"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Vagaries of Luck while Deer Hunting in North Carolina

The buzzsaws cranked up at 7 a.m., a solid 45 minutes after first shooting light. True to current form, those three-quarters of an hour produced not a single deer sighting. I’d long since come to the conclusion that I’m a deer hunting hack – not a single strategy of my own had paid off this season and now I was relying on the Deer Gods to shine on me in Sampson County, North Carolina. As I put forth no effort whatsoever in placing this stand or scouting the land or even dumping bait piles, I would be at the whim and mercy of forces beyond my control – including the loggers.

We knew there would be a crew chopping trees. As the story goes, the lady who owned the land ran into health problems and resulting money problems, and the banks were threatening to foreclose on the property – quite frankly, it’s a depressing backdrop on which to highlight my misfortunes with something as silly as deer hunting. To help settle the debt, family decided to sell the timber rights on this several hundred acre tract. Since the woods would be gone in a matter of days, it was decreed in camp to hang the antler rules and restrictions and any deer could be shot from this area, so long as it was legal by NC standards.

Gene had sat here the previous morning and spotted an assortment of does and a young six-point. He had his mind on bigger things and passed on the chances. The din of the work crew was distant enough so as not to rile the deer up too much. I pounced on the opportunity to abide by the “Brown is Down” mentality when it became available and sat coiled, ready to strike at any spike or doe that slipped out of the woods. But by the time those blades started striking pine bark, only a few hen turkeys had visited.

The stand was really a Porta-Potty on a raised platform. Gutted on the inside minus a swivel chair and an assortment of whiz bottles and spit cups, it was a comfortable perch on the border of the timber and a cut cornfield. The one problem with being encapsulated like that was it muffled noise from the outside. While the terrible, irritating drone of the saws was clearly audible, it was difficult to realize that they were drawing closer.

But the hens didn’t seem to mind, so I held out hope. Around 8, though, all dreams were dashed. I distinctly heard the snap of a splintering pine trunk and listened as the tree top bullied its way through vines and underbrush and crashed to the floor, shaking the entire stand. I slung the door to the stand open and could now clearly hear and see the crew in the treeline behind me, maybe 100 yards, and more pines waving in the air and disappearing to the ground. Deer be damned, I didn’t want to be crushed by a felled conifer, especially in a Porta-Potty.

But that about summed up how things had been going for me this year – galactic forces beyond my control pulling me further from my goals of antlers and venison. Desperation had already taken hold. The evening before in a different stand I tried shooting a doe at 450-500 yards, rough guess. She and four others bailed into a gigantic cut cornfield at sunset. They milled about in the open as I fumbled with the odds of actually cutting hair. I figured I never get a chance to shoot this far, why not? No Lead, No Dead. The bullet fell way shy of the animal, exploding in the dirt and mushrooming small plumes of dust as it ricocheted across the field like splashes after a rock is skipped across water. Needless to say, she got away and they were the only deer I saw in nearly 8 hours of hunting that area that day.

In that very stand the following morning while I was listening to the saws, Dave shot an ancient 6-point, wide of the ears by a couple inches. He’d also seen another 8 and several does within shooting distance. Why didn’t they show when I was there 24 hours earlier? It is things like this that’ll drive you nuts because when luck is not breaking your way but seems to be favoring everyone else, you begin to question your Karmic standing: "What have I done wrong? I'm a nice person!" Dave does a bunch of work on this land year in, year out and deservedly took a nice buck.
Dad's cull buck

Well, it was also a little bit more than work ethic that contributed to Dave’s buck. A cold front was quickly approaching and it switched the deer activity wide open. Dad – on his first trip ever hunting with us here – shot an interesting cull buck out of what is known as the Jerry Mack Stand. This animal, too, had been on the scent of a hot doe. Dad had seen several other big-bodied deer before shooting light that he was convinced were bucks. I just needed to lay claim to that stand for the evening hunt.

Camp protocol states that the man who has not killed a deer gets his first chance at choosing a stand. That put me in the driver’s seat, but only barely. Tim had shot and lost a cowhorn the night before. I offered him my bid on Jerry Mack’s out of the shear kindness of my heart. He deliberated hard, but the issue became moot. Travis had gone out on a feed run and found Tim’s deer thus rendering his claim on JM’s null and void. Things were lining up for me.

And don’t feel bad for Timbo – no one else ever would – because his evening hunt was a hard lesson in Hunting Destiny. My boy E-Man had been hunting the Dennis Stand for a couple days. He hunted morning to noon, would come back for lunch and return for the bulk of the afternoon. He’d put in an unspeakable number of hours in that stand that neither I nor any other member in camp would and it just wasn’t paying off for him. E-Man decided he required a change of scenery, if only for an evening. Tim decided he’d hunt the Dennis Stand.

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time deer hunting, you’re probably wincing and already know what happened. Yes, Tim killed the biggest buck we have taken on that property in the years I’ve hunted there, a gorgeous 8-pt. He was in the stand only 15 minutes. There was some muttering and name-calling later and a notable shortage of bourbon by night’s end, but all-in-all, E-Man handled it well.

Back at Jerry Mack’s, I’d settled in as the wind started whipping up with gusts in the 20-30mph range. I’ve had zero success in my life when the conditions were like this and lacked confidence that this evening would be any different. Jerry Mack’s is a large elevated box blind situated on a grass pasture surrounded by blocks of thick ash, pine and oak. If you were to take a running start into the woods, you’d make it maybe 5 feet. It’s more of a brick of woods than a block, pervasive in coastal North Carolina. But the deer love it. The only way to reliably get them out of this mess is with dogs or bait piles. This isn’t land for lock-ons or ground blinds set way out in the weeds; you must motivate these deer.

A light drizzle started around 4 p.m. as the light already started to fade. From across the field ahead of me a spike emerged from the tangle, nose to the ground seeking a hot doe. He circled the bait piles for 10 minutes or so before finally wandering into the woods to my left. Entranced by the spike, I failed to mention the buck standing in the field on my right. The Nikon Monarchs showed him to be a young 8-pt; the Nikon rangefinder said he was at 292yds. Now it was a matter as to whether I could hold the Nikon scope in the right spot with the distance and wind.
North Carolina 8-point

I’m supremely confident in my Savage 110 Tactical in .300 Win. Mag. Shot a few hogs at such ranges – and missed plenty more – but this would be my longest crack at a deer. Shooting 180-grain Winchester XP3’s sighted in 1.5 inches high at 100 yards, I could hold at the top of his shoulder and we’d be in the money. The only problem was that wind.

The buck was doing the same as the spike, though with more patience. He was seeking the trail of a doe around the corn piles. He’d pace around with this nose to the ground as the wind and rain no doubt hindered his senses. I got comfortable in the stand and nestled the rifle in the corner of the railings and the roof support for a solid rest and tracked him as he turned broadside. At that time, the wind gave me the break I needed. I squeezed the trigger and, after the report, caught the sight of the white belly flipping upwards and still in the grass.

292 yards is a good shot. I raced down to make sure he had expired and to snap a quick pic. You know that’s a decent distance when it takes almost 10 minutes to walk from the stand and back. He was what I thought he was – no surprises like being a four-point or something that'll earn lectures at camp. No giant trophy but my first decent buck after several failed attempts over the years. The next buck that walked in, while I was texting pics to friends and family, I thought would be a wall-hanger.

This buck, certainly more mature, carried a belly and swagger and an impressive right side of antlers for this area. He strolled up to his fallen brethren to size him up before he started his own search for love. That’s when he turned his head my way and I saw his left antler didn’t match – it was a forked brow tine, almost exactly like the one my father had shot that morning.

North Carolina Cull Buck
We needed to do something about this gene pool, but I strongly contemplated what would be the results of my action. One, he was at 307 yards. Could I pull off that shot again? What if someone else wants to hunt here? An act of unselfishness would weigh well with the Hunting Gods. Should I push my luck this far after being graced just minutes prior?

Well, I made the shot. Get rich or die trying. He dropped like a sack of potatoes. This time I abandoned the stand and called Dad and Uncle Dennis to help me load the deer. As it turned out, the weather only got worse and the deer movement across the property slackened by the next day. 

Time will tell if there will be any cosmic repercussions, but I was certainly proud of these two bucks and more than a little thankful. Truth be told, I celebrated a little harder that night, surely contributing to the whiskey shortfall. Plus, someone had to selflessly stay up to console E-Man and wish him luck for the next day.


kmurray said...

Right on Ian!!! I tell ya what, when it rains bucks for you, it pours 'em out! That's just awesome and I'm plenty happy for ya cuz I know it's been way too long. Speaking of long, way to bring 'em down at the range too. That rocks!

Now you bring on some more of those sweet venison recipes we all love too!

Congrats again!

Ian Nance said...

Thanks, Kari.

Just put up a taquito recipe you may enjoy. Hope your season is going well.

Kansas Turkey Creek Outfitters said...

Glad to see fellow hunters having a great hunt, from reading the comments, gonna have to check out some of your recipes :)

Anonymous said...

hey to be more fair u should hunt them with a bow and arrow, or a spear. its unfair .