The excitement was that we never knew what our trap line would produce, one year it was mostly opossums the next a rabbit or two.

This particular Christmas season we each had built one new rabbit box trap. Our trap line started on the creek behind my house where we set one box on an animal trail next to the creek. Then we crossed the pasture to a fencerow near Punkys house where a second box was carefully set. The third box was set a short distance away, next to a brush pile behind Chipmunk’s dad’s barn.

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Editor’s note: At the 2016 SEOPA (Southeastern Outdoor Press Association) Annual Conference in Lakeland, Florida, this story, entitled THE VEST by J. Wayne Fears, was awarded first place in the SEOPA Excellent in Craft – Magazine Short Story category. The story was originally published in GunHunter magazine

Many times on bitter-cold morning rabbit hunts, my dad would reach into the vest and pull out biscuits with chunks of country ham in them. I never saw him put them in the vest.

It hung on a nail on the back porch always ready. As far back as I can remember it was old looking, a little thread bare in places, faded from years of being used in all kinds of weather. I’m sure it started out a brown color, but since my dad used the old Montgomery Ward hunting vest for all his hunts it now looks more a dirty tan than brown.

The old vest had a smell about it that, to me, had a smell of adventure. It was a blend of odors – a mixture of sweat, dried possum blood, squirrel hair, sassafras root, fresh cedar, shot shell powder  and Red Cap pipe tobacco as my dad smoked a crooked stem pipe loaded with the Brazilian tobacco most of every day. Many said that smoking that strong tobacco would kill him and I guess it did as he died one winter morning when he was 97, after knocking the ashes out of his pipe.

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Base camp looked as inviting as a five star resort. We were fishing the headwaters of a Blue Ridge Mountains creek and each day we left the comfort of the tent camp to fight the tangles of brush to fish a little known rushing creek that offered fishing adventures few in today’s world know. At the end of each day of fishing we returned to our camp which consisted of a large baker-style tent located in a post card setting on a high hill overlooking the creek. The big white tent offered roomy sleeping comfort for two with room for gear storage. The front awning served as a protected area for cooking and simply lounging. Our campfire, the heart of the camp, was located just in front of the awning and it was there many fish were cooked; stories were told and on cool evenings a reflector fire was built to keep the interior of the tent warm. The camp would not have been the same with any other style tent; the almost forgotten baker tent was perfect for this trip, as it has been for countless other backcountry adventures.

The Name

If you want to start a heated campfire debate with a group of seasoned backcountry adventurers then offer an opinion as to when the first baker tent was used or where it got its name. I have seen shouting matches among friends that went on into the night when these subjects were debated.

Baker Tentsmiths Baker Tentsmiths[/caption]First about the name and how it came about. According to my research, the name “baker tent” was most likely given to the tent sometime back in the 1800’s. Many logging and survey camps back in those early days used the “Yankee baker oven”, reflector oven as it is called today, to cook meals for hungry work crews and since the tents they used had the same profile soon the tents were called “baker tents”. The name stuck and today most still call this style tent the baker tent.

Not everyone agrees with this as there are writings that state that the name “baker tent” came from World War I, where cooks and bakers used a large lean-to style tent to prepare meals for the troops. It is said that the troops came to call the tents “baker tents” as it was where much of the baking was done. I could not find any verification of that.

However even today the modified lean-to style tent is not called baker tent by everyone. Some campers refer to it as the “campfire tent” because it is ideal for building a fire at its front to reflect warmth into the tents interior. The same fire can be a pleasure to sit by after a full day afield and the same fire is convenient for cooking. The late, well known, wilderness canoe adventurer and writer Bill Mason used and wrote about the tent in his excellent book Song of the Paddle calling it the “campfire tent”. Because of that the tent still has a following that calls it the “campfire tent”. Since Mason made some modifications to the basic baker tent design you can find some references to the tent as the “Mason tent”.

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