The Initiation of Ben Wheeler 

    As a teenager I was able to hunt on a 7,000 acre ranch/hunt club on the St. Johns river as my grandfather had membership in the club.  There was a hunter's camp with an open cook house and some old wooden cabins underneath a canopy of rambling oaks.  In the cook house there was an old iron, wood burning stove that was put to good use on weekends and there were many fine meals of venison, turkey and squirrel when fresh kills were made.  A board nailed between two small oaks held two long hooks that deer were hung from for cleaning.  The deer were hung by their hind legs, the head and legs were cut off, the hide cut away and the chest cavity opened to allow the guts to fall out in a pile.  Some young fellow would be handed a shovel and it was his duty to bury the bloody mass of deer innards.  My cousin and I soon learned to disappear when there was a fresh kill until after the shovel work was done.  We would slip into the woods and hide, smiling if they called our names.  Some of the old hunters were amazed at how fast a pile of deer innards could make young men disappear.

        The camp had been a wild place with quite a night life at one time.  There were stories of  nights of drunken excess with occasional ladies of the night in attendance but a religious group with my grandfather leading the charge cleaned the place up and no booze/ladies of the night were allowed  by the time I started to hunt.  (Though there was still the occasional bottle or six pack in the truck that couldn't be brought out.)

    They did retain the practice of initiation whenever someone killed their first deer.  Your initiation was simply your fellow hunters bringing you into intimate association with the aforementioned pile of deer innards.  It was all considered good fun except by those going through the initiation.  The one's who tried to outrun their fate were greatly appreciated by the young hunters and there were stories handed down of good chases and much blood and guts spread about.  One young man out ran the pack in a particularly good night chase but had to return to camp for his truck.  The keys had been taken from the ignition and a truck parked in back of it in case he had a spare set.  Everybody who killed a deer got initiated.

    There was a story about the wilder days when a Yankee guest of one of the members had killed a deer and was quite adamant that he would not meet and greet the pile of innards from his kill.  Eventually he was subdued and, in honor of his heroic resistance, picked up by his arms and legs and brought before the carcass of the deer handing from the hooks.  The carcass slowly opened and his head disappeared inside and the Yankee was able to see what supper looked (and smelled) like while it still hung between the oaks.  Everyone, except the Yankee, had a good time.  (Well, the deer also was having a bad day.)

    Then there was Ben.  The son of an old Oviedo family he was given to over indulgence in delights of the culinary sort.  He was not at all given to ceremonies of blood and had absolutely no fondness for deer innards at all.  Ben was sure that his father would not allow the pack to do such a thing to him.  Everyone looked forward to Ben's first deer though there was some concern that due to his girth he might not try and outrun the pack thereby reducing the sport of the event.  Some took fun in mentioning to him the various parts that he would be making the acquaintance of when that fateful day arrived.  Some suggested wrapping him in the intestines and rolling him in what was left, some speculated their wouldn't be enough intestines to go around him, but the elders put a stop to such talk.  It was to be a regular initiation.   

    One day the CB radios crackled.  Ben had killed his first deer.  Some left their religion of hunting to see what would happen at camp.  Ben's deer was hung from the hooks.  Ben appealed to his father.  His father just smiled.   The head of Ben's deer was sawed off with a hacksaw.  A tribe of grins began to assemble.  The innards spilled out onto the ground in all their glory.  "Ya'll please don't do this,"  he pleaded.  The circle closed around him. 

    Ben wisely choose not to run and thereby excite the pack.  (There were a few complaints about this.)   Two of the young hunters took his arms and with one following behind to prevent a retreat Ben was led to his pile of waiting deer innards.  He took a deep breath.  Fingers were dipped into the blood of the deer and painted on his head, cheeks and neck.  Blood was poured over his shirt, the liver was applied to his chest and various parts rubbed along his arms and into his hair.  There was much fun and laughter and then it was over and he was allowed to wash up. 

    Ben survived the initiation and eventually got the blood out of his hair but he didn't speak to his father for a while.