Come On In - The Water Is Fine
Cold as the dickens.
That it was... particularly for south central Georgia.
Mid 20's that morning with a high of 37 or 38 - and then cloudy, leaden skies in the afternoon with sub freezing temperatures.
My brother Ronnie and I were hunting on Tuckahoe WMA down in Screven County in the mid 90's. This was the last day of a 3 or 4 day hunt and we were just worn out.
Deer had been sparse but that is normal, way down in December. The rut is long over and food and travel are about the only way to score at this point.
We had our favorite areas and had hunted them for several days and had not taken any deer - this is the time of year we try to stock the freezer with does - and had not even gotten a shot off.
We were invited to a buddy's private camp over on Brier Creek - which is only a few miles away - for an evening around a camp fire, with food, fellowship and a few tall lies. That was sounding real good!
I felt like I needed a change, so in mid afternoon, I told Ronnie I was going up on the northside of the area - to a spot up by the Savannah River that I had seen while scouting in the pre-season... there was a fairly large creek that emptied into the river and it held some good oaks in that area.
We had separate trucks and just agreed to meet at my buddy's camp after dark...
Off I went - around the outskirts of the area and up by the river. I parked about a half mile past the bridge of the creek - I recalled that the creek went in at a pretty good angle in this area...
Climbing stand, pack and rifle - off I went, headed due south... I struck the creek in no more than a few hundred yards and just bore to the the left of the creek, heading generally south.
I followed the creek for about 3-400 yards, finding a few crossings here and there - but nothing spectacular. I decided I would move just a bit further and if I did not find something great, I would just climb a tree and make the best of it. I was cold already - and tired - and the sound of the campfire and some warm food was sounding better and better!
I came to an open area - where there were some good oak trees - and I could see fairly well on both sides of the creek - so up a tree I went and settled in.
The afternoon passed and there was just flat nothing out there... no squirrels, no raccoons, hardly any birds and certainly no deer.
Hunched down in the climber, collar pulled up as high as I could get it, I really just suffered through the late afternoon.
Gloom started to call and I can not say I was sad. I straighted up in the stand and was just preparing to pack my items away - when there was a flash of white on the other side of the creek!
The flicker of a tail!
Going for the binos, I see a small 8 pointer in the shadows feeding among the leaves - evidently vacuuming up the remaining acorns... I watch him for a moment as he feeds closer - now only 75 yards away and in full view.
Back! Look further back... another deer - and this one bigger!
Another buck moves out of the shadows and moves toward the smaller one. I note a larger body and antlers outside the ears and fairly tall....
Man - from zero to possible hero that quick!
No longer feeling the cold that well - I consider... it is late, I am cold... and it is a good hike back to the truck... what do to???
The hunter wins the argument and the Model 700 in .243 comes up... and reticle of the VX II rests on the top of the shoulder and I neither hear nor feel the rifle go off.
At roughly 90 yards away, the buck fairly well just crumples softly into the leaves.
I look over - amazingly enough, the smaller buck continues to feed!
I speak to him...
I shout at him.
An idea occurs... hmmmm he is legal... You wouldn't, would you???? It is a long way to the truck and almost now full dark.
This time, the hunter loses and the tired hunter wins.
I climb down the tree and walk over the creek.
Still feeding, now only 50 yards or so away.
Finally, I shout and wave my arms at him.... he looks dimly at me... walks past his now deceased buddy, gives him a sniff as if to say goodbye... and wanders out into the darkness...
Crazy, I know!
OK, I gather the stand, pack and rifle... and it dawns on me.
I am on one side of the creek and him the other. The creek is probably 25 feet across and surely waist deep. Maybe more.
Hmmm, what do to do now... I knew that going back north, there was not an easy way to cross... I know also, at this angle, it is a long way back to the dirt road and back down the other side of the creek.
I formulate a plan... the closest way back to the truck is from this side of the creek... and I have a length of parachute cord in my pack...
I will find a way across the creek, drag the buck to the water's edge, tie the string to him and then toss it across the creek - find my way BACK across the creek, pull the buck over and just be on my way.
Great plan, right?
I leave my belongings there and head further south.... in a few hundred yards, I come to a fallen log. It is old and moss covered but feels very stout when I bounce on one edge of it. It will hold me, I decide and I am sure to this day that it would have.
Other than motor oil on a glassy smooth floor, I have now decided that very little is as slippery as frozen moss.
OK, now, Dear Reader - what started out as a fairly serious hunting story is now going to take a comical turn. I am sure that you already know the next turn of events, but like they say - you "had to be there"....
I am doing very well and am more than halfway across the log. Oh, it was sturdy all right and I was doing fine til I looked down. In the now full darkness, the black surface of the water seemed to tilt up toward me... I know now it was simply an illusion, or poor balance - or maybe just Mr. Murphy getting back at me for some unkown slight - but at any rate, vertical no longer felt vertical and as I started to windmill my arms to gain some semblance of balance, all was lost.
When I stated that the creek was likely waist deep - probably more - I was right. Both times.
It was so deep - you had to swim!
Now, in full hunting clothes and very cold to start with - you would think that falling into the creek would be an icy shock!
It was not. With air temps in the upper 20's and water temps likely in the low 50's (wild guess), it felt warm!! Quite, in fact!
What was not warm, however, was when you got out!!
Soaked to the bone, with heavy clothes and rubber boots... great work, JimBob!
By the time I sat down to empty the water from my boots, I felt the cold beginning to claw at me. Immediately, my hands and face got cold... and then the chill began to creep down my shoulder blades.
Get moving, I thought - you have a long way to go!
Back down the creek I trudged and found the deer... a nice, healthy 7 pointer that weighed about 150 pounds. Very decent for late December on public land!
Well... I no longer need the string to cross the creek!!!
Still very cold, I drag the deer to the creek and simply plunge in, dragging him across the creek as I go... I notice he drags easily in the creek, which really is only waist deep here, but I labor to get him up the muddy bank on the other side.
I gather my belongings, take the climber off of the tree and pack it up - and now I am cold... really cold. My teeth are chattering and it is well into full darkness now. To compound matters, Ronnie does not know exactly where I am...
I know it is not dangerous yet, but I figure I have about 600 yads to drag the buck.... so, off in the darkness we go...
No more than 150 yards up the creek edge, I am gasping like a fish out of water. Whether it was the cold.... or the exertion... or a combination, I was gassed. I say down for a moment and then the cold really took me... I was now OFFICIALLY freezing!
The smart thing to do would have been to leave him... go get some help and dry clothes and come back and get him... but NOOOOOO, that did not seem like a great idea.
I did have a great idea, however!!!
Ice crystals now formed on my clothes - my pants were like sheets of solid ice.
OK, into the creek we go... where the traveling was easy! I knew it was gonna be a little longer this way - but I was worn out from dragging.
I pulled the buck a ways and went back and got my belongings.
Back into the creek and pulled the buck some more.... through cypress snags and around deadfalls... now not caring what I walked through... alternating between pulling the buck through the water and fetching my belongings.
I feel now - as silly as this all seems - that the water actually helped me stay warmer - although my core temp had to be sagging a little!!!
By the time I got to the road, I was ABSOLUTELY pooped!
Now, I have to hump down the road to the truck... when I got there, my clothes were frozen again and I only thought I was cold before!!! My teeth chattered so hard, I actually snapped a little section off of the end of one of my front teeth! The dentist smoothed it over and you can not see it - but I can feel it with my tongue to this day.
I fire up the Chevy, go back and get the deer and my stuff.... put the heater on high and head to the camp!
When I get there, the fire is roaring and so are the tall tales... I pull in - basically a human popsicle - BUT, I have a deer and a buck to boot!!!!
I am an instant celebrity as warm clothes and a blanket are provided - heck, they even skinned the deer for me!!!
I warm by the fire and am shortly provided with some grilled tenderloins from the buck.... and the story is long in the telling, with as many embellishments as I can provide.
Isn't that what deer camps are for????
PS - I will apologize, I do not have a photo of the deer... this is an example of what one of these black water creeks looks like... full of snags, deadfalls and deeper holes in the bends of the creek!