It almost feels like karma that the opening week of the rut in the South Delta has come and gone while I’ve been mostly confined to my bed with a touch of pneumonia. That’s what I get for writing about how we’ve avoided any real illness in the last year or so. Thankfully, I’ve pretty much turned the corner and am ready to head up to join in on the action. I’ve been hearing reports that deer are chasing like crazy up there and I think that’s what helped lead to my quick healing. Even not being 100%, one cannot just lay in bed and miss the rut while still calling themselves a hunter. Defying the wishes of my family to stay and home and rest, my truck is loaded and ready to go.
I’d like to thank everyone for not blowing my inbox up with hate mail from last week’s article. Maybe my three readers didn’t disappear after-all at the mention of banning the use of feeders! On the other hand, our podcast might have taken a hit after last week’s episode. Anybody that knows me knows that I love the folks in Smith County, but that’s not going to stop me from telling some great stories and, perhaps, throwing a little shade from time to time. Let’s be honest for a second, I’m from Jones County…we ain’t much better. Then again, I graduated from Laurel High School so that keeps me a cut above the rest of you Jones Countians.
In the spirit of the holiday season, I will lay down my arms, momentarily, and tell a good Smith County story. This is a story that doesn’t include having dozens of old, rusty cars in the yard, or someone burning a trailer down. It also happens to coincide with the rut and Christmas, so this week is a perfect time to share it.
I hunted as much as I could in high school, but hunting always took a backseat to baseball. After-all, hunting wasn’t going to get me into a college or pay the bills one day. In my limited experience in the woods, it only made sense that I never really killed a buck worthy of conversation. I never really knew what I was doing, and I didn’t have the time to practice and get better. College was more of the same. I would hunt when I came home for the holidays, but it was mostly just to shoot a doe or two for meat. Baseball consumed most of my time and the remaining energy was probably used to pursue sins of the flesh. After meeting my would be wife, and finishing my playing career, I turned some of my attention to the outdoors.
I began to pay more attention to the annual rut and the best times to see deer moving. I started to actually scout the areas that I was hunting instead of the old “show and go” method I had been using. Two days before Christmas in 2009, I found the best rub and scrape line that I’d ever really seen. It was in a little finger of woods next to a cutover that I’d been hunting some that season. The land was privately owned in Center Ridge, Mississippi (in the middle of Smith County). All of the sign was fresh, so I strapped my climber to a tree just downwind of the markings. The following morning was supposed to be cold and still, so I hoped I’d get my first real opportunity at a mature buck. I quietly slipped back out of the woods and prepared for the next morning hunt.
The weather forecast was accurate. The temperature was well below freezing (much unlike what Christmas will be this year) and there was virtually no wind. I got to my stand well before the sun came up and quietly climbed up the tree. Before climbing, I sprayed a little bit of Tink’s Doe-in-Heat on some of the bushes surrounding the scrapes. After getting settled, the sun began to slowly creep up. Sounds of the woods came to life in an instant. Birds and squirrels cheerfully awakened and began to move to warm themselves up. Soon, deer were doing the same thing.
The sun hadn’t been up more than 15 minutes when I heard the first twig snap. From where I was sitting, I could see the cutover. The sound of a large animal moving through the cutover got louder and louder. Finally, I got the first glimpse of the buck’s antlers. At the time, he was by far the largest buck that I’d ever seen while hunting. When the buck finally made it out of the cutover and to the forest line, he was no more than 30 yards from where I was sitting. He seemed intent on going to check his scrapes from the previous day. Another couple of steps…and BOOM!
The buck dropped right in his tracks. He laid dead less than 20 yards from my tree. My ears were ringing and my hands were shaking. I composed myself enough to call my dad and tell him what happened, but hadn’t yet got my legs to stop shaking enough to climb down the tree. After 20 or so minutes, I was finally able to make my descent. I walked up to the deer and couldn’t believe it. I’d finally done it! I tried dragging the buck out, but he weighed well over 200 pounds, and I was still a little shaky. Another phone call to my Great-Uncle Elvin Henderson (a Smith County legend) and he came and helped me get the buck out of the woods.
I’ll never forget my Christmas Eve Buck. It wasn’t my first buck that I’d killed, but it was my first mature buck. It was also the first time that I’d ever successfully scouted an area. That day changed hunting for me. I actually fell in love with it. And when I say “fell in love”, I don’t mean with killing a deer. I mean that I fell in love with the entire process of hunting. Successfully taking a mature buck is a load of fun, but it’s even more fun when you’ve put in some work. It also feels good to have bragging rights at the family Christmas. Here’s to hoping I can bag another one this year ahead of Christmas…especially before making the trip to Smith County.