|The view from the "Holler" stand.|
I grew up outside Boston in a decidedly suburban setting. Our ranch-style house had a 3/4-acre lot, which I treated as if it were the Yukon or the Serengeti, depending on the season. Trouble was, it was hard to imagine yourself exploring the wildest places on Earth when you could see Mom weeding the garden a couple hundred feet away.
For whatever reasons, I decided as a child that my dream would be to own enough land that, if I wanted to, I could wander far enough from the house that I couldn't see it. A little more than three years ago now, that dream was realized when Sue and I acquired (with a LOT of help from my parents and Uncle Alan) nearly 125 undeveloped acres in northwestern Cleveland County, N.C. Now we are proprietors of this family land until we are able to built a home there and live the rest of our days.
Back in late October, I wrote about my quest to harvest a whitetail deer there this season. Up until this year, we lived too far away from the property for this to be a realistic goal, but now that we've moved, I'm less than an hour from the land. It's hard to explain how important this is to me. Here in the midst my eighth deer season, I've taken some 20 deer. Some have come from private tracts, opened to me by their benevolent owners. Some have come from public lands the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission holds special draw hunts for which I've been lucky to draw. My biggest deer, a 9-point buck whose antlers measure just shy of 123 inches, was taken on an intensively managed hunting plantation along the banks of the Black River in South Carolina. I paid to have a shoulder mount of the buck and he's beautiful, but he is not my proudest hunting accomplishment - not by a long shot. You see, before I pulled the trigger and sent him off to the taxidermist, I had to pay around $500 for a 3-day hunt and the "privilege" of having a guide drop me off at a tripod stand next to an automatic corn feeder. The deer and wild pigs there were free range, but they were accustom to making regular stops at these bait stations to supplement their wild diets. My role in the buck's demise was to be the lucky sod who drew the long straw when the guide was choosing who would go where for the evening hunt.
I'm not saying I'm now against using guide services to tap in to their wealth of local knowledge and often exclusive access to prime hunting land (shoot, if I had the money, I'd fly all over the place to pay to hunt across the country and beyond) but do-it-yourself hunts are more realistic and satisfying at this stage in my life.
Harvesting a deer on my own land; where I can roam wherever I want, manage however I want and hunt whenever I want (within the confines of the law of course), is my idea of a dream come true.
So, when I heard those footsteps coming down the hill just at sunrise on the third day of the Western Region gun season, I was a bit more amped up than I've been in awhile. I'd chosen the spot during a scouting trip back in October - a pine tree between two ridges, next to a tiny creek - because I'd found a deer trail running along each ridge and another that ran across the holler, connecting two bedding areas.
The deer was walking from one bedding area to another, just as I'd pictured it in my head a thousand times. When it stepped into an opening with a clear shot, I bleated to stop it and fired a bullet I've been saving for the moment ever since we bought the land. My shot was true, and a short tracking job later, I stood over a modest spike buck that may as well have been the next world record for the emotions I felt.
It's almost a week since it happened and I'm still on Cloud 9. If this is a dream, let me keep sleeping.