Sunday, April 10, 2011

A slow start becomes the hunt of a Lifetime

NOVEMBER 13, 2010 Greensville County,Virginia

A slow start becomes the hunt of a lifetime

On November 13th opening day of Virginia’s deer hunting season I awoke at 3:00 a.m. and sprang out of bed with excitement. My goal was to spend a day of hunting with my brother in law Dennis and my thirteen year old son Luke. We pulled out of the driveway into the darkness for a two hour drive to Greensville County, Virginia.

Luke slept in the backseat of the truck as Dennis and I talked our ride away. Our conversation covered every imaginable topic including of course hunting. We talked for awhile about all the deer we had each harvested and I mentioned how great it would be to harvest a true wall hanger. I told Dennis I had been hunting a long time but never harvested a ten pointer or a larger buck. It’s the dream of harvesting that monster buck that haunts every hunter each deer season and fills our dreams the night before the hunt.

We pulled up a long gravel road into the farm and were greeted in the dark by a herd of sleepy cows as we passed through two electric fences to get to our parking spot. While Luke lay fast asleep in the truck Dennis and I dressed outside in the darkness as the cold morning air pressed us to dress quickly. In a blink of an eye Dennis was ready and headed to his stand as the sky began to change from a dense blackness to a light shade of gray.

I awoke Luke who was not receptive at all to the idea of getting out of the truck to get dressed in the cold. I passed him his cloths, socks and boots as the grayness in the sky began to lighten and a hint of orange crept over the distant tree line. In my rush to get in the woods I had to remind myself to be patient with Luke as I felt the morning’s early advantage slipping away. I thought after all the most important part of the hunt was that we enjoyed the day together.

After building numerous layers of cloths Luke and I headed up a field path toward a towering stand of hardwood trees. We slipped under a locked chain gate and turned up another path toward the edge of the hardwoods. As we walked down the path a squirrel sprang from a small tree and leapt in a series of hops across the dry leaves of the forest floor. His movements across the leaves echoed out loudly in a tish tish sound as he advanced further through the woods. Luke’s feet finally gave out from trying to follow my fast paced walk and he stopped. Bundled in his gear and face mask he stood like a statue on the path holding his shotgun. After a short rest we starting walking again toward our deer stand destination.

We found the base of our fifteen foot tall metal ladder stand and were greeted by the sun’s rays shining in spot light type beams on the forest floor. The trees towered over the area like majestic giants with raised arms and open hands. I made several trips up and down the stand with our guns, backpacks and gear. As I reached the top of the stand my backpack slipped out of my hand and made a fast drop to the forest floor. The sound echoed through the woods in a loud flap type noise when it hit the ground. I felt my frustration growing and thought it looks like today is just going to be one of those days. I made another trip down the stand and returned with the backpack. Finally we settled in the stand and began to notice the quietness of the woods as it set in around us.

Out of the silence Luke blurted out that his feet were killing him. He said they were burning up and he needed to take off a pair of socks. The stand was a little tight for both of us as we struggled to get his shoes off and remove one sock at a time. Finally finished with the sock removal detail Luke leaned forward slightly and his orange hat drifted off his head and fell to the ground. I thought this is just not going to be our day! I told him to head down and get his hat. With both of us still irritated from the late arrival and the struggle to get everything right we were finally able to settle into the stand and find a little peacefulness.

I slowly looked around at the large open woods blazing in rich fall colors filled with mature oaks, beech trees, and hollies and thought after all our work the beauty alone was worth the aggravation. As Luke and I looked around we whispered to each other as we pointed out the distinctive features of the amazing scenery. The woods were filled with trees sporting vibrate colors in various shades of reds, yellows and browns. The sun’s rising brought forth a blaze of color as its beams seemed to illuminate the leaves around us in a glowing sensation. We noted in particular a large American Beech tree with yellow leaves that seemed to shine like gold as the sun’s light coated its leaves. With both commented on the great fresh air and even took in a few deep breaths as if to clear our lungs of the city’s less than fantastic air. We noticed a squirrel that climbed a small tree at the edge of the woods near the path we had walked in on.

As we watched the squirrel a sudden white flash moved about three feet from the forest floor and knocked the squirrel out of the tree. We both whispered almost at the same time a hawk. The hawk swiftly followed the squirrel to the forest floor but missed his breakfast just as fast as he had flown. He immediately turned and flew a few feet from the forest floor out of site to the back of the woods. We both commented how cool it was to see the hawk go after the squirrel.

I became a little uncomfortable in the stand and stood up while Luke sat in the seat just below the shooting rail. He was hidden behind the camouflage burlap and leaned against the tree in a slight dozing position. As I looked out across the woods past the path we came in on I could see the denseness of small group of pine trees lined along an old cut over track. Just on the other side of the pine thicket out of view was Dennis sitting in a tall stand overlooking a small open field surrounded by cut over and pines. He was hunting in a deer stand we call the iron stand. The stand is most likely Luke’s favorite deer stand. I had convinced Luke to give the stand up to Dennis today as we had shotguns and Dennis had his rifle.

As the forest fell silent squirrels pranced across logs and climbed trees while singing birds began to fill the woods in a series of various sounds. Luke and I noted several songs and even smiled at the sound of a few which almost seemed as if they were trying to outdo one another. Our interest changed abruptly as a loud nay sounded out from the pine thicket in front of us. A second loud nay rang out almost immediately followed by the sound of a loud boom which shattered the silence and echoed abruptly through the woods. We looked at each other and whispered Dennis got one. Apparently Dennis had made the nay sounds to try to get the deer to stop long enough for a shot. Luke sat still in the stand as I looked toward the pine thicket just outside the hardwoods we were in. I noticed some movement on the edge of the pines and watched as a deer slowly moved parallel along the dense green background of the small pines. In a few minutes the deer turned and entered the hardwoods almost even with our stand. I whispered to Luke don’t make a move. The deer paused for a moment and began heading toward us.

Still standing with my gun already raised I noted it was a buck. He stopped for a moment and stood still slightly blocked by a small beech tree. I wondered if he noticed me. He slowly moved forward and stopped within a sweet shooting spot. I aimed took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger as a loud thunder echoed the woods and the stand. The deer quickly turned to his left and bolted away from the stand. I swung my gun while following his departure and took another shot at his rib cage. The shot thundered the woods again as the deer continued to advance further through the forest along the edge of a ridge.

I listened to the leaves and watched the area of the deer’s departure intently. The sound of the deer’s advancement through the dry noisy leaves had fallen silent. At that point I didn’t want to push the deer and though I’ll wait here awhile before I get down. Dennis called me on my cell and I asked if I got him? I told him that I wasn’t really sure but he had stopped moving through the woods. He said you better get down out of the stand because some dogs are coming through the woods and they are hot on his trail.

Luke and I quickly climbed down the stand and advanced slowly toward the area the buck had gone. We found a group of fallen trees and knelt down in front of them. We watched intently and listened carefully only to discover a constant stillness in the woods in front of us. The distant sounds of the hounds advance turned into a reality as their long stroked bays seemed to shake the ground around us when the first redbone hound passed within a few feet of us. The dog was running the same track I had seen the deer follow when all of a sudden the buck sprang from behind a large oak tree which was just a short distance in front of us.

As the buck passed through the woods thick holly trees and dense underbrush concealed his exit only leaving the sound of his feet on the dry leaves to indicate the direction of his departure. All along the hounds bays rang out through the woods in a steady series of slow deep throated woos. A second dog entered the woods and followed the chase as the buck and hounds passed over a high ridge toward the rear of the property.

Luke and I listened to the dogs as the sound of their chorus changed entirely. Dennis called me and asked what happen? I told him the dogs pitch had changed and they seemed to be staying in one area now. He said he had noticed that as well and we better go to them quick. I told him we’d call him if we needed any help. Before we left the woods Luke and I shredded off our jackets and a few cloths. In order to save time we walked quickly toward the dogs along an open high ridge at the edge of the property which lead downhill toward the Nottoway River.

It was apparent as we passed through the woods that the dogs were settled in the same area as their howling had changed from a constant spaced series to a mixture of growling and yipping. As we passed along the ridge a memory suddenly entered my mind from a previous hunt when I had to go after a wounded deer. This time was different as Luke was with me. The safety concerns immediately became a reality. We stopped on the top side of the ridge and I told Luke the seriousness of the situation. I told him by the sounds of the dogs below us I was positive the deer and dogs were fighting and had no idea what we’d walk into.

I instructed him to follow a short distance behind me and if at any point the deer moves his way to get behind a large tree. I told him not to shoot and let me take care of the deer. I took a few additional moments to go over some other possibilities of what to do and what not to do and what to do if I have a problem. The seriousness of the situation showed on his face as he acknowledged my instructions. As we advanced through the woods downhill the underbrush became thick and almost impossible to see through. I could hear the dogs as if they were just in front of us.

I held my hand up to Luke and we stopped for a minutes as we could hear the shifting of dry leaves, growling, yipping and aggressive howls. I envisioned the large angry buck charging the hounds with his sharp anthers down in an unpleasant game of tag as the hounds surrounded him and they exchanged bites and stabs. The movement and sounds changed again briefly. Oddly enough all the sounds fell off for a few minutes. When they began again and we could hear the dogs aggressive howls mixed with growling and a few deep throated long bays.

We quickly advanced through the underbrush and much to my surprise we stepped out into the open woods a lot closer to the river than I had expected. The dog’s howls rang out from the center of the river. Luke and I looked out across the steady moving Nottoway River to a small island. At the end of the island was a narrow stand of dry white sand colored marsh grass. On the edge of the marsh grass laid a large motionless buck with a huge set of antlers and three redbone hounds circling the buck howling. The dogs moved back and forth through the grass biting on the deer’s neck and legs and occasionally growling as they pulled on the deer’s motionless legs. Luke and I stood in amazement for a moment admiring the size of the buck. I set my gun down and worked my way down the edge of the eight foot tall river bank to the sandy edge of the river. I looked out toward the island in the middle of the river and said man how am I going to get him out. I told Luke to relax and keep an eye on me as it looks like I’m going into the water.

In my excitement to get the buck I hadn’t thought to much about the depth of the water only that I knew I was going in to get him either way. I began stripping off my cloths and gear to a far below modest level. Once stripped down I immediately noticed the depth of the water and realized this was not the place to cross. I tossed my cloths up the bank toward Luke and returned to the top of the river bank. I told Luke if something happens to follow the path and head up to the front of the property and get Dennis.

I walked further down the river bank and discovered an area where I could actually see bottom. The only trouble was the bank was far too steep to bring the deer up. I made my way down the bank wearing my boots and just enough clothing to make it a little embarrassing.

When I stepped off the bank my first boot planted in a small mud sandbar which filled my noise with a stench as my boot sucked down into the mud. I quickly moved over the mud only to find the coldness of the water in such a fashion that it immediately brought the reality of my task to a true awareness as it surrounded my waist and legs. I looked down through the water at the brown colored bottom which was littered in rocks of every imaginable size along with tree branches and scattered debris. I made my way toward the island and could feel the current rushing against my waist as the water pushed further downstream.

As I reached the edge of the island I was still far from where the buck was located. I stopped in the water and stood in front of a tall hedge of dry sand colored marsh grass. I looked toward the end of the island where the buck was and noticed the water dropped off far deeper than I had planned on. I decided to enter the marsh grass and make my way through the grass to the point of the island.

When I stepped into the marsh grass I pushed the pointed blades out of the way just as a redbone hound exited the grass and hit the water. Oddly enough I immediately noticed the marsh grass was stabilized on a mixture of mud and river rock. As I began advancing toward the buck I noticed numerous bedding areas on the island. It was apparent that the deer were using the island as a prime hiding spot on a regular basis.

I advanced through the grass and stood over the buck as the feeling of excitement rushed upon me. The deer lay on the very tip of the island with his legs toward the water and his glorious antlers facing me. I looked over at Luke standing high on the top of the river bank and yelled out he’s huge! I lifted his rack for Luke to see. I counted his points and sticker points and yelled over to Luke who acknowledged each of my responses with just as much excitement. As I counted and gave my report Luke would yell back in excitement with each number. At the time I counted a total of fifteen points.

I thanked the Lord for the great blessing and planned my return with the deer. The water beneath the tip of the island appeared far deeper then I cared to enter. I realized this wasn’t going to be an easy task. I made the decision to pull the buck across the island through the mud and grass to the area I had originally entered the island. I grabbed his anthers and pulled hard as I could feel his weight working on my legs in the wet soft mud. After a short distance I took a break and I rested from the effort.

I finally reached the shallower side of the island and hit the water as I slid in with the buck following behind. The coldness of the water was far more embracing then I remembered during the trip across. The weight of the deer immediately became an easy task as it freely floated in the water. The biggest problem I now faced was managing him against the rushing current. At one point I had to get downstream from the deer to keep from losing him to rivers steady moving advance.

As I finally returned to Luke on the opposite side I discovered in order to get the deer up the bank I was going to have to return to the original spot I had first tried to enter the water. It had a slight slope and appeared as an easy incline upward. The sandy bank along the water was still at least eight foot below the top of the river bank. I pulled the deer from the water onto the sandy bank and positioned it far above the moving water. I thought I really need help with this and started to call Dennis when I realized my cell phone was in my jacket left under our deer stand. Luke took a good look at the buck and was excited and pleased with his size. The real work was about to begin. Even after I got the buck up the river bank I would had a great distance to pull the buck and every bit of it was up hill. It was far too great a distance for dragging as it would have turned into an all day event.

I decided to head out of the woods and get my deer cart. I thought I could send Luke and wait at the river with the deer but I was worried if he would get lost coming or going. My fear was if we both went the dogs could return and chew on the buck or someone else may come by and take the deer. Luke showed his true bravery as he said dad I’ll stay here with the buck and you can go get the cart. I headed down the path and climbed a tall hill which leads to the front of the property. The climb uphill was very steep and forced me to lean forward as I worked my way to the top. Leaving Luke alone along the river admittedly bothered me and I rushed in order to get back quickly.

As I climbed the steep incline of the hill I could feel my water logged boots swish and slip as I struggled forward. I could feel my chest pounding and my throat slightly burning from my rush and excitement to complete the task. I stopped momentarily as I caught my breath for a few minutes. Climbing the hill under normal circumstances on any other day I usually always stopped midway anyway but my rush to the truck had made the climb that much more strenuous. After a short rest I continued my climb and finally reached the top of the hill. The long flat walk out of the woods and onto the farm path was an instant relief even in water logged boots.

With a quick dive into the back of my truck I began undoing the deer cart and grabbed a heavy rope. My friend Brian arrived on his four wheeler and I filled him in on the entire excitement of the hunt. Much to my delight he offered to help with his four wheeler. With the rope loaded on the four wheeler we rode down the steep hill toward the river. Luke was happy to see Brian and pleased with the great advantage of his help.

We looked at the buck and pointed out the island as we reviewed the hunt. Brian positioned his four wheeler away from the river bank toward the woods. I tied a rope around the deer’s neck and Brian tied the other end to the four wheeler. Brian pulled with his four wheeler while I pushed the deer upward from the bottom of the river bank. As the four wheeler moved forward the deer’s nose would occasionally jam in the side of the bank and I would have to move the deer off the bank as it continued upward. When the deer finally got close to top of the bank. Brian stopped his four wheeler and pulled the deer up the rest of the way. We all took a minutes to look the buck over.

Luke and I followed Brian up the steep hill as he dragged the deer behind his four wheeler and out to our truck at to the front of the property. We spent the rest of the day admiring our blessing, sharing the story and spending time with all our hunting partners. We spent some time examining the buck and noted an area along the deer’s hide at its neck and wondered if Dennis’s first shot may have grazed the neck when the deer crossed the field. I’d like to thank the Lord for the Great harvest, Franklin for allowing us to hunt on such a fantastic farm, and Brian for all the tremendous help of getting the deer out. I’d also like to thank Dennis for helping me with all the heavy chores of field dressing, butchering and for preparing the hide for mounting.

Most of all I’d like to thank the guys for being such great friends and sharing the experience.

Story by Hampton Brewer AKA VAOUTDOORSMAN

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