By Chris Ford
-- I traveled a lot in 2006, harvesting whitetails in four states: South Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma. In 2007, however, I opted to stay closer to home – even turning down an invitation to rifle hunt in Missouri.
A week into my 130-day overseas deployment, my wife told me to expect our first child in January! I was ecstatic and wanted to show her I was going to be there for her. I promised no out-of-state hunting trips in the months leading up to the big event.
That meant I would be limited to semi-public land, a Naval Station recreation area where hunting is allowed only from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. and not at all on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I didn’t return home from overseas until early September, well after the season opened in South Carolina (Aug. 15). Any scouting would have to be done on the hoof.
I hunted seven or eight mornings and evenings and saw only squirrels. Discouraged, I set out a trail camera and got 70 photographs the first week. The best was of a 2 ½-year-old 8-pointer, a real trophy for that place. Problem was: All the shots were taken around 8:00 at night.
I didn’t hunt the area the next week, but I got more nighttime pictures.
The 8-pointer seemed to be approaching from the low-country swamp (East Cooper River) about 300 yards away. I decided the next chance I had to go on an evening hunt; I would set up next to the swamp.
On Oct. 26, I rushed home from work and threw my gear in the truck, including both my bow and muzzleloader. Given my lack of time, I skipped my customary shower.
By the time I arrived at the check-in station, I still was unsure as to which weapon I would carry afield. Because of a very slow train, I almost missed check-in and was flustered.
Once “released” to go to our areas, I drove to my spot and opted for the muzzleloader. I was about 400 yards from my truck and 400 yards from my stand when I realized I’d forgotten my primers. I hurried back to my truck and grabbed a few. Halfway to my stand the second time, it occurred to me that I’d also left behind my speed loaders; I’d have no opportunity for a follow-up.
Angry, I resolved that if I couldn’t get the job done with the first shot, then I didn’t deserve a deer.
I finally got in my stand about 45 minutes later than I had planned. On a hunt limited to two and a half hours, that’s a big deal!
I settled in, said a little prayer and decided to try my grunt call and bleat can when sun sank to the treetops. At 5:55, I let out a short series of grunts and two bleats. Five minutes later, I got that feeling and glanced over my shoulder. I saw a deer and a piece of antler – a single long tine – moving my way through a small lane. I hoped it was the 8-pointer from my trail camera collection.
The buck closed the distance rapidly. I eventually could see a long P-2 and P-3 on one side and knew I’d shoot if given the chance. When the buck stopped at 35 yards, it was still in the brush. I longed for my bow.
When the deer stepped clear of the brush, I realized it was much heavier than the young buck in my trail cam photos. Buck fever hit, but then I remembered I had only one shot. I was suddenly concentrating so hard on the buck’s right shoulder that I never even saw its rack again.
I slowly cocked my Omega’s hammer and envisioned a slow and steady trigger pull. I don’t remember actually doing it before smoke obscured my view through the scope. I quickly stood to see if I could see the buck running. But it was lying right there.
I was amazed when I walked up to the buck. It wasn’t an 8-pointer; it was a mainframe 5x5 with kickers everywhere and massive bases. In all, there were 15 scoreable points, good for a green score of 139 7/8 – my best to date.
The game warden at the check station said it was the biggest deer he’d seen from that property. Since I’d left my camera at home, I called my wonderful wife to come out and see my buck and take some photos for me.
I owe her and my baby girl for giving me a reason to hunt harder near home in one of those overlooked and “worthless” places.
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-- Chris Ford