It took 18 hours of driving to reach our hunting destination. WomenHunters Pro-Staffer Linda Thompson and I had each driven 9 hours to meet in Kentucky and then traveled another 9 hours driving together to reach South Carolina soil, only to discover there was none…soil, that is. It was all sand. Nothing but pure, white glistening hot sand, remnants from an ancient ocean, that grew pine trees like bacteria. Dense groves of pines blanketed the land with only strips of scrub oaks and a few birch or maples scattered amongst them.
As we wheeled into the driveway in the dark, we both optimistically took notice of the sparkling driveway, sure that the headlights were picking up frost on the ground (we had both left our homes in the north where temperatures had easily ranged in the 20’s to 30’s earlier in the week). As we exited the van, we both knelt simultaneously and placed our hands on the ground, surprised to discover that this was indeed sparkling glints of shells in the still-warm sand! We quickly acclimated our thinking and our strategies to warm-weather hunting, wondering if we would see much movement at all during our short 4-day hunt.
Our lingering questions were answered early the following morning. Our hosts Sue Burch, Executive Director of WomenHunters, and her husband Danny, led us to our deer stands. Linda was hunting with her new Thompson Center .243 handgun and was escorted to the "Tower Stand" west of the Burch’s house among the dense pines. It had three shooting lanes cut out: one to the north, one to the east and one to the south-west.
I was taken to a hang-on stand east of the house, which was well camouflaged in a beautiful white oak, a great spot to begin my four day bowhunting quest for a South Carolina Whitetail. I hadn’t seen anything after a few hours and noted how quickly the heat had penetrated into my well-hidden hunting spot. No doubt, Linda would be seeing more movement among the cool pines.
By noon we both had returned and were comparing notes. As expected, Linda had seen plenty of late-morning movement among the shooting lanes. All the sightings were brief as they crossed the path and re-entered the secluded and shaded pine thickets. She had glimpsed several does and a couple of smaller bucks, nothing that had convinced her to squeeze the trigger……yet. She would return to the Tower Stand for the afternoon hunt but I chose to take my API Grand Slam climber into the woods and positioned it just south of the house 150 yards at the intersection of two food plots.
I headed out early in the afternoon, spraying down my camo first with Xtreme Scents Scent Elimination Spray. Upon reaching my climber, I placed three scent strips doused in Black Widow "Hot-N-Ready" estrous doe lure in a semi-circle 15 to 20 yards upwind of my tree. I settled in for my long vigil, impatient and ready for a close encounter! Four uneventful hours later I climbed down, still optimistically planning to return in the morning and give it one more try at this location.
Bleary-eyed I awoke at 4:45 a.m., made coffee and quickly dressed. It was my second day and I was determined to see some deer. I quietly walked down the sandy path enchanted by the sparkling southern sky which mimicked the sand beneath my feet. It was clear and a cool 45 degrees….a great bowhunting morning! Positioned early in my climber I eagerly awaited my first good glimpse of a deer. At 6:05, with not enough shooting light yet available, I spotted a shadowy four-legged silhouette working its way around a corner 40 yards east of me, head down and feeding slowly along the path. At just that same moment, I detected some noise; faint, but surely some "human" noise from the house. Eyes squinting in the early dawn, I watched as the deer lifted its head in response and turned. "No, No, No…. Don’t Go" I muttered under my breath. Just then, the pickup’s engine fired up and the deer bolted back to the east where it had come from. "Darn it!" I whispered, exasperated as I heard Danny pulling down the driveway to take Linda to the "Tower Stand". I stuck in there for two hours without seeing another deer and then decided to walk over and try my luck at a stand at the far south-west edge of the property overlooking a food plot surrounded by thick pines. Danny had showed me the way on a map very early that same morning and I was ready for change. I found it easily and climbed up. I stayed until late morning and still hadn’t seen any movement, though I had found a couple of small scrapes on the path leading to the food plot.
After another short mid-day stand overlooking a small food plot east of the house followed by an even shorter lunch break, I returned with deer drag in tow.
Drenched in "Black Widow "Hot-N-Ready" lure, I dragged it the last 100 yards, dropped it in the center of the food plot, and again draped three "Xtreme Scents Scent Strips" also drenched with "Hot-N-Ready" in front of my stand. The sun beat down hotter than ever sending sweat trickling down my temples and down the back of my neck. Never, ever, in my twenty years of bowhunting had I hunted in such hot, sticky, sweltering weather as this! The thermometer had read 85 degrees when I’d left at 2 p.m.. There was no breeze, no noise. I was miserable….I wanted the cool, crisp air I’d left behind in Wisconsin. I wanted a cloudy, moody, late-October-angry-sky that warned of snow and of wind and of rutting bucks. Yes, I wanted to see a buck….a doe…anything. I wanted to hear movement and catch a patch of tan hide as it moved between the trees. But I saw nothing, heard nothing. I couldn’t blame them; it was just too stifling to move. I planned to return as I climbed down and walked slowly back to the house. I’d heard shots while hunting, but no one in our party had seen anything.
Upon returning to the house I was greeted by Wanda Garner, Editor at WomenHunters and her husband Tommy Garner, outdoor columnist, radio show host, television producer and Owner/Director of Steppin’ Wolf Productions, who’d both just arrived and would be joining the hunt for the remainder of the weekend.
My time was waning, but not my optimism. Exuding confidence, I was convinced day three would bring me some luck. I was long-overdue. I told the others, I may not be seeing much, but when I do, it’ll be "all-over".
Day three dawned warmer than the previous days and I worried that movement would come to a screeching halt because of the uncharacteristically hot weather for Nov.1st.
Again I rose early and walked to my stand shrouded in complete darkness. My arrow nocked and grunt call nearby, I leaned against the limbs on my left. As the day brightened, my eyes continually were drawn to two large ash-gray spots 25 yards south-west of me, right at the entrance to the food plot where I’d dragged my scent strip the previous day. Finally I was able to see clearly what it was: two large scrapes, moist and dark and freshly pawed deep below the white sand, revealing the darker sand beneath.
Ah-hah! So I had a buck’s interest, but wondered if I’d have time to observe his demise. I checked my watch….7:15 a.m. I’d been there an hour and fifteen minutes without a sound. The sun was moving higher and heating up already….the afternoon was sure to be no good for movement. And then I heard it…a quiet crunch in the leaves. And another. My head snapped left to peer over my shoulder and I squinted and searched desperately for movement among the pines. The forest floor was covered in pine needles, with only a thin strip of oaks and fallen leaves south-west of me near the scrapes. I spotted a tiny movement and glimpsed tan among the green pine needles. Taking two quick steps backward in my stand I saw the buck enter the edge of the food plot near the scrapes. He was a nice wide fork, possibly a five-pointer, of average body size….roughly 120 to 140 pounds. As I quickly swung my bow upwards clearing the branches that thwarted my shot to the southwest and carefully brought my bow down on the open side I realized he was not hesitating at the scrape as expected….he was on the move and walking very fast. I quickly pulled my bow to full draw, brought my pin down to his chest, and found he’d already safely sought cover. Two small pines covered his chest, thwarting my shot at the kill zone, and then he was gone, absorbed by the thick pines and instantly lost in the shadows. I reluctantly let down my bow as I peered into the dense cover.
Exhaling deeply, I dropped my head and stared at the sand below as I replayed the events in my mind and pondered the fleeting "second". In a second of time, an adult grizzly can run 44 feet; a hummingbird can complete 75 wing-beats…and in a mere second this buck escaped; eluded this bowhunter, and moved on through the woods.
In just a second of time, in a South Carolina second, the buck disappeared, my chance blown, my brief encounter over and done with. In a split second, I had missed an opportunity to grunt, to bleat, to make some type of noise that would’ve caused him to stop or hesitate, and given me the chance to complete my shot and bring home fresh venison.
Bowhunting is all about seconds, instant moments of opportunity, quick decisions; reaction. It’s about having your judgment and skill tested, your instincts challenged by something wild, your senses full of the world around you, your heart pounding and self control intact. It’s knowing that you can succeed, that you’ve done it before and will do it again, despite its difficulties and frustrations. Hunts are always rewarding and fulfilling; sometimes successful in bringing home game, sometimes not.
But in a South Carolina second, a fleeting second, my love for bowhunting was confirmed once again as all these thoughts came flowing forth in my mind, and I knew as I always have, why I’d continue to hunt until the day I die, why I’d be back, again… and again… and again.
© November 2003