Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hunting "Real" Deer

Last week I was given the opportunity to make a 3 day long muzzle loader hunt in Central Georgia. The hunt was to take place on the B.F. Grant WMA, and I was honestly quite excited. A buddy of mine who works for Georgia DNR invited me up and loaned me a muzzle loader to use. So the Thursday before the hunt, I drove the Jeep for what felt like an eternity and met my friend outside the town of Eatonton. Once there, I laid eyes on my living arrangements for the weekend.

To say the house was creepy would be an understatement. The lack of heat inside made the whole thing -that- much more appealing to boot. But as I laid there in the creaking darkness on a twin mattress the night before the hunt, I couldn't help but be excited...even if I could see my breath inside and was fully clothed. This would be my chance to hunt "real" deer. You know, the kind one sees in Field and Stream and other outdoor magazines. Pretty much...Deer that don't live in Florida. A legal buck had to have a 16 inch minimum main beam or a 15 inch spread. From pictures I'd seen, I was beyond excited. And even if I didn't lay eyes on a buck, I was hopeful for at least a doe and some venison in the freezer. The next morning couldn't come quick enough to begin my hunt for "real" deer.

But I forgot something.

Deer aren't real. They're myths.

With the exception of a tiny spike I saw the very first morning, neither myself nor my buddy saw deer. We found plenty of sign, hunted great looking areas, and even sat promising areas multiple times. But the mythical creatures eluded us. I'd say I was surprised, but honestly there's something in the back of my mind that convinces me that not seeing deer is the norm. Rare moments in nature happen from time to time and a deer might materialize every so often, but consistently seeing deer is not what I've come to expect.

I was a little disappointed. Especially after forking over the absurd amount of money for non-resident hunting licenses and gas. But I was happy to at least get back out into the woods. I've got a few ideas as to why we were unsuccessful on this particular hunt, and I got these little tid-bits of information AFTER I'd arrived.

This muzzleloader hunt was the third hunt this year. Prior to this, the area had two, three day rifle hunts and (I think) an archery season. So the deer had already been hit pretty hard. Also, from everything I'd heard, the deer had already rutted back in November, and post-rut deer aren't the easiest things to lay eyes on. Finally...there were the other hunters.

Oh Lord. The other hunters.

I've hunted public land my whole life, but somehow I've missed these 3-4 day hunts where there is a mass migration of blaze orange and trucks into the woods. I'm used to a season stretching a few weeks, and being able to hunt weekdays to avoid other hunters. This, however, was a little different.

There were a good 600-700 people in the woods that particular weekend. My friend and I were both walked in on twice, and I was consistently amazed at the amount of hunters out there. In an attempt to avoid other hunters, my friend and I hiked a little less than 2 miles down a closed path and into some thick areas. The thought being that the deer are so spooked, they won't be coming out of the thick stuff until almost dark, and there won't be many hunters willing to walk that far. Well...

We were wrong.

Along this stretch of path, -way- back into the woods, my friend and I ran into 7 other hunters. Not to mention the guys we -didn't- run into who had obviously dragged a deer out during one of the morning hunts. Bottom line, the deer were spooked, and there were too many people in the woods.

Had I shown up during the rut, I bet our luck would have been a little different. Just looking at the difference in harvest data between the hunts shows that. But I still enjoyed myself at the end of it all. It was nice to hunt some different terrain. Instead of cypress bottoms and pine plantations, there were rolling hills and hardwood creek bottoms. Just that little change in scenery made my hunts more enjoyable.

I know I'll definitely be hunting Georgia again, but next time it will probably be private land. Just one successful hunt up there will probably change my mindset completely. I look forward to having another chance to turn these myths into real deer.