Church members and local outdoorsmen gathered Jan. 25 in Gum Branch Baptist Church’s fellowship hall for its 10th annual wildlife feast.
With vegetable side dishes, bread and desserts provided by the church ladies, hunters young and old enjoyed freshwater game fish, shrimp etouffee, wild turkey, wild hog, raccoon, squirrel, quail and venison. The venison was prepared in a variety of ways, including steak, sausage, barbecue and chili.
After the food was blessed, scores of hungry men lined up. After putting a little of everything on their plates and carrying bowls of chili or etouffee, each man was escorted to his seat by one of the ladies, who carried his sweet tea for him.
Several wild-game novices were surprised to learn the original “free-range” turkeys and hogs tasted just like the store-bought variety. More than a few suggested the squirrel and quail tasted like chicken. There didn’t seem to be as many takers for the raccoon, however, including most of the seasoned hunters.
The event also included at least 30 door prizes that were given away after the meal. Prizes included hunting hats, slingshots, 30-quart fish fryer, a camper stove, a dehydrator, camouflage blankets, a backpack, pocket knives, an air rifle, a jar of local honey, spotlights, handmade birdhouses and framed wildlife prints.
Clarence Anderson of Hinesville won a framed print of a whitetail buck leaping over a wooden fence. Max Recod, a visitor from Fayetteville, N.C., didn’t win anything but said he enjoyed the meal and fellowship with like-minded men. Dalton Gratham, 4, won a hunting hat that was several sizes too large. His stepdad, Daniel Bradley, won a package of nylon tie-down rope.
“You can never have too much tie-down rope,” he laughed, pulling Dalton’s hat down over his face. “I think he’s gonna have to grow into that hat.”
Guest speaker for the evening was Ray Mears, an evangelist who uses his talent as a wildlife photographer to witness to others. Mears was born in Savannah 70 years ago, but before he was a year old, his family moved to Monroe, La. He said his father was a drunkard who abused his mother, who later was placed in an institution. Then, his father abandoned him and his five brothers.
“I don’t know where my life would have been without my granddaddy,” Mears said. “He took us hunting and fishing and helped us appreciate the beauty of the outdoors. Then, 61 years ago, I found Jesus.”
Mears said he learned over the years that a person can’t “get saved” until he or she realizes they’re “lost.” After serving as an aviation electronic technician in the Marine Corps, He discovered a love for photography that led to a profession as a wildlife photographer. Mears said he has been all over the world but called America “the most beautiful place on Earth.”
As he spoke, he showed color slides of wildlife and outdoor scenes in Colorado, Alaska, Louisiana and Oregon.
The colorful pictures he showed included snow-covered mountain peaks, green valleys, whitetail and mule deer, baby raccoons, wood ducks, pelicans, a kingfisher, a red-tail hawk and a bald eagle. As he changed from one slide to another, he told the room filled with hunters that wildlife photography is sort of like hunting, but one can do it year-round. Mears said he’s often asked to fly somewhere to take pictures of special hunts in exotic places. He said that wherever he goes, he talks about Jesus. Photography is simply the vehicle through which he reaches the lost, he said.
For more information about Mears or to his photography, go to www.raymearsoutdoors.com.