Well, it’s February which means winter has finally arrived in Mississippi. As I sit and look out my window at the sleet, snow, and ice falling from the sky, I can’t help but wonder, where was this back in December? It’s no secret that I loathe cold weather, unless I’m in a deer stand. I don’t mind days like today if there’s an opportunity to shoot something. However, with no adrenaline rush to be had, the cold penetrates me to my core and makes for a day of lazing around the house with a blanket wrapped around me. It also reminds me of some cold hunts that I’ve been on in the past, one in particular.
About 9-10 years ago I drove over to Woodville, MS to accompany a friend on a public land bow hunting trip. It was late December and we were experiencing a nice little cold snap, which was sure to get the deer moving. I met up with my friend, Ben Tharp, who had just killed a nice buck with his bow at St. Catherine Wildlife Refuge. The plan was to go back on the refuge and see if we could catch a couple more bucks slipping through along the Homochitto River. I had never killed a deer with a bow on public land, so I was excited about the opportunity. Ben had already scouted the area pretty well and felt confident that we’d see plenty of deer.
I arrived in Woodville around 8:30 in the evening, just as Ben had finished skinning his buck. I unpacked my gear and made preparations for the next morning hunt. Due to the area that we were hunting, we would have a very long hike to get to our hunting location. The hike was just a shade over two miles to be exact. That’s a long way to hike into the woods carrying a climbing stand, a backpack full of gear, and a bow. At least it’s a long way for a lightweight like myself. We did have a deer cart to pull behind us, which should have been a major help to lug all of that gear. Either way, since I’d never had a public land bow kill I was up for the challenge.
We left the house the next morning around 4:30 in order to have plenty of time to walk to our spot. We had about a 30 minute drive, then a two mile walk which would put us in the tree just in time for the sun to come up. The temperature was around 26 degrees when we arrived on the refuge, which should have made for a perfect morning hunt. We decided to strip down to our underwear and boots for the hike in so we wouldn’t get sweaty during the walk and freeze once we got into a tree. It’s a weird feeling stripping down to your drawers and boots when it’s 26 degrees. It’s pretty dang cold at first, but after you’ve pulled a cart full of gear for a about a mile, it feels pretty good. The hike in wasn’t easy at all. We were walking a levee along the Homochitto River that had been rooted up pretty bad by hogs. The ground was very uneven and full of large, wallowed out pits. The cart full of gear bounced along and turned over a few times. At this point, I was happy to not have on all of those clothes, as I would have been drenched with sweat for sure.
We finally arrived at the first spot that Ben had scouted out the days before. This was the spot that I would enter the woods from the levee and try my luck. I put all of my clothes back on and loaded my gear on my back. Before I entered the woods and Ben continued to his spot, he left me with some words of advice for my hunt. Ben told me where he expected the deer to come from and what tree I should climb. Then he dropped a bombshell on me. And I quote him, “If you kill a good buck, let me know, and I will come help you get him out. If you kill a doe, you are on your own.” On my own? What did that even mean? There’s no way he’s serious, right?
I got settled into my tree just before sunrise. When the sun came up I welcomed the rays of sunshine on my body to help shake the chill. The deer must have felt the same because the higher the sun got the more deer I began to see. I had a great morning hunt that consisted of seeing more does than I cared to count and a few smaller bucks. Though I had plenty of shot opportunities, a shooter buck never came within range. Remembering Ben’s words, I did not even draw my bow back on any of the does. Around lunch we both exited the woods and walked out to the levee to eat a quick bite. We discussed our morning hunts and how many deer we saw. I know Ben could tell I was itching to let an arrow fly, but he didn’t change his stance on being “on my own.” After choking down some sandwiches and oranges, we headed back to our stands for the evening hunt. My trigger finger was itching more than ever.
I wasn’t in my tree much longer than 20 minutes when two large does began coming down a trail toward me. I couldn’t stand it. I readied my bow and waited for them to come into safe shooting distance. Once the biggest one was in range I drew back my bow and let an arrow fly. Whack! The arrow hit perfectly, and I watched her run into an area of palmettos. She went down after about a 30 yard run. I text Ben to let him know that I had killed a doe. His response was, “you better get to walking.” He was serious after all. I was “on my own.”
I field dressed the doe and loaded her onto the cart that we left out on the levee. I began my two mile hike back to the truck at 3:00. The cart was much heavier than it was that morning and I didn’t shed my clothes before beginning my hike. As the sun faded, I was still nowhere near getting back to the truck. Soon, I noticed a flashlight coming up from behind me. It was Ben. I was so happy to see him at this point in my struggle. He laughed as he walked up to me and kept on walking toward the truck. I don’t remember the exact words I yelled at him, but I’m sure they weren’t something I’d say to my pastor.
I finally arrived at the truck completely exhausted. Ben helped me load the deer and the cart into the back of the truck, and we headed back to Woodville. I learned some valuable lessons that day. It’s always better to walk half naked into the woods and not get sweaty before a hunt; don’t kill a deer so far from the truck; and if Ben Tharp tells you something, you can take it to the bank.