2003 Deer Hunting Journal-
Well, this is year three for my online hunting journals. If you're reading this, thanks. For my part, I'm sure enjoying putting it all together... almost as much as I'm enjoying the hunts that make it up.
I suppose the original intent, to collect data and identify trends (such as weather patterns and moon phases) has kind of gone by the wayside. Most of the time, the weather during the CA deer seasons is pretty much identical anyway.
This season promises to be a busy one for hunting. First and foremost, I managed to draw an X3-A tag for California. That'll put me in some prime mule deer habitat. I've been working with a friend on a 7000 acre ranch in that zone, and that's where we'll be hunting. That hunt begins on October 4.
The X zone hunt overlaps another major hunt, a Colorado elk trip that begins on October 11. I'm planning to leave directly from the X zone hunt to make the Colorado trip. That means I need to score early in X zone, in order to have time to drive to CO without marathon driving.
Finally, I chose an Archery Only tag for my second CA deer tag. This gives me access to the A zone, B zone, and all D zones, both during archery and rifle season. Essentially this means I could potentially hunt from July 16 through the first week of November.
As a surprise, I also got the opportunity to go to South Carolina for the deer opener to bowhunt deer and hogs at the Bostick Plantation.
So here goes!
August 15-17 - Bostick Plantation Estill, South Carolina
I was preparing to go back to North Carolina to visit family for a week's vacation, when my brother, Scott, called. "Sorry, but I won't be there the first weekend you're in town. I'm going to be bowhunting hogs and deer on the South Carolina opener!"
He proceeded to tell me that he'd made a reservation for a three day hunt at the Bostick Plantation hunting club in Estill, South Carolina. The club is on a quality deer management program, so any bucks must have at least four points on a side. "Cowhorns" (bucks with spikes over 6-8") and three pointers are also legal game. Bostick Plantation is located right beside the Savannah River, and the hogs are thick in the area. It sounded like a dream hunt, especially since one of my dreams is to take a trophy buck in velvet.
"You dog!" I accused. "The bucks are gonna be in full velvet."
"Yeah, it's gonna be awesome! Wish you could join me," he said. "It'd be a blast."
"Dang, wish I could too. But I'm already doing a week in the X zones and a week and a half in Colorado for elk," I explained. "My hunting budget is about done in."
Envious visions of full coolers and velvet trophy racks filled my sleep that night.
Next morning, my mom called. At first she asked about our plans for the trip, verifying flight times and all that. Then she shocked me. "Why don't you come out a little early, and go with your brother on that hunting trip?" she asked.
I explained again about my hunting budget. "Well, why don't I give it to you for your birthday?" she suggested. "I didn't know what to get you anyway."
My heart leapt. I gave it some thought, about a second and a half, then said, "Let me see if I can get my airline tickets changed. If I can, I'm all over it!"
The details aren't that important here, but I ended up flying into Charleston, SC where my brother would pick me up to go on to Estill, another 90 miles or so down the road. Country roads are notorious for slow drivers, and we didn't make it to Bostick Plantation until nearly 2130, four hours after I got off the plane.
Which brings us, after a few weeks of anticipation (picture a kid waiting for Christmas morning), to... THE HUNT.
At the Plantation, we met our guide, Ab, who guided us first of all to the Bowhunters' Camp. I must describe the lodging facilities here, but I'll try to be brief. At the top of the scale, there is the Executive Lodge. This is an antebellum style mansion, set back behind a picturesque, white-fenced horse pasture, and well away from the road. True to it's name, this lodge features top notch service, gourmet dining, and a price tag to match.
There is also the "Main Lodge". This is where the regular gun hunters stay. It's a nice little cottage, with kitchen and some service. Rates here are a little more mainstream, and from what I saw, the comfort level was reasonable.
Finally, there's the "Bowhunters' Cabin". Advertised as "rustic", this is really a bare-bones bunkhouse. It is heated and air conditioned, with indoor plumbing, but that's about the end of the amenities. There are two bunk rooms, with space for 10 hunters. When my brother called and asked about bringing his camper, he was told that it would be a "good idea". In retrospect, while I enjoyed the comfort of the camper (full water and electric hookups meant we had air conditioning, hot showers, and a full kitchen), I don't think the cabin would have been all that bad. In my opinion, it was definitely as advertised... rustic. But, hell... it's a hunting trip, not a five-star vacation.
The Archery Cabin is definitely rustic, but in a cozy way. Inside there are two bunk areas, a bathroom, and a dining area with a refrigerator. The window unit air conditioners seemed to work fine for keeping the place cool, even in the blazing August heat. As it was, though, I was glad to be in my brother's camping trailer (with full galley, hot showers, and a VCR to watch hunting videos!).
Day 1 -
After arrival, and setting up the camper on Thursday night, we retired for the evening. Unfortunately, between the time change (2200 for me was only 1900) and the excitement of the upcoming hunt, sleep was far from easy for me. I kicked back in my bunk with Ernest Hemingway (Green Hills of Africa) and a glass of rum and lime juice. How's that for the hunting life?
The guide was to pick us up at 0400, and when the alarm went off at 0330, I was far from ready. However, the dreams of the hunt gave me the energy to roll out. I had time to wolf down a Pop Tart and half a cup of coffee before Ab was banging on the door. We were loaded onto benches in the back of a Toyota pickup, nine guys with bows and crossbows (one rode up front), and in moments we were bouncing down the dirt roads into the swamp.
I was the second to be placed. Ab pulled the truck over, and pointed me to a trail marked with orange flags. "Your stand is right down this trail. Follow the flags and look to the right."
I had been guided.
I found the stand fairly easily. It consisted of a climbing stick and a lock-on stand placed about 16' up on an oak tree. I could see where several saplings had been cut down around the area, creating shooting lanes. The edge of the swamp came to within 20 yards or so, and I could hear the calls of frogs, cicadas, and intermingled on a regular basis, the grunting croak of alligators. From my seat in the stand I could see the yellow glow of a pile of corn, less than 30 feet from the base of my tree. "Kinda close," I thought to myself.
I'd expected food plots, of course, but not corn piles. I had really expected the archery stands to be placed on approach trails to the big fields of soybeans and sorghum, not over bait. Well, being there, I decided to make the best of it. I don't care much for hunting over bait, but if this is the way they do it here, this is how I'd hunt. I had doubts about the likelihood of seeing trophy bucks feeding on corn piles, though.
It seemed forever before the sun rose. The night sounds were lovely, though, and I nodded to the orchestra. Somewhere, a nest of baby gators was chirping. A family of racoons passed nearby, their movement marked by the chattering of the youngsters at play. For a moment, I thought I heard the grunting of a hog, but soon recognized it as the deep-throated croaking of some kind of birds. Wood storks, maybe? They would be roosted throughout these southern swamps.
Mosquitos also joined the ruckus. Their incoming and outgoing drones were maddening as I struggled to sit still. The head net was only scant protection, and my long-sleeved t-shirt did not deter them at all. I had applied a little Deet, but had been sparing with it to minimize the odor. This Repel brand spray was advertised with an unobtrusive "earth scent", but it smelled like a chemical factory to me. I can only imagine what the deer would think.
The first hour of daylight was uneventful. The night sounds gave way to day sounds, and the heat began to increase. The only constant was the mosquitos. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of movement. A reddish-brown body was crossing an old logging road, about 40 yards away. I had forgotten the binoculars, but when the deer stepped into the open I could see the velvet-covered antlers of a young four-pointer (eastern count). Close behind him was a doe, then I saw more antlers. This one looked to be a basket-racked six point. From that distance I couldn't be sure, but he was out of range anyway. Another four-pointer stepped across the opening, followed at the end of the line by another doe.
The deer worked along the road, parallel to my position. I hoped they were circling around to come in to the corn pile, and it appeared they would. Then the lead doe froze, her head and ears locked on something out on the main road. After a moment, she ducked her head and tucked her tail, and led the whole group off into a thicket toward the swamp.
A few minutes after the deer left, I heard the putt and clucking of turkeys. Through a break in the underbrush, I spotted two hens meandering along the main road. More cutts came from the underbrush nearby. I couldn't count, but there were easily 10 or 15 birds in the flock. I watched as they appeared and disappeared along the roadside, apparently pecking at some kind of food source. They showed no interest in working towards the corn.
After watching the birds for a while, I turned in my seat to scan the opening. At the movement, I heard a "baaahhh". 20 yards in front of me, a small four-point buck was looking dead at me. A small doe bleated again beside him, and they turned and trotted off toward the swamp. As they went, several more deer scattered through the brush along with them. I spotted two or three more small racks, but nothing that would be legal to take under the QDM program.
After the deer had gone, I glanced down at the bow in my lap. Something had felt strange when I shifted it, and my glance showed that the brace height, normally about 7", was now nearly flat. The flemish-twist string had completely lost its twist, and was lying slack on the bow! I tried drawing the slack string. The bow bent, but just before full draw, the string released with a dead snap. The loop had come out, and the string popped off of the bow. Suddenly, the elation at seeing all this game drained away. If a big buck walked out now, I wouldn't even be able to shoot!
After a few moments of indecision, I climbed down and walked dejectedly back to the road. It was about 0900, and Ab wouldn't be returning to the pick-up point until at least 1000. At the road, I rebraided the loop, and tried to replace it. I had left my stringer at the camper, and didn't want to risk twisting the bow limbs, so I gave up, leaned the bow against a tree, and made a comfortable spot to lie down beside the road. At least the mosquitos weren't as bad out here.
When the truck finally did arrive, at nearly 1100, there was a dead hog in the back with the hunters. At least someone had scored. That made me feel a little better. Now if I could just get this string replaced... an unlikely prospect in the South Carolina back country.
Back at camp, and dead-tired, all I wanted was a nap. Running on about 3 hours sleep is hardly optimal, and only the excitement of being in prime whitetail country was keeping me going. But instead of a nap, I had to get this bowstring problem squared away. The bad string was my backup, since my primary string had also loosened up. After some asking around, I found a gunshop about 15 miles from the club. The next closest place would be Savannah, GA... about 50-55 miles away on country roads. Not a pleasant prospect.
Murphy was working hard against me, and I couldn't find a string at the gun shop. We briefly debated driving to Savannah, but I decided to try to fix the strings I already had first. If I failed, I'd drive to Savannah alone and leave Scott at camp for the second hunt.
After rebraiding the string loops, I served the loops with dental floss to keep them from slipping out again. I then removed the cat whisker silencers and twisted the strings good and tight. After some minor adjustments, I had both strings at the right length, and installed one back on the bow. Perfect! I took some field points and launched a dozen or so shots at a target, then rechecked the brace height. The string had relaxed slightly, but the brace height was still good, and the bow was as quiet as ever. Another dozen shots, and no change. I decided I was back in business!
I had an hour or so to nap, and hit the sack hard! It seemed like I'd just closed my eyes when I heard Ab's truck pull up. I grabbed everything, made one last check of my brace height (still good), and climbed aboard for the evening hunt.
For the evening hunt, Ab moved us to a different location. The guides spend the mid-day hours scouting trails, freshening bait piles, and checking sign, in order to select the best stands for the evening hunt. Typically, bowhunters can also use this time to set up their own stands, or to place climbers in good locations. We'd asked Ab about setting our own stands, since the Bostick website and literature recommend that bowhunters bring climbing stands. While he seemed positive about the possibility, the simple fact was that there was no room in the truck for anyone to carry stands. Here's where I found the first downfall of the Bostick Plantation operation.
10 hunters to a single guide was simply too many. Most of the hunters in the group, and Ab as well, agreed that we should have at least two guides for this sized group, in order to allow a little more personalization. As it was, it was all Ab could do to fit us all in the truck and get us in our stands in a reasonable amount of time. Because he had to place so many of us, we had to leave camp an hour earlier than usual... which meant that the first standers spent an extra hour on stand, in the sweltering afternoon heat and mosquitos . It also meant that by the end of the evening hunt, the last stander was often not picked up until nearly 2100, and we were generally close to 2200 getting back to camp. If game was down and needed to be tracked, that time was pushed even later. It made for long days for hunters and guides alike. It also meant that, while we'd brought our climbing stands, we were never able to set them up. I believe that, had we been able to set up ourselves, we might have been able to select better positions.
My evening stand was a brand new ladder stand set next to a road. The road was only slightly used, but I still had serious doubts about the effectiveness of the location. This was the first time I really wished I had a climber to set up. There was thick swamp about 100 yards behind me, and the Savannah River was about 100 yards across the road from me. It was a good spot, but I don't know many trophy bucks that are likely to be wandering down the middle of a road. A better position would have been about 50 yards back from the road (as it turned out, my instinct was right... but more on that shortly).
With the exception of a waddling armadillo and a couple of turkeys, the evening hunt was extremely uneventful, until just before dark. I was getting antsy, and the mosquitos were doing their best to drive me nuts. In spite of my better judgement, I had applied a bit more spray this evening to avoid the bites. The spray was working, inasmuch as I didn't get many bites, but the bugs were ingenious at finding spots that I hadn't covered. The worst was my eyelids. Sitting still was quickly becoming impossible.
Something made me look behind me, and I caught a deer stepping from behind a bush. I froze and watched as the doe slipped closer to my stand. She eased behind the tree, just as a light breeze caught me. She stopped dead, and put her nose in the air. I thought I was busted, but then she continued on into the road. She completely ignored the corn pile, and browsed across the road and toward the river. Nothing else moved, and the sun disappeared. Ab showed up about an hour later.
Some of the other bowhunters had brought two-way radios, and were able to keep contact with one another. Through the radios, we heard that one of the hunters on the far side of the swamp had a hog down. When we reached his location, Ab went in to track the animal. It had gone down in a water hole, about forty yards from where it was hit...and only five yards from the road! The shot was with a crossbow at about 15 yards. The angle was quartering to, and the bolt took out lung and liver, then exited through the gut.
Total kill for the first day of hunting was two hogs, each about 90-100 pounds. I had seen at least 12 to 15 deer and several turkeys. Not too bad, in my opinion.
We made it back to camp at nearly 2200. I whipped up some dinner, and Scott and I ate while watching hunting videos in the camper. He turned in, and I returned to my Hemingway and rum...unable to get to sleep since I was still adjusting to the time change. My internal clock was completely screwed up at this point, and while part of me was exhausted, my mind told me it was too early to sleep.
Sleep finally came, and it seemed like no time until the alarm was blasting for the second day of hunting.
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