Ronnie's First 8 Pointer
The sun rose, but grudgingly slow that morning. It was Thanksgiving morning in 1989 and it was cold, even by south Georgia standards.
I want to tell you this story, but first I have to take you back a way... years back, in fact.
My little brother Ronnie and I had become pretty consistent hunting partners. He is almost 2 years younger than I am and I had started hunting earlier than he did.
As big brothers go – and with more experience in hunting, I naturally sort of assumed the role of “lead dog”.
With plenty of “Alpha Male” genes in our family (there are 7 of us kids – 5 are boys... and I use the term kids lightly because I was 32 years old in 89 when this story took place!), this was a comfortable role for me – being the lead dog.
Additionally, with a few extra years of hunting under my belt, I had taken a few decent bucks but Ronnie had not... one particularly nice 8 pointer that was 22 + inches wide. Ronnie had taken deer – even with a bow – but no nice bucks.
Now – back to Thanksgiving Day in 89... we had permission to hunt a small farm in Bulloch County, Georgia (we still hunt the same farm in 2010!) and we joined up in the cold, pre-dawn hours for what has become an annual ritual – our Thanksgiving deer hunt.
Over steaming coffee from our thermoses, we discussed the game plan... we knew the swamp was flooded but wanted to hunt in there anyway. I had a chain on stand at a bend in the creek that had been very productive for several years – in fact – the 8 pointer mentioned above had come from this stand the previous October – 1988.
We decided that Ronnie would hunt this chain on and I would take the long way around – on the dirt road – and hunt the other side of the swamp... but I had to take a circuitous path to get there. I knew where I wanted to get – just did not EXACTLY know how to get there! (I have never been lost in the woods but there have been times when roads, landmarks and vehicle locations were. I know where I am – so therefore, “I” was technically never lost – you get the picture!)
This chain on could be accessed from the east side of the swamp – which is the easy access side – we had roads down to the swamp on that side.
So, rubber boots to wade with, off we go.
Around and on to the dirt road I go – across the bridge and into the pine and mixed hardwoods on the other side of the swamp. We are good at getting in the stand real early, so I have plenty of time. I ease through the swamp with rifle, backpack and climbing stand – as quietly as I can go.
I know I need to follow the break line of the swamp and I move along, headed southward and look for an area to hunt. Finally, I come to a flooded spot that appears to offer a view down the semi open creek area. I wade out, climb the tree, get all positioned and settle in to wait as it is still dark as can be.
The swamp calms around me... I can hear the swirl of the water underneath the stand and a peaceful – yet expectant – feeling settles over me. All is quiet and black around me as I open the thermos and enjoy another cup of coffee in the cold pre-dawn of our beloved swamp.
On the other side of the swamp, however – a drama that I am entirely unaware of is unfolding!
Ronnie has gained the chain on well in advance of me and has settled in. He has a long time to wait so he, too, enjoys a cup of Joe.
As he sits in the darkness, he hears the splosh, splosh, splosh that can mean only one thing – deer approaching! In the darkness, three deer thread their way under the stand. He feels that they are does because there are three of them together. Across the swamp they go – mere shadows... black on black... or varying images of grey in the night.
Seconds tick past...and they become minutes. The coffee cup empty now and put away – he leans intently in the stand – waiting....waiting...
The black fades just a tiny bit now and the shades of grey resolve ever so slightly. The creek seems to gurgle loudly as it passes over a sand bank 30 yards in front of the stand.
Birds begin to chirp and the winter landscape starts to come into focus...
A twig breaks behind the stand.
Ronnie tenses.... Was that a deer? Too early for squirrels... maybe a beaver?
SPLOSH, SPLOSH – two deer pass under the stand – Ronnie strains intently in the grey and can pick out just barely that is it two does as they, too, moving on the same invisible path across the swamp.
Man – that is at least five deer so far this morning... this is gonna be a great hunt!
Again, moments pass and the dark loses some of its... well... its blackness.
SSSHHHHLLLLLUUUUP. The sound of a foot – undoubtedly a deer – being pulled out of the deep mud... right behind and to just to the left of the stand.
SSHHLLLLUUP. Again – another foot – but just a little further away from the stand.... Ronnie wonders “how did that deer get that close to me and I did not know it”???!!?
Then... a splash and then a constant SPLOSH, SPLOSH, SPLASH, SPLASH – to the left of the stand but just a little further out in the swamp!!!! This one moving fast – much faster than the others and it is only one deer.... Ronnie strains and can see the shape – it is bigger – but is it a good buck????
The deer is moving out of sight now... Man – what do it do, WHAT TO DO, Ronnie wonders??!!!?.
In a move that was part desperation and part genius, Ronnie pulls his grunt tube out....hoping against hope – but here goes...
The deer keeps moving, well out into the main body of the swollen creek now.
Much more insistent this time and more loudly.
The sound leaves the swamp in a vacuum – all noise is immediately ceased... it is as if you froze time for a moment!
The deer – now 50 yards away – stops...and stands stock still.
The blood is pounding in Ronnie’s ears as he perches 20 feet up...
Oh man – what to do, now... too many branches in the way, is it a good buck, how can I get him to come closer – way too many questions and not a lot of good answers... WHAT TO DO, NOW?????
Rrraaaaahhh, Ronnie lets out a slow, guttural grunt call, softly, like that of a mature buck...
The deer wheels wildly – chest deep in water – creating a sound like that of a giant water borne creature turning – and comes charging back toward the stand, flashing out of the water and stands on a white sand bank, outlined now for our hunter to see.
The sun – pressing ever westward – has done its daily chore – it brings the the light of a new day!
Silhouetted now between weak daylight, black water and the white sand bank – antler tips reach for the sky and the buck – standing defiantly... swings his head this way – and then that way - trying to find his opposing number as he scans the swamp.
WHO DARE OPPOSE ME?????
The swamp – still eerily quiet – refusing to intrude on this drama – waits expectantly.
The hunter, however, offers no such quarter.
The noise, when it does come, is so startlingly loud – it would seem as though the gates of Hades themselves have opened.
BBBBOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM.... The sound pervades the entire swamp – rolling across the flowing swamp water like a tidal wave across a flat sea!!!!!
Unknown to either of us – I had climbed a tree – diagonally across the swamp – no more than 80 – 100 yards from Ronnie.
When the rifle went off, I was lost in thoughts, enjoyment, memories and the 100 shades of grey as black gives way to light. So startling was the sound, I literally shook in my stand in recoil.
The noise wave washes over me and then returns from the other end of the swamp – like a lost child returns to its mother.... I hear the splash of running feet and a very noisy departure.
The vacuum of noise returns. Not a sound is heard.
Seconds tick past and the silence is deafening. All is quiet for several moments – which seem to stretch into an eternity.
With drama gone, the birds finally start again. The sounds of insects resume. The sun continues to bring a new day as shadows fade and grey begins to turn to full daylight. The gurgle of the swamp is heard again. A beaver heads back down the creek, swimming silently along, bound for the vast series of dens at the far end of the property.
I find myself wondering two things... how did I climb so close to Ronnie – after walking the better part of a half a mile to get here (blind luck??) and did he know I was here????
I wait a reasonable period of time (what... 30 minutes... I am dying to know what he shot!) and give a call across the swamp. "Ronnie – you there?"
When he calls back, he is startlingly close – no more than 75 yards.... We carry on a near normal tone conversation.
What did you shoot?
Was it a buck?
How far away?
Maybe 30 yards.
Is he dead right there?
Do you know where he is?
Sort of. Maybe. I hope so.
You ready to get down?
Is he big? (at this point, the very selfish part of me is HOPING that the buck is NOT bigger than my largest one... very sick, I know...)
Yeah, pretty big.
How many points?
6 or 8, I am going to say.
Do you know which way he ran?
OK stay in your stand, I will come around.
I cannot cross the creek where we are – it is too wide and deep. I climb down, gather my belongings and move back up the creek – toward the dirt road. I know there is a sharp bend in the creek where I can likely cross just ahead – I manage to throw the stand across and then hop across my myself and make my way back down the swamp to where Ronnie is still sitting in the stand.
Ronnie excitedly replays the events for me...and he directs me to the sand bank where the buck was standing... I see the hoof marks plain as day where the buck bolted, but no blood, hair or other evidence... He then starts to direct me in a generally easterly direction – which leads out of the swamp and back up the hill... I follow Ronnie’s directions – but the swamp is flooded and I can find no sign of a wounded deer anywhere... He sends me – telling me “go left” and “go right” for about 65 – 70 yards but then he loses sight of me in the trees and can no longer guide me. I move back toward him and we mark, with toilet paper, the path Ronnie feels like the deer ran after being shot.... I then assess the route of the toilet paper markers and it looks like they are curving in a generally clockwise direction... I walk in what feels like a natural extension of that path, moving through dense tangles and through large areas that are flooded, making my way around the deepest of the pockets, some of which are 4-5’ deep.
No deer can I find.
I retrace my way back to the sand bank and start over, looking for minute clues... and at the end of the marked path – still can not find anything.
Now, I begin to zig zag back and forth, looking as I go... I hear Ronnie has climbed down and is sloshing around near the stand.
I pause for a moment... and move back to the last tissue mark... and am standing there... I hear Ronnie beginning to walk my way and I have a sick feeling of disappointment... for Ronnie and for the deer... I also feel sort of sick because I suffered from “deer jealousy” while in the stand. I am thinking that we are going to have a sad morning when I glance down. Standing near one of the deep pools of water – I see some fine grey and brown hairs floating on the surface of the water.
Elation!! A sign!!
I squat and look closer – YES – deer hair... and from the black water of a 5’ deep swamp hole, I see the antlers, bone white, in the bottom of the tannic stained water!!!!
I glance back – I see Ronnie – now only 50 yards from me... with a fairly dejected look on his face...
I grab a stout stick laying nearby and like a true salvage diver looking for treasure – I manage to hook the antlers and bring them within reach as I thrust my arm down into the cold water... and as I hear Ronnie slosh up to me – I drag the soaking wet buck up on the edge of the roots and soft mud just as he arrives!
I see the worry and fear leave his eyes – he sees the first 8 pointer he has ever taken!
We drag the deer out of the swamp and to the edge of a thicket that runs parallel to the swamp. We sit and have the last of the coffee from our thermoses... the story is told and retold... with all of the accompanying sounds, action and realism that make the actual event so exciting. I recall then – as now – being mesmerized by the images of that story... so we find ourselves almost 21 years later – I am still mesmerized and just now recounting the story!
The buck was a nice 8 pointer – maybe only 15” wide – but a true trophy for Ronnie nonetheless... and the full shoulder mount still hangs in Ronnie’s living room to this day. The 30-30 made a perfect double lung shot and the deer was dead on his feet but did not know it. I would have to assume the blood trail fell in the water and we just could not find it.
That started a tradition that went unbroken for many years – we always had the Thanksgiving hunt and Ronnie always seemed to get a deer on Thanksgiving day! The hunt remains even to today – there have been years that I missed it – but Ronnie and family do not. Not every year produces a deer on that day – but for several in a row after 1989, they did!
I talked about the “Alpha Male” genes in our blood – well, the teacher has now become the pupil. Ronnie’s skills as a deer hunter well overtook mine, shortly after that hunt.
I began to notice that he identified trails that I overlooked. I noticed that his ability to place a stand – where the deer would come out and where the hunter would not be seen – were better than mine. He developed an intuition that eluded me – and he still has it to this day. He was (and is) a better tracker than I am. He is more persistent, remaining on stand long after I have abandoned mine. He sits more quietly. He moves less. His aim was always deadly – bow or gun – and that remains true to today. Ronnie is using the same bow from 20 years ago....I would hate to count the notches in that thing! He also has what he refers to as a “worn out Savage 30.06” that he has been shooting for almost 20 years now. It would be fairly well notched up also!
As I look back, I would not change a thing.
I take my lessons (and my joy) where I can find them.
I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed telling it.
PS by the way, he did not know where I was that morning!!! (OK, you could argue that neither did I!)