Monday, January 3, 2011
Next time ... The one that got away
Let me set the stage. It is December 31st, 2010 - the next to last day of whitetail season in N.C. I have been hunting all year and have had a decent season. I have seen some nice young bucks. I have harvested some does and cull bucks for meat. Truthfully, I have not been disappointed. Shortly after the rut began winding down, I began to explore even more the land that I hunt. I know it is odd to do this in the middle of the season, but much of my land was under water during the off season. I hunt an area that has over 2 miles of shoreline on the Black River. It is covered with water oaks and cypress trees (truly beautiful). One of the slews that I duck hunt generally has two to three feet of water; however, in late November of this year it was just a moist bottom covered with acorns and cypress knees. I came across a ridge that allowed me a bird’s eye view of most of the slew and also into an oak thicket. I decided that I would hunt this area the remainder of the season, then further investigate in February for sheds and stand placement. During my hunts here I saw numerous deer, including two of the does I harvested, several young bucks, and the buck that I chose to cull due to its antler growth. I also discovered several rubs and scrapes and knew that there was a larger buck here than I had been seeing. On Friday, the 31st, I was sitting against a tree when the sun came up across the slew. The slew was still covered with a layer of snow that we received five days earlier (something that is highly unusual for this area) The woods came alive as a group of twenty or so woodies flew over the slew. I began watching squirrels as they worked fiercely at accomplishing their mission of touching every single tree in the bottom. I was greeted by a group of hens flying down form the roost above me. A group of does made their way across the bottom feeding on the vast supply of large acorns. It was a spectacular morning….one that I knew should end well. Over the next two hours I lost count of the species of wildlife I had seen. I watched deer, ducks, geese, turkeys, squirrels, fox, a bobcat, and birds of every variety. I remember how amazingly bright the cardinal looked with the snow backdrop. I sat there thinking about how fortunate I was to have a place like this to hunt. I also thought about the doe I had harvested the afternoon prior while hunting for hogs on my buddy's land. Although our primary mission was to harvest a hog, he had made it clear to please thin out the deer population and harvest a doe if the hogs chose not to visit us….this is exactly what had happened. Sorry about the tangent – back to the story - around 9:30 a.m. I began to hear the sound of distant hounds. In southeastern North Carolina, it is still legal to use dogs to hunt deer. For those of you not familiar with this style of hunting, hunters turn a group of dogs out on a fresh deer track and surround a block of woods using the dogs to drive the deer out. Like most deer hunters in southeastern N.C., this is how I was introduced to deer hunting. I have since grown to prefer the art of still hunting but enjoy the sound of the dogs in the swamp. Two of the tracts of land adjacent to mine are leased by “dog hunters” and occasionally the dogs will run the deer onto our land. I must tell you at this point that a buck is a truly intelligent animal. I have seen dogs hot on the trail of an old buck and he (the buck) will lead the dogs into a group of does diverting them to a doe trail and he will slip off unharmed. It is really amazing to watch. As I was listening the freight train of dogs echoing through the woods, I realized they were getting closer to me. I stood up with my shotgun in hand wondering what they could be after. I saw movement across the slew and watched as three does hopped across the bottom about two minutes ahead of the dogs. These deer were coming straight for me. The closer they came the faster my mind began to think... "Do I need any more meat” “Do I want to clean another deer today?" "I think I can get two of the three" You may laugh but this is what I was thinking! I could hear the snow crushing against their feet and the sound of the dogs was deafening in the river bottom. I chose to let the does pass and shortly thereafter the dogs that are hot the trail. As I am watching the last dog leave I hear a crashing in the bushes thirty yards from where I am standing. I turn and see the largest buck I have ever seen in the wild get up from his bed and begin to run full throttle in the direction the dogs had come from. I quickly lift my Benelli to my shoulder trying to get my Truglo site on the bucks vitals. He is moving with such speed and agility that it is near impossible to keep in the line of fire. He, presumably unintentionally, is able to build a barrier of trees between himself and I. I fired at the first three opening I had and each was unable to hit its mark. The buck had already reached 75 yards before I was able to squeeze the trigger the first time. I watched as he danced his way through the bottom and towards the river. I knew that I had done nothing but motivated him to run faster. As I set on the ridge for the next thirty minutes replaying the scene, I realized that I had actually accomplished something here. I had just witnessed a creature that most people would never see in this area. I had proven my theory that big bucks prefer these bottoms, which is why I was trying to find a way to hunt this area in the first place. I also realized that I now have the upper hand. I know where he lives and odds favor the fact that he survived this season. I am already looking forward to next hunting season. By the way, the picture above is not this deer - if I had taken a picture of him, it would be with me holding his head up! This picture was the closest I could find to resemble him.
Life is funny. There is always something that happens that motivates us to keep doing what we do. Maybe it is that one good golf shot during a round where we shot 112. Maybe is it the line breaking on the one fish we hooked all day. For me it is seeing the buck that I have wanted to hunt my entire life and knowing that I am not hunting a figment of my imagination, but an intelligent, beautiful animal on his turf. I respect this King of the bottom and I look forward to the challenges that I will face this upcoming year in my attempt to harvest him.
I look forward to hearing your stories. Don’t forget about our upcoming challenge to get in shape in 2011.
Talk to you soon,