Like any good southern hostess, Bertha Vickers of Morgantown greets her guest with a pot of coffee and home-baked cake. She offers me a seat at the heart of most homes, the kitchen table.
As we sit and talk I can't help but think how strange our conversation is becoming. After all, it's not every day I talk with women about Browning shotguns, deer hunting and wading in rivers while fishing. It's also the first time I've had that conversation with a woman who will celebrate her 100th birthday in a few days and harvested her most recent deer only a couple of weeks ago.
"It's just over here across the creek about three or four miles," Vickers said. "One of my neighbors invited me to come sit in a (shooting) house.
"I got to watch birds and squirrels until nearly dark. The first evening the deer came out and I was getting the cross-hairs on the deer and his dog barked. He let out a howl and the deer took off."
But Vickers was in the stand the following afternoon.
"The next evening two came out," Vickers said. "They were getting close to where I wanted to shoot.
"I was sort of shaking until I got ready to shoot. I didn't think it was all going to go right."
Fortunately, everything did go right. Vickers touched off her .243 Winchester rifle and her shot was perfect.
More Than Just a Doe
It was also a shot that was heard around Facebook. A photo was posted of her with the doe and messages of congratulations to the centenarian poured in. Although she has little knowledge of computers and social media, family members showed her the reactions on Facebook. They were reactions that only a woman like Vickers would not be able to understand.
"I don't know why everybody is making such a big deal about it," Vickers said. "If I'd killed a big buck I could see it, but it was just a doe."
Her statement isn't that surprising. After all, she's a woman that mows her lawn, keeps house, cooks and raises a vegetable garden. She's also known to hop on her golf cart, head for the woods behind her home and go squirrel hunting by herself. So, to her, harvesting a doe seems like just another great day in the woods.
For others, it is probably more significant. She is possibly the oldest huntress and fisherwoman in the state, if not the nation.
Vickers was born on January 9, 1918. Woodrow Wilson was in his second term as president, World War I was in its final months and anyone who could afford a car was most likely driving a Ford Model T.
She grew up in an Oktibbeha County farming community about five miles from where she lives now. She married Bert Vickers in 1935 during the Great Depression which she said was a difficult period for the community.
"Especially for farmers," Vickers said. "When I married it was still going on and we had a tough time.
"There weren't any jobs. When he wasn't farming he hauled logs and worked at a saw mill. Times was hard."
Later, they tried raising and selling chicken eggs, but found it wasn't very profitable. Then they started raising and selling chickens.
"We worked at it all the time," Vickers said. "We had a garden and raised our vegetables.
"We still farmed a little bit. During the depression we raised our hog meat, but the only time we had beef was when somebody killed one. You might get a roast once in a while."
Hunting and fishing helped put meat on the table.
"When they got off from farming they hunted," Vickers said. "We ate lots of quail back then.
"We had lots of quail. I always fished every chance I got — in the Noxubee River, mostly. I had a neighbor and we fished together. We'd pack a lunch and go. We'd catch stringers of fish."
In the coming years the economy improved and life was easier. In 1950, the Vickers and their three children had electricity installed in their home. Within a few years, they purchased an electric stove to replace her wood-burning stove.
By the 1960s, Vickers said she and her husband had fewer family responsibilities and they began to hunt more. More opportunities came as well. Vickers said deer and turkeys began to flourish in the area due to stocking efforts by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
"We turkey hunted a lot after that," Vickers said. "We hunted every spring.
"He called the turkeys up for a good while, but I started calling and I killed two. There's a thrill to calling them turkeys."
Deer hunting also became a tradition for Vickers and her husband.
"We used to ride around on Sunday evenings and look for tracks on the side of the road," Vickers said. "When we started getting them, Bert got some dogs and we hunted with dogs."
In 2001 her husband of 66 years succumbed to cancer. Although she lost her hunting partner and love of her life, she didn't lose her love of the outdoors.
"Just to get to go and the thrill of catching or killing something is so exciting," Vickers said.
With a passion like that, Vickers' goals for her 100th year come as no surprise.
"I'm going to do just what I want to do," said Vickers. "I'm going to fish more than I did last year.
"I would love to kill a buck. I can't hunt in this cold, but it will warm up."