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Two Bucks and a Prayer

AshleyBy Mark Ashley

-- It was early September, and I was on the way to my first hunt of 2004. Normally at this time of year, I'm practicing with my bow and waiting for deer season to roll around. In my home state of Alabama, opening day is usually around the middle of October. This year, however, I was lucky enough to be asked to guide a company sponsored hunt to South Carolina.

At the time, I worked for a company in Charlotte, N.C., owned by two of my friends, McGowin Patrick and Cliff Inge. McGowin and Cliff also own a couple of large tracts of land in South Alabama and had allowed me to hunt there on several occasions. After seeing my love for deer hunting, McGowin jokingly made me the company's "director of entertainment," which meant I was being paid to take customers hunting. It doesn't get much better than that.

The company owned 2,200 acres in South Carolina that was on the verge of being sold. The property had once been a thriving granite mine in the late 1800s and had since been turned into a beautiful hunting plantation. Because the property had never been hunted, McGowin suggested that I take some customers out to the property before it was sold. Needless to say, I was glad to oblige.

I arrived at the property a couple of days prior to my guests in order to meet with the property manager and do some scouting. It was a beautiful piece of land consisting of food plots, hardwood hollows, swampy bottoms and a couple of high ridges, which merged at a small lake. Each food plot had a nice comfortable ladder stand at one end. After hunting the steep and rocky mountainsides of the John D. Martin Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, I was excited at the chance to hunt over manicured food plots.

The following day, my hunting partners Bill and Linda Rowe arrived. We spent the first day exploring the land and looking for good spots to place our guests. The next two days, we took the opportunity to do some hunting ourselves. It was in the mid-80s in the day, and the mosquitoes were literally eating us alive. Even though the South Carolina rut had begun, the heat seemed to be hindering deer movement.

After three days of hard hunting with little or no buck sightings, my spirits were low. I drove 400 miles with high expectations of killing my first buck worthy of mounting, but it was beginning to look like a wasted trip. My guests were arriving the next evening and I didn't have much hope for a successful hunt. I called my wife, Stephanie, from the hotel that night. She could tell that I was disappointed. I was hot, tired, covered with mosquito bites and ready to come home. She told me she would pray for me before she went to sleep.

The next morning, I decided to abandon the food plots and hunt as if I were back home. I found a trail coming down a ridge from an acorn flat. I climbed a nearby stand and put out some scent bombs. Shortly after daybreak, a few does came by on a trail behind me. I turned around in the stand to face the trail they used. About 20 minutes later, I heard another deer coming down the same trail. My blood pressure rose as I waited to see what it was. A buck appeared on the trail in a full trot with its nose glued to the ground. This buck was a shooter. For the first time since I arrived, I felt that wild anxiety in my stomach that keeps me coming back to the woods each year. I raised my gun and waited for the shot. The buck ran right by my tree without even giving me a glance and turned broadside about 30 yards in front of me. I squeezed the trigger on my rifle. A deafening shot rang out. The buck jumped straight up in the air and darted into some thick pines. I knew from its reaction that my bullet found its mark.

I wanted to wait but could not sit still. I climbed down from the stand and walked to where the buck stood only minutes before. A bright red trail led into a thicket of young pines and briars. Like a blood hound, I hit the trail and crawled through the thick brush. About 30 yards in, I saw the lifeless body of an 8-point buck with a single shot through its heart. I drug him back to the road and sat down to think about what had just taken place. It all happened so fast it was like a dream. My heart pounded as I retold the morning's events to Bill and Linda at lunch.

I called Stephanie later to tell her the news and to thank her for the prayers. She was as excited as I was. Before we hung up, I asked her to say another prayer. I figured if it worked once, it couldn't hurt to try it again.

The next morning I took my guests to their stands for their first hunt. With my new-found confidence, I decided to take my climbing stand to a patch of thick cutover that contained a couple of large oak trees loaded with acorns. I put out some scent and used my deer calls. Within 10 minutes, a 10-point buck stepped out of the cutover and walked straight to my tree. I was totally taken by surprise. I hadn't expected such a quick response to the calls. I raised my gun and fired before the buck was too close to shoot. The buck ran right by my tree like it was on fire. I watched the deer disappear into a pine thicket about 75 yards away.

This time I waited about an hour and caught my breath. One of my guests, Don Hembree, who was hunting nearby, arrived and offered to help me look for the deer. To my dismay, we tracked him step for step for about 100 yards without finding a drop of blood. I knew the buck was too close for me to have missed, but I was starting to wonder.

We entered the pine thicket where I had last seen the buck and began to search the ground in a grid pattern. I finally saw a tiny red spec of blood. I looked up, and to my surprise, the deer lay only feet in front of me. The bullet had never exited the body. I began thanking God for hearing my wife's prayers and allowing me the opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams.

A prayer and two bucks later, an unsuccessful trip had turned into one of the best I've ever had. My hunting partner Bill harvested a nice buck the following day. Once again, God showed me that he can change any situation and that he not only provides my every need but also a few of my wants.

Mark Ashley
Jackson County, Alabama

P.S.  My friend Linda, who is mentioned in the story, was recently killed in an automobile accident. I had sent her a copy of the story before the accident. This one's for Linda.

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