The year was 1988 and I was fairly early in my deer hunting career.
I had hunted only highly pressured public land up to this point - both with bow and rifle - and finally had been granted permission to hunt a private farm in Bulloch County Georgia and I felt like I had hit a gold mine!
First of all, it was private and I did not have to worry about getting walked in on!
Secondly, there was buck sign everywhere - the first time I scouted it, I found scrape after scrape on ther field edge!
To say that I was stoked to hunt the property was a great understatement - in fact, the first time I ever hunted the property - in 1987 - I managed to take a nice eight pointer - but I will save that for another story!
On this hunt, it was a late October day that broke off cold and windy that afternoon.I did not know then the magic that is a week either side of Halloween - I was in the middle of the rut, on a great farm - and did not understand the significance of it!
I had not hunted that morning but had driven the 90 some odd miles to the farm solely for an afternoon hunt.
I arrrived fairly early and grabbed my climber and rifle - a Marlin 30/30 (I had not even "graduated" to a bolt action yet) and headed for the swamp.
Moving downhill through pine, bay, holly, oak, elm and then finally into the gum of the swamp, I had no idea that today's hunt would literally define the way we would hunt this property for the next two decades and beyond.
I would hunt - and later learn to love - the MOST productive stand that we ever had on this property - and we still hunt this very same area to this day.
Ladders and chain on's have largely replaced the climber in this area - because we know we ARE going to hunt here, so we just put semi permanent stands in this area.
I moved easily into the swamp - but would soon learn that my deer hunting skills and knowledge - minimal at the time, I now know.... would be elevated on this day.
Dodging the deepest holes, I found a straight but smallish gum tree almost in the center of the swamp. I looked around and decided I could see fairly well from the tree - and up it I went in my rickety little homemade climber.
When I got to 20 feet or so, I realized that major portions of the swamp were blocked from my view by other trees - but thought - heck I am already up here, I will hunt here anyway...
This would soon turn out to be a major challenge!
Settling into the stand, the wind was not as bad down in the swamp and while it was cold, it was not brutal.
I passed the afternoon and the shadows started to lengthen...
Facing west, I recall that the sun had dipped down now... into the canopy of trees on the far side of the swamp.
Catching movement, I see a doe and a fawn coming up the swamp - but the are moving at a fast clip, headed south - a fairly quick trot and as they get nearer, the trot becomes a run....
Not understanding the importance of this, I glance about.... did they smell me?
What is she running down here in the swamp.... it is quiet, no one is around, it is getting later in the day - again, why is she running????
OK Jim, time for your first real good lesson, my friend.
Watch closely, because if you can not catch this one, you might want to consider another pasttime!
The doe and fawn move past me now... and disappear into the southern end of my viewing area.... I am still sitting down, perplexed look on my face and rifle on my knees.
I am not left long to ponder this - a buck of what was then MASSIVE PROPORTIONS - at least to my eyes - appears - on the same path as the doe and fawn.
I wished I could have slown time down, but that was not an option - and the rest of it happened in less than 15 seconds.
It will take me a lot longer than that to tell you what I saw however - and how the lesson unfolded!
When I first saw him - I was struck by how big he was body wise - this was, I now know, the first real mature buck I had ever seen from a stand, at fairly close range.
He was 70 or 80 yards out and closing the distance very rapidly.
Stiff legged, I can see him now... unwavering, head to the ground, antlers that were way outside his ears - on he came with no change in stride - he was ALL BUSINESS on this day and that, my friends, was a fact.
Stunned at the sight of him, I know immediately that he is a shooter.
I hear his deep grunts now, very repetitively - he is at 50 yards and is going to pass within about 40 yards of the stand - headed in a bee line down the swamp.
I pull the rifle upward and as I do, his path takes him beyond some of the trees and vegetation... I lose sight of him!
I pivot slightly to the left, turning now in the stand and anticipating where he will reappear.... but he is MUCH further down the swamp when I locate him again than I think he should be... I stand now.... bringing the rifle up as I do, but I am almost at a 120 degree angle in the stand now... and I lose him again!!!
Frantic now, I know the situation is very critical... he is clearly only steps from a full escape...
I catch a glimpse now.... 100 yards or more down the swamp - which was a long shot for me back in those days - and he is at a wicked quartering away angle... and I am OUT of room to turn further in the stand.... it is now or never, buddy, no more options or Plan B... if you are gonna do this - you have got to do it right now.
On instinct, the rifle comes to my shoulder, I find his torso and the rifle barks.... a single, crisp shot that echoes across the swamp.
I would love to tell you that the shot was true - that it broke his shoulder, passed just under his spine and exited the right side of his body, killing him almost instantly.
What really happened - is this: the shot WAS true - it broke his shoulder, passed just under his spine and exited the right side of his body, killing him almost instantly!!!!
He hit the deck, I saw him kick violently once and he was done!
From the stand, I could not see him - but I could tell that he was down and not moving. He had fallen and his head was wedged in some branches, or so it appeared - holding the right side of his antlers up in the air.... that is what I could see from the stand... only his antler sticking up!
I waited, shaking, for 30 minutes or more. I climbed down the tree and cautiously walked over there.
He was to me - then (and now) one of the most magnificent beasts I have ever seen.
He was incredibly thick, with a linebacker build. This was no long legged race horse, this was a squat, powerful looking customer!
His antlers were not tangled in branches. He was on his side and just the sheer width of his rack was holding up the side I could see from the stand!
Very excited, I gathered my items, put my tag on him and started to drag him... it was all I could do to move him!!!
Rather than drag him up hill, I decided to pull him to the road - which was a little further but at least it was flat ground.
I needed to cover about 400 yards. My excitement soon turned to exhaustion as I kept pulling him in the soft mud of the swamp.... finally, I hit a spot where I had to cross the creek and as soon as he hit the water - he got easy to drag!!!
OK, fine... new plan.... I walked the stand and the rifle to the dirt road, left my jacket there and walked back to the deer - fully dark now, I slid down the back and just "towed" him up the creek!
I finally managed to get him in the truck and head home.... by the grace of God, my brother showed up at the house and so did one of our good hunting buddies - just in time for me to show my trophy off!
We estimated his live weight at 185 pounds or so.
He was not tall racked but he was wide - if I recall correctly - it was 22 3/4" inside measurement.
I learned many lessons that day - and that hunt is likely the most etched memory in my mind as it relates to deer hunting - but I now know the answer to "why is she running"!