December comes hard in South Carolina, at least as it relates to deer hunting.
It is hard on the deer, too... food is scarce, the rut is very long and protracted and it simply takes a toll on the deer.
My buddy Chris and I went on a late December deer hunt back in 2007 on the Edisto River swamp.
The date was around the 17th or 18th or so of December, which is not only late in our calendar year, it is a late deer hunt down here simply because the deer are very scarce and reclusive at this time of the year. It has been a hard year on them, we are in the dead of winter and they can be hard to find. The rut, for the most part, has been over for about 6 weeks now and the bucks are just not making many mistakes this time of the year.
Enter old JimBob with a good plan... I am sure most of you have heard talks like this before....
"Yeah, come on Chris... let's do go take in a hunt... I know a beautiful swamp we can go to - it is a little way back to the stand areas, but there are some deer in there - we will have a good time!".
Good time... sure!
I had cut a path across a 10 - 12 year old cut down in the summer that was literally like a jungle... it took me 6 hours to cut a path that was about 225 meters across the cut down. That is some slow going!
We left from the truck a good hour and a half before dark that morning - it had rained buckets in the days leading up to this hunt - and the area was flooded... we skirted the larger bogs in the cut down and made it to the river run, only to find the river out of the banks in most areas.
I knew a good tree that I had picked out for Chris some weeks earlier that looked into a crease in the cutdown and also looked out into the river swamp... it was a good spot, for sure.
500 meters or so into our trek, I stopped - after going through briar beds, around water filled sloughs, over hurricane and storm downed trees... and proudly announced, "Chris, here is your tree"!.
Chris, ever believing, stated "yep, looks like a good one to me" and started getting his climber ready to go.
We agreed to wait til 11:00 am and it was about 5:15 or so then, so we had a good sit ahead of us.
Off in the darkness I go... I knew an area ahead that was a flat between the river proper and the dense tangles at the edge of the cut down - I only hoped it was not entirely flooded when I got there.
I had a good idea of how to get to the area - but was still troubled by the water filled sloughs and ditches that I had to cross.
Making my way further on, I finally reached my destination to find it reasonably dry... so off came the climbing stand and up a gum tree I went. 18 feet up, I go and get nestled into a section of branches to await daylight.
For those of you who have not been in a black water swamp in the south (ok, I admit a great prejudice here), I just wish I could describe the beauty... It does not so much come light in the swamp in the morning as the night just seems to... well... cease to exist...
It is all black to start with - everything... particularly on a moonless night... and it just sort of becomes every shade of charcoal... starting at coal black and through a hundred shades - until you realize that you can now actually start to see some things.
The shadows are black and so it is the river as it winds its way sinuously through the river bottom.
Well, the shadows fade and I find I have a fairly good view of the swamp bottom - I can see almost 200 yards back the way I came from... "ok, great" I think "now bring on some deer"!
We had both agreed to take a doe if we saw one, Chris needed to add to the freezer...
The sun finally comes up and illuminates the swamp and it is just stunning... the river has virtually flooded, so all of the white sand banks are hidden... it is just black water for most of the forest floor - with high spots here and there.
The morning passes uneventfully for me with no deer seen.
For Chris, an altogether series of event is unfolding. Chris sees a decent buck chasing a doe all over the swamp - he sees him not less than four times... in and out of the cut down, splashing through the water, in and out of sight. This goes on for over 2 hours - back and forth they go.
Chris, who was earlier ever believing - is also ever cautious and can not quite find the shot he wants - so none is taken. Around 10:00 am, the pair are not seen again... although Chris sees a few more does and a small buck out in the cut down - but a great shot is not presented, so there sits Chris... a very willing and happy observer.
The morning starts to wind towards noon and 11:00 comes around. I know it is time to go - I will drain the last of the coffee from the thermos and enjoy it... it was not brutally cold that morning and it was likely my last hunt of the year.
I sit, having the coffee... resting easily in my climber... and I spy a doe come running out of the cut down and into the bottom... she slows down and begins to wander toward the river. The wind is coming from Chris to me, so I figure she must have winded Chris and spooked... and ran into the bottom and then calmed down. She wound her way toward the main run of the river and presented a quartering-to shot at about 85 yards... Coffee cup in my lap, I rested the Remington 700 in .243 on the trunk of the tree. The shot took her low on the neck on her left side and exited just behind the right leg, dropping her instantly, without so much as a twitch.
A glance at the watch reveals it is about 11:10... "great work - now Chris has a deer" I think to myself... and sit back to enjoy the rest of the coffee - which has not even begun to cool!
Time to relax now, right?
Literally 60 seconds later, I see a buck come flying into the bottom, splashing his way through the water - I can still see the droplets spraying over his head and out to the side of him...
Into the center of a semi open area he crashes and then immediately, the head goes down to the water soaked earth and he becomes more bird dog than deer at that point... back and forth just a little bit and then BINGO! he picks up the trail and just like he was on a lazer, he makes straight down the same path the doe took. Never looking left or right, on he comes!
OK, darn it, now the coffee is gonna get cold... BUT, that is a price we can pay. I note that he is at least an 8 pointer and his outside of the ears... this is a buck to take late in December, for sure.
Up comes the Remington again... steady... steady... on he comes... steady now.. watch out for the bushes and tree limbs... the Leupold reticle rests on his brisket as he weaves his way toward me.
Come on, big boy... I own you now... just come a little further and you will clear the underbrush real well.
Not that easy... he gets to about 125 yards out and just hits an invisible wall. The wind is in my face, so he does not smell me... but he may smell Chris... or he smells where I walked in...
Back and forth he paces... tossing his head... in and out of cover he winds... and now it is MY TURN to be the one that can not find that perfect shot... but - that wall is there and he does not want to cross it.
He is, however, all worked up and not quite ready to throw in the towel.... so the game of cat and mouse continues....
Finally, I notice that he keeps crossing a small ditch area where the water comes almost to his belly - and this spot has a small opening and also the water slows him down a little bit.
I rest the reticle in this area and sure enough, he enters the ditch area and slows just ever so slightly. He too, is quartered just to me when the shot is taken. This time, as before, the bullet enters low on the left side of the neck but exits just further back on the right side of the rib cage... he goes down like he was dropped from a plane and just as quick is back on his feet and appears ready to make a quick exit!!!
Unprepared for this, I watch as he whirls, but the water slows his progress... he makes about three jumps and collapses.
Down!!!! I can see him... and I can see the doe very clearly also.
Sweet, a two-fer in December!!!
Now, I really do finish the coffee.... and get down and inspect both deer.
The doe is in good shape with a sleek coat and good body fat on her, which is surprising.
The buck, however, is an altogether different story. He looks like someone took a machete and turned the blade around backward and used the dull side to just beat him into submission. His head, neck, ears, throat and shoulders are literally a scarred and cut up mess.
He is tall and rangy with a wide chest but he is skin and bones - his shoulder bones and ribs stick out but his neck is still incredibly muscular - he looks like a caricature of some kind... I estimate him at 165 pounds and I still believe that prior to the rut, he would have gone well over 200 pounds. He ended up topping the scales at 155 pounds.
He obviously just flat did not know when to quit. Did not know when to quit fighting and certainly did not know when to quit chasing does. I would love to have seen what was kicking him around so badly... must have been a heck of a buck to whip him like that.
We did not age him but I wonder if he was not an older buck that had lost a step and just refused to believe it... and took that terrible whipping, did not eat and just kept running. When we skinned him, he was all lean muscle, gristle, bone and hide... not one ounce of fat on him anywhere.
OK, now... we have two down... Chris gives a shout and then comes ambling up and states "you shot my deer... both of them!"...
Chris whips out a handheld GPS, thumbs it on and announces that we were 773 yards from the truck - as the crow flies... and no way to get in there with the four wheeler...
Oh great, JimBob... now - how smart was it to come back here?????
750 meters roughly... ummm, this is gonna be fun... and it was. Thank goodness Chris is a big man!
Starting at roughly 11:45, carrying rifles, packs and climbing stands, we took turns dragging, pulling, pushing over and under downed trees.... until finally we reached the path at the edge of the cut down, which was a spot we COULD get the 4 wheeler to. That 500 + meter drag (on a straight line, it was likely 650 or so meters in and out of the trees) took us 2.5 hours... we were whipped by the time we got the cut down path...
"Remind me not to EVER go hunting with you again, Jim... that is it for me" Chris stated as he dumped the water out of his boots and twisted his socks dry!!!!
Good to his word, Chris has not ever hunted with me since that day.
Is it something I said??