Bears, Deer, Ants and a Low
While I was married, I had access to a good number of acres in Jacksonville, North Carolina. The family farm was near Whiteville. It was a very rural area, which borders Huffman Forest. The land had been used almost entirely for growing tobacco, but was now used primarily for growing cotton, peanuts and other crops. My father-in-law leased it to a hunting club as well. I was put in contact with a care-taker to obtain keys to the property’s gates and to find out where the club would allow my intrusion. I could go where I wanted, but I didn’t want to step on any toes. I was family of the land-owners, not the lessees. I figured there might be some discomfort, but the man was honest, friendly and knowledgeable. He agreed the first area I asked about was available. It was a peanut field, Higgins Field, I was told. I’d walked it the Friday I arrived, and it was littered with tracks upon tracks. There was a catch. Bears frequented the area, feasting on the abundant mast, scattered everywhere in the nearly 80-acre, dogleg right-shaped field. It was a giant area.
I would later tell Mr. Trot, the club leader…“Well, that’s a big 10-4 on the bears.”
But that’s later.
Higgin’s Field, and indeed most of eastern NC, is an area that I knew would serve me well to try in the early season, before the rifle opener for obvious reasons, and also because the thick forests here, after smoke-pole season, become the running grounds of houndsmen. Not my cup of tea. I can respect the time and talent it must take to train dogs, and the skill required to age deer quickly, in order to select a proper target, during the pace of such a hunt. And having been in the thick wood of the eastern part of our state, and seen the big game animals therein, I can certainly understand the mindset of those who wish to utilize pushing techniques. But I like to see the woods as they would be, were I not perceived there by the inhabitants, while I shop; to see the animals behave naturally, as if they had no idea a man was among them. As close as I can get to this, is by still-stalking or stand hunting. To add to my difficulties in hunting this new area, there had been a low pounding the coast for two days prior to my arrival. But, I had only one weekend during the seven-day muzzle-loader season to hunt. I really just wanted to see the area and the wildlife; a harvest was secondary, as always. I’d hunted other family land for years in Boone, and never pulled the trigger, not for the lack of sighting game either.
I came with a newly purchased pop-up blind, something I’d never used before. I grabbed a small, probably antique chair from the front porch of the family house and threw this stuff in with my gear. I set the alarm for 4:00 am Saturday morning, since there was a good drive to the farm from the house. I fell asleep to pounding rain and wind.
I awoke to pounding rain and wind. I drove, by myself, to the farm. I arrived well before first light, and parked as close as I could to the field, about a half mile. It was still raining hard, but not quite as hard as it had been the night before. And there were occasional breaks of five to twenty minutes in the rain. I planned to hustle my gear, the chair, and an unloaded smoke-pole to the field during one of the respites. It seemed like a great idea. It was really the only idea. After a little while, the rain died down and my window of opportunity was afforded.I hurriedly walked the road, a path wide enough for a vehicle, mostly grass, with a thick canopy of woods towering over from both sides, almost asking to be pruned. As I reached the very corner of the field, it began to rain again. I dropped everything but the blind and set it up quickly. As I raised the blind, before staking, to put the chair underneath, I thought—should there be a next time with a blind, put the chair down first. I can’t recall now if I held to that enlightened moment later in life. After staking my little hut to the ground, I grabbed my gun and pack and climbed inside. I had one tiny little flashlight, the sort powered by a single AA battery that seems like a great idea when purchased, but not so bright when you need it. This would prove to be a lesson I definitely learned.
As I started to unpack a few things, I needed to load the gun for starters, I realized my hands were burning, badly. I tried to ignore it at first, but that soon proved to be impossible. So I shone my tiny light upon my hands to reveal many, many fire ants at work on me, angrily. I shook them and rubbed them together vigorously for a few minutes, and after more dim light inspection, I deemed myself ant-free. I figured I’d been bitten twenty to thirty times, all on my fingers, but my adrenaline had been flowing all morning, in anticipation of this next several hours, so I was determined to ignore it. The swelling wasn’t too bad yet. The threat of bears hadn’t deterred me, nor the pounding rain. Ants sure as hell weren’t going to run me off. I started to gather the elements needed to begin loading my semi-primitive fire-arm, a .45 magnum CVA. Yes, with pyrodex pellets. Not poured powder; and certainly not a flint-lock. Then I realized my hands were burning again….
Adrenaline can work for, or against you.
In my rush to rid myself of the tiny, angry biting army, and then to assure myself that I was ok, and that this dream hunt of a life-time should indeed continue, I failed to determine the whereabouts of the hill. Yep, I did that. After several more frantic moments, in which I cannot say whether the normal inhabitants of the woods in which I was recreating in, did or did not hear extreme cursing, I realized I’d set my things down on the hill when I first dropped them, when the rain started back. I had not set up on the hill, because that would have been just plain stupid. I brushed the remaining ants from my pack and gun, yes the gun I was holding to load again, and found no more on any other gear. My fingers now had an average of fifteen bites per, but I was still undaunted. I couldn’t see the damage too clearly, for the lack of quality lighting. Lesson learned.
So I regained my composure and realized it was about to come first light. Dawn, with no apparent sunrise. As night turned to morning, there seemed to be no separation — the rain and clouds stopped the show. But I wouldn’t miss the action. I quickly loaded my gun, which I’d managed to keep dry, and went into mode. After a few moments, I realized the field stunk. I hadn’t noted the smell the day before. It was impressive. Then I saw it; a form starting to emerge from the wood-line. Then a few more. Three bears……
The rest will be in my first in-print book which will be published in August of 2018!!!!!!!
The Raccoon and My Phone
So I’m thinking this huge raccoon is actually going to jump on me. He’s freaking hissing at me. He’s looking right at me, and there’s nobody else out here up in a tree. I’m over twenty-five feet in the air, and he is going to leap from that tree he climbed, and go freaking rabies on me. He’s big and maybe ten feet away. I’m not believing this…
About eight years ago, I was hunting a spot I later named, “the doe factory,” I was on Jordan Lake game land, and the area was traditionally lightly pressured.
I’d worked earlier that day, then rushed home to take a quick scent shower, grab clothes and gear, and drive to the spot, which will remain secret of course. I crept into the area I wanted to hunt easily enough. No busting deer or anything of note at all. Nice and quiet. There wasn’t supposed to be any wind at all, just a little warm. It was bow season, a good evening to be in a stand.
After silently ascending my pine tree of choice, I pulled up my gear, but before I could even nock an arrow or hang a bag, I heard footsteps. At least I was already harnessed in. There was a decision to make, one many bow-hunters have to make in this situation. Now you must know that one big mistake, among a multitude that can be made when one tries to take a big game animal with a stick and string, is rushing it. It’s not point and click by any means. Rush any aspect of it, and you are nearly sure to fail. Especially if you do not hunt on bait. You do not use dogs or fences. And you have no guide, nor control over how much pressure is being put on the area by others. These are wild, wary animals, and they use their noses; which are far superior to ours. The decision was whether or not to try the “slow-motion nock an arrow” (as long as they don’t smell you, deer’s vision betrays them, and they fail to see you if you move very deliberately) or to simply let them move through and wait for others, which may never come.
I decided to nock.
As six does of various sizes descended the game trail, I slowly drew an arrow from my quiver. They were walking down into a low area that leads to a cove on the lake. I was perched in a pine tree, nearly thirty feet above the base of my stand, with the water to my back. The tree was about twenty yards from the trail they were taking to drink, more than likely. The lake was very low, as we had been in drought that year. This small herd’s tracks littered the elongated lake bank, starved of water, yet still somewhat soft. Their presence was nearly ensured for this warm evening’s sit.
The deer were above me at first, and I worried they might catch my wind once they descended the draw that led to the lake. Afternoon thermals could take my scent down with the setting sun, and I could be busted. I hoped my luck would hold.
But they walked by, and never saw or winded me.
I was looking for a buck. I could take a doe, even on game land, especially when rifle season started, whenever I wanted. But it’s during bow season that hunters often see the oldest and biggest deer of the year. They aren’t quite pressured yet – no gunshots in the forests. And since the rut was on, and I was around a lot of does, I figured a buck just might show.
So as the light began to dwindle, and sunset was near, I watched the deer. I’d glance over my shoulder from time to time. They were thirty or forty yards behind me, some drinking from the water’s edge, and some casually standing in it. After watching them interact for several minutes, I heard more footsteps, loud, leaf-crunching footsteps. And I could tell it was a single animal. It had to be a buck.
As the footsteps drew closer………….. the rest will be in the book!!!!!!!!!!!!