The LowCountry Swamp Buck
I am the new guy in a LowCountry hunt camp.
It is all about locale.
All about attitude - and I do not mean a bad one.
It is a sense of pride.
Southeastern South Carolina is the LowCountry. When you are here and know what it means, it gets in your bones, even if you are not a native son, which I am not.
OK, so what does the new guy know anyway?
I guess we have all heard that at one time or another. As the newest member in our 1600 acre LowCountry hunt club in Bamberg County, SC, I took it in stride.
Months of aerial map review and miles of footwork had convinced me of one thing... we had a buck stronghold and it was right under our noses!
A bit of background is in order here... we have 1600 acres and it is broken into 5 tracts. These tracts all have a "6 point or better" rule... but one small tract has a trophy standard - the antlers must be outside the ears. Now, to me - that spells a good 16" or wider buck. You have to remember now, we do not have 140" bucks running all over the place - this is the lower part of South Carolina, where a 125" buck is a show stopper and also gets you in the SC State Record book.
OK, back to the scouting - I pored over GoogleEarth.com - time and again. I walked the buggy roads, pine plantations and swamps of the club. I read and re-read the club logs from years past.
One gem stood out. The House Tract. A trophy tract. Seldom hunted. Thick swamp. Great travel lanes. Thick bedding areas.
Hunting season comes in hard in South Carolina.
Imagine the 15th of August - in the deep South. Heat? 100 degree days. Bugs? Every variety of biting, stinging and irritating bug known. Snakes? Moccasins, canebrakes, diamondbacks, timber rattlers - we got 'em. Long days? Into the stand at 5:30 AM and not out at night until 8:45 PM or so.
Sound like bliss? No???
Imagine velvet bucks. In bachelor groups. If you are lucky. Or good. Or both.
OK, opening day arrives. I pass on the House tract the first morning and am glad that no one else signs into it. It is very hard to get into the swamp undetected in the mornings.
That afternoon finds me perched in a tree on the edge of a washed out creek bed that is dry in all except the wettest of weather. My thoughts run wild as I imagine huge velvet bucks cruising the creek bed.
Afternoon winds along and my only companions are squirrels, an armadillo and a flock of turkey hens that pass warily through.
Night falls - no deer.
I wait a few days and re-hatch my plan. I will get in the stand earlier and wait through the mid afternoon - surely I will catch a good one slipping through.
Ok, wait a week and the third time is the charm right? This time, in I go long before daylight, quiet as a church mouse... and stay until almost lunch time.
Dozens of deer, right? Nope - not one.
Back at the club - casual questions come to the guy they know little about... Seen any? My answers are vague as I try to inflict as little self injury as possible.
I feel my confidence ebbing and go back to the maps. I feel that same certainty - I am in the right spot, I must have patience.
Once more, now in week three of the season, into the swamp I go. 400 meters as the crow flies to the area I have picked out.
Settling into the stand in early afternoon, the doubts start. Should I have hunted another stand? I hear a rifle in the distance and think, again, am I wrong??
Well, the die is cast - at least for this afternoon.
I spend the afternoon and into the evening watching fruitlessly.
Darkness begins to settle in and I am thinking of a shower and a hot supper. The shadows lengthen and shades of charcoal settle over the swamp. The squirrels are long gone and I hear a owl in the distance with his lonesome cry.
Resignation settles in as I lean back for a moment and start to plan tomorrow's hunt. I reach down and flick off the Thermacell so it can cool before it goes in the pack. I start to put the binoculars away as I look down the old creek bed... I spy a family of raccoons as they amble out of thick cover and into the more open swamp area.
I am old and my eyes are not good, so I glass them just for the fun of it and I am SHOCKED!
Not raccoons!!! Deer - several of them.
Adrenaline is dumped from every cell into my body as my heart rate (and likely my blood pressure) go sky high. I feel it in my ears and hear that dull roar in my head that is sensory overload. It is incredible and I love it!
I glass harder now - the first deer moves out into the swamp area and he is a stunningly tall 8 or 10 pointer - I watch as he passes left to right - but he does not look my way. Immediately, I name him the SkyScraper. I see his height - but not the width of his rack. He is regal in his manner as he walks... head up, followed by two other bucks that I do not even take a great look at.... on he continues - and out of sight he walks, with the others in tow. Have I even picked up the rifle? No.... I could not tell how wide he was. You had to let him go, right? Right?
Doubts. Recriminations. A slight sense of pride, of being saintly. Of being responsible.
Dark has now begun to settle like a blanket. I know legal shooting hours are rapidly vanishing - but at least I saw three bucks!
A flicker now... down in the swamp... more deer emerge... my goodness - there are at least three more on the same path... glass up now, the 8x56's begin to pay off... they, too, are bucks.. I see at least two mature bucks and can not make out the third one, there may even be more that I cannot see...
I pull up the .308 and start to scan on 3 power... I find them in the shadows and ratchet the power up to 6 or so... come on... look at me..... you have to be outside the ears... roaring in my head now - heart pounding as the last light seems to leak from the earth.... There... on a white sand bank, one turns and I can see he is one of the larger bodied ones... he glances and I see solid antlers, outside of both ears...
Time slows and the air seems to leak out of the moment. I see his face and the antlers, even thought they are in velvet and blend well.... I gently lower the # 4 German reticle until it settles on the top of his shoulder. All of the range practice now pays off... he is no more than 75 yards away... He is quartered to me and I see the fire emerge from the muzzle - more than hear the rifle go off. I am not aware, even to this day, of applying the three pounds that is required to set the projectile loose.
168 grains leaves at roughly 2800 feet per second. This I know - but there is a lot I do not know.
I hear the turning of leaves and snapping of twigs as the crowd departs.
Did I get him?
Will he leave a blood trail?
I want to look - yet, I know it is not wise.
I gather my items and slink quietly out to the truck and make the 5 mile drive back to camp.
I am greeted with - "was that you that shot?" I nod affirmatively.
The next questions come: "Where is he.. What is he... You were on the House tract, right?".
I answer as best I can... he is still out there, he is a decent buck and yes, the House tract.
Volunteers and I set out, armed with flashlights and a sense of adventure. I know now - enough time has passed, we are safe to look.
We make the drive and then the trek into the swamp... as I arrive at my stand site, I get my bearings.... picking out the mental markers I made before I left... I angle downhill, through grape vines and saplings until I pick up the dry run of the creek bed... this I know to follow, for this white sand was my backdrop and best friend, at least I hope, on this afternoon hunt.
I make no more than 50 yards up the run and there he is - yet closer to 100 yards from the stand. He has fallen exactly where he stood - the white sand even now framing his head.
I judge him at 160 pounds and note that he is a well framed nine point, in full velvet... but it is late in the season and my velvet trophy has many damaged areas on his rack. My spirits sinks as I feel a certain loss... but yet, I contain this feeling.
Back at the camp, he tips the scales at 185 pounds exactly.
The crowd gathers round and photos are snapped. A man emerges from the crowd and looks at the buck. I do not know this man well and he squints, looks at me and says, "why don't you peel his velvet?", he asks, in what I learn later is a definite North Carolina mountain twang.
Thunderstruck, I ask if we can do that. "Of course", he replies and reaches down and peels, like wet cellophane, part of the velvet covering. It was so close to falling off on it's own, it literally just slipped off, wetly, as we peeled. Five minutes later, what was a torn and tattered velvet rack is now a bone white set of antlers, befitting of any South Carolina Swamp Buck.
The new guy? Yes.
The House tract? Most definitely.
Each member is allowed only one buck from this area, so my hunt for this year on the House tract is over.
Was it worth it?
You bet. Bugs, heat, snakes and all.
Come visit us in the LowCountry. The door is open and the light is on.
Who knows, maybe the SkyScraper will be waiting for you.