Celebrating the Big 3-0 with a Carolina outfitter
By Rick Morrison
I met George Popovich of Carolina Whitetail Outfitters in January 2008 at the Yankee Sportsman's Classic in Essex, Vermont. He had a little booth set up with a dry-erase board that read: Three Day Hunt, Three deer, $1,000.
The sign really caught my attention, and after talking with George, it seemed like a great deal. Unfortunately, I'd already booked a hunt for black bear in Maine for September that year, but I told George I'd stay in touch.
The bear hunt turned out to be a waste of time and money, and it definitely made me skeptical of guide services.
I returned to the Sportsman's Classic the next year and met with George again. He was sitting in about the same place with same sign. His prices had increased a little, but they still seemed reasonable.
After my bad experience with the bear hunt, I started thinking if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But, I took a brochure from George to do a little more research before committing.
He had 10 or 15 references on the back of his brochure, and one happened to be from my wife's hometown, and it was from someone she knew.
My wife introduced us, and he had nothing but good things to say about his experience. He said he'd definitely go back. He actually carried a picture of the 9-pointer he'd taken on his hunt in his wallet, as if it was one of his kids. I was sold.
In November 2010, I turned the big 3-0. What better present for myself than a whitetail hunt? Once again, I met George at the show, only this time I booked a hunt.
That November, my buddy Dave and I arrived at camp to find a very nice three-bedroom, two-bath doublewide home set up to accommodate eight hunters per week. That week, it was full.
There's no hunting in North Carolina on Sundays, so hunters and guides spent the evening getting to know each other. The guides went over the rules for North Carolina and their camp, both of which were very easy to follow.
On Monday, I was awakened at 4 a.m. by a knock on the door. The smell of pancakes, sausage and hot coffee filled the air. After a quick breakfast, it was time to load into the trucks.
My guide, Dale, dropped off Dave and me at our stands and told us he'd be back for us later. I waited anxiously, wondering what daylight would bring.
Shortly after daybreak, the distinct crack of a rifle broke the silence. Okay, I thought. That's a good sign. There are deer here and they're moving.
A couple more shots rang out that morning, then 10 a.m. rolled around and Dale came to pick me up.
"Well?" he said from inside the warm Suburban.
Nothing, I told him. The look on his face said it all. "I was sure you would've gotten a shot opportunity by 6:30 or 7."
"It's okay," I said. "It's only the first day."
We made our way from stand to stand, picking up the other guys. They'd seen lots of deer but none were taken. We returned to camp for a nice lunch and exchanged stories before the afternoon hunt.
At 2:30 p.m. we returned to the stands for an evening watch. Darkness came, and once again, no deer for me.
Dale placed us all in the same stands as Day One. Once again, shortly after daybreak the sound of a rifle broke the silence. My hopes rose again, and I waited anxiously.
Just before 10 a.m. I heard a commotion in the woods from behind me. It was a doe and a fawn running wide open. I had no shot opportunity, but at least I'd finally seen deer.
About 11 a.m., Dale arrived. The shot I'd heard had hit its mark. A guy named Norm had gotten a nice 8-pointer, and it was loaded on the back of the Suburban.
Back at the lodge, the guides took care of Norm's deer while the rest of us had lunch, then we returned to our stands.
Dale decided to change our stands for the evening's hunt, and I was placed in a large oak tree overlooking a food plot. I heard shots all around from the other hunters, and I knew the deer were moving.
About 30 minutes before sunset, two button bucks stepped into the food plot and stayed until dark, but no shooters showed up. Dale picked me up and we went to get the rest of the guys. Norm scored again, with a nice doe and, back at camp, a guy named Lou was showing off his nice 8-pointer.
My last morning's hunt arrived with winds blowing between 30 and 40 mph. A wild thunderstorm had come through during the night, so I wasn't very optimistic.
Dale changed my stand location to get me out of the wind. He took me to a path and told me the stand was about 200 yards down the trail. The path was clearly marked and very easy to follow. I was in my stand about half an hour before sunrise.
Soon after sunup, I heard a shot and my optimism rose. I could see I'd have very good shot opportunities in the hardwoods ahead, up to 100 yards.
At 7:10 a.m., I heard a stick snap to my left and slightly behind me. At first glance, it appeared to be a large-bodied doe in the thick brush.
It walked toward the back of my stand, keeping its head in the branches, so I couldn't tell if it was a buck or a doe.
I spotted an opening between two trees and readied my gun. Just as the deer's head entered the opening, I saw it was a buck, but couldn't tell how big it was.
I bleated to get it to stop in the opening. It stopped on a dime with just its neck and shoulders in the opening. It was definitely a shooter. Not wanting to miss my opportunity, I placed the crosshairs on its neck and squeezed the trigger.
Its front end dropped, and then it plowed through the leaves out of sight.
I climbed down from my stand and walked over to where it had stood. The leaves were torn up but there was no blood or hair to be found.
I was using a .300 WSM, Model 70 Winchester, so I figured there should definitely be sign of a hit somewhere.
I could tell the direction the deer had taken by the leaves that had been disrupted. I followed the trial about 10 yards, still finding no sign. Standing in the trail with my head bent in disgust, I wondered how I could've missed the shot.
Then I glanced to my right and there it was, only 20 yards away!
In 14 years of hunting, I'd yet to get a deer worthy to put on my wall. Seeing its antlers as it was lying there, I could tell instantly this was the one.
It turned out to be a typical 8-pointer with a 16 1/2-inch inside spread and a nice, tall rack.
I took this buck on the last day of the hunt and the day before my 30th birthday. Happy Birthday to me!