Opening Day for deer hunting. I remember those mornings well. Before bed, prepare a large, strong pot of coffee. Wake up when it is dark, head out in the dark and get ready when the sun comes up.
I did it each year for a long time — and every single year, I shot a trophy buck.
Some years I would have to fight through the wind and rain from my house to the car, then from my car to the back loading dock and into the office.
In addition to getting an afternoon newspaper out, I had to load up a canister of film, putting the cartridge in and turning the crank to make a homemade 24- or 36-roll canister. Then, I would cut the last strip just right so it caught when I loaded the film into the camera. I always used a new canister opening day because the rings on each end start to wear and pop off, exposing everything I shot.
Camera loaded, I sat waiting.
By the time the first sports agate was formatted and the rail of briefs was completed, the knock happened on the front or side door.
The first trophy buck of the morning, the first one of the season.
This usually went on Page 1, and the hunters knew it. The cutline under the photo always had a little more information about the prized hunter than the rest of them, and there was always a little more bragging rights.
I had a publisher with the name of Oak Duke, so of course this tradition carried weight.
The hunter would drag the buck on the lawn, and we would get a photo. Once in a great while, the bruiser was so big we had to shoot him on the back of the pickup truck.
I had an editor one year who despised seeing the tongue of the deer sticking out. One morning as we had one eye open trying to start the day, she proclaimed the new rule: We tell the hunter to tuck in the tongue or no photo! That was a direct order. If we did not comply, she would not run the photo.
About 15 minutes later, a hunter knocked on the side door. He had a beauty on the lawn.
She got up and said “being the leader of the newsroom, and seeing I implemented this new policy, I will lead by example and take the first photo with the new policy.”
We yawned and went back to paragraph factory assembly line. She politely told the hunter, “This newspaper has a policy. We do not run photos of a deer with the tongue sticking out. It is not in good taste.”
He tipped his cap and said “no problem.” No sooner did his hand leave his cap, one beautiful motion was all he needed to bring his arm down and at the same time unclip and snatch his hunting knife from the holster and in the second motion the knife went up and came down, perfectly slicing the tongue off.
The editor came running in the newsroom. Despite wearing heels, and with one perfect motion, flung the camera off her neck and down on the desk without losing stride on the way to the bathroom to lose her lunch before breakfast.
No one spoke of or adhered to the policy again.
One year, we did not have a staff member willing to come in at 6:30 a.m. and wait for photos. So we had a brilliant idea — take one of our point-and-shoot cameras, load it with film, duct tape it to a long string to the door and next to it, tape a reporter note pad so they can write their information!
We came in Saturday, and it worked! All 36 photos were used.
The newspaper was across the street from a bar, and most of the photos were taken from 12:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Not a trophy in sight.
Today? We are lucky.
Opening day comes and the cellphone dings twice while I am still home. I check and there are photos. Buck and buck.
After the obligatory text back, “Wow, nice buck!” I asked for the points, size, where the kill took place and what the hunter used.
A text came back, and within five minutes, a short story was on the website and the buzz began on Facebook.
All before the deer made it out of the woods.
While I miss opening day at work, I like this new system.
And if anyone suggests we go back to the old way? Bite your tongue.
John Anderson is the regional editor of the Longview News-Journal and Tyler Morning Telegraph. He can be reached at email@example.com .