It’s Saturday, December 8th 2018. A cold front has just moved through southwest Georgia and rain is moving in tonight. We’ve had a lot of rain recently. More than 6” a week ago. The creeks and rivers are overflowing and the small creek I’m sitting next to this morning is no exception. My usually dry creek bottom has pockets of water pooled all around my deer stand. The white oak trees are dropping leaves with each December breeze. I’m sitting in a ladder stand that’s leaned up against a large Oak situated between a field of cover crop and a bedding area. In the distance I hear the faint sound of duck hunters’ shotgun blasts. This is December deer hunting in southwest Georgia.
As the sun rises this morning, I’m reflecting on my life. I’m blessed with two beautiful and healthy children and a loving wife. We’re gainfully employed with careers we love. Our families are rich with Gods blessings, if not earthly wealth. And I’m spending a Saturday morning in the deer woods. It doesn’t get much better than this.
First light is when most deer activity occurs. That first hour of daylight in the deer stand is hard to beat. The woods start waking up with the sounds of squirrels rustling leaves and birds chirping. The deer like to move early and get to or from their bedding areas this time of day. That’s what I’m hoping for – being in the right place at the right time. Deer hunters will tell you that’s the hardest part – being in the right spot to catch deer movement and being there when they actually start walking. If you get that part right, everything else is relatively simple. Get it wrong and you’ll spend a few hours in God’s glory and go home with a clear head. Seeing and harvesting a deer is the whole point – but as the old saying goes, a bad day hunting is still time well spent.
I’ve had a slow season so far (if you judge a deer season by your harvest record). But something about mornings like this is what keeps drawing me back. The thought that, at any minute, I could hear the magical crunch of oak leaves under a deer’s foot and see the subtle twitch of an ear or hear the aggressive grunt of a buck in rut – it keeps bringing me back. That’s why I keep hunting – I know it could happen at any time.
By 7:30, the sun is up enough for me to see well enough to hunt. I’ve been in the stand since 45 minutes before daylight. The wind is right and the temperature is a perfect 45 degrees. I’m ready. I just need the deer to cooperate. While I wait, I’ve got the company of about a half dozen squirrels to entertain me.
By 8:30, My backside is starting to ache a little. I’ve been in the stand for 2.5 hours, but I’m still holding out hope. I know the deer have been moving later in the morning, so I’m still believing. I have to get home for a birthday party (hello, dad life), so I climb down around 9:00, an hour or so earlier than normal. My morning tally: 2137 squirrels and one broken heart. Another beautiful, but unproductive hunt.
As I walk through the oak bottom and cross the creek, I see where the recent rains have washed out the creek banks and deposited loads of silt from the higher ground. In the freshly packed sand, I see fresh, distinct (and large) deer tracks. So fresh that I’m confused about how I didn’t see this deer – I mean I’m 30 yards from the stand. The only thing I can figure is that it must’ve been before daylight. In fact, I thought I heard something in the water while I was waiting on the sun to rise.
I move on to my trail camera and pull the memory card. When the hunting is slow, catching a big buck on camera is the next best thing. The camera shows more than 300 pictures, so I’m encouraged – lately even my cameras have been slow. Speaking of encouraging, laying in the leaves just a few feet away is the chewed up left side of a buck’s rack – a shed that’s become squirrel food. They’ve done a number on it – the first tine is chewed like a toothpick that’s long outlasted it’s usefulness. But deer sign is always fun to find.
As I ease out of the timber and up the hill in the field, I’m a little disappointed. Everything seemed right today – the weather, the moon, stand site. But it didn’t come together. But I guess that’s why they call it hunting. I’ve got to hurry home – I’ve got that birthday party to make, remember – but I’ve got plans to be back this afternoon. This time with my good luck charm – a 5 year old little girl that loves spending tome with her daddy and calls herself my “hunting girl”. Yeah, seeing deer is nice, but I’ve learned hunting is about way more than that. And that memory card held the ultimate tug – daylight pictures of a big buck….