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Just Beyond the Tree Line

PhotoBy Braden Arp

-- Our stands have been stowed and the stories have all been told. Another season has come and gone. For some, the season brought success. For others, I suppose some regrets. No matter what the case, our daily countdown has begun in anticipation of the coming fall when we can get back to square one, just mano y mano with that trophy that eluded us this passed season.

Some of us spend nine months of the year preparing, scouting, and getting ready for the upcoming season. Some of my greatest finds have come shortly after the season had ended during stints of small game hunting with my children.

Many of my finds have been helpful, while others were a painful reminder of how I stuck with a bad stand location. After a month or so, I break out of the "what could have been" woes and begin stand preparations for next year.

Experts and novices alike realize the importance of finding the food sources, as well as bedding areas and travel lanes. One of the most crucial mistakes a hunter can make is not knowing what is just beyond the treeline of the area that sports his treestand.

I will give you an example, a painful, hurtful example.

Deer season in north Georgia ends on the first day of the year, which means the second day of the year, we can be found standing behind packs of hounds chasing rabbits in and out of the briar thickets. This year was no different.

We planned a hunt on a lease where I had been deer hunting for most of the fall. I led our expedition into the dried swamp beds that housed my ground blind, and a couple of portables. We started in at the head of the swamp and moved toward my proverbial "honey hole" that I had been hunting.

I told the crew that we would have to turn in shortly due to the fact that the scrubby trees were just too dense to pass through. Without giving much information to which tree I had perched from, a friend of mine walked over to the scrubby trees and attempted to plow his way through.

Small game hunters are rarely denied passage through anything that grows from the ground. I had been answering the questions about the deer I had seen from this area, and I had to say that the numbers were rather modest from what I was expecting. Shortly through the conversation, our buddy had disappeared in the mangled madness and began to call back to us.

"Are you coming?" he asked.

"No, I think we will go around and meet you on the other side. I really don't want to tromp into the middle of a brush pile."

"What brush pile are you talking about? Once you step through those few trees, it opens back up into a meadow of green grass in the corner of this swamp bed for a couple of hundred yards," he replied.

My heart sank. As I moved over and through the trees, I noticed it was just as he reported. The tender green grass was in better shape than any food plot on the lease. The saw grass was about waist high with trails coming from every direction. Trails were on top of trails and tracks were inside of tracks. The edges opened up into a mature pine meadow with grasses growing like a pine wood pasture.

"Is this where you had your stand?" one asked.

I turned back and replied in true honesty as bad as it hurt.

"No, I was on the other side of the treeline," I replied.

He stood and stared with a confused look on his face as he sized up this prime spot I did not know was there until just now. 

My friend inquired, "How could you not see this from the other side of the treeline?"

I just let it go at that and continued on with our rabbit hunt, but not wanting to let go of the fact that I had been within 100 yards of a sanctuary and never even knew it was there. I had found this area just as bow season began, and not wanting to track the place up, I went up the first available tree overlooking the dried swamp.
 
Scouting shortly after the deer season is over has numerous advantages over scouting in the summer. First of all, you don't have to deal with snakes. There are only about 47 species of poisonous snakes in Georgia, which leaves me inclined to stay out of the swamps in the summer.

We have had a few rabbit hunts and some squirrel hunts in January and February, while strategically planned, allowed us to cover a lot of territory rather quickly and also have a little fun in the process.

The moral of the story is to take your time and find out what is around you. You may just find an overlooked sanctuary, or you may find a main highway that is only visible from treestand height. Sadly enough, I've been there and done that, too.

To find more of Braden's work, visit his hunting blog at www.huntingcircle.com.

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