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Perseverance: 

The Story of An Unforgettable Alabama Deer Hunt

By: Patrick Harmeyer 

 

The Agony and The Ecstasy.

 

Some hunts are packed with adventure, and some hunts are just plain uneventful.  Few hunters ever experience the range of emotions as I did this past January, during an unforgettable Alabama Deer Hunt.  I laughed and I cried; I reflected and I fumed.  I was confident and emboldened.  I was humbled, foiled and frustrated.  But in the end, I was triumphant.  This is my story.

 

I was long overdue.

 

Having never hunted as a kid, I started hunting in my late twenties back in 1980.  On my first hunt, my dad shot a nice eight point that lit my fire for hunting.  A few weeks later, I shot my first deer, a doe that made me think that this hunting thing was a piece of cake.  Little did I realize back then that it would be 24 long and weary hunting seasons later before I would get my next shot at the prize.

 

Anticipation.

 

I had first heard of Pushmataha Plantation in Butler Alabama, at the Louisiana Sportsman Show at the Superdome last spring.  And as much as I wanted to go there, I never dreamed that I would get the chance.  So when in the course of conversation my buddy, Danny Cristina told me he had killed two deer there last year with some friends, I let him know that if he went again, I would like to go with him.  Things worked out and we made arrangements to go in January, during the peak of the rut, with 10 other guys who worked with his friend Johnny.  During the weeks leading up to it, I prepared myself mentally to plan to enjoy myself, regardless of whether I killed anything.  On the 200 or so mile trip to Butler, however, my excitement started to build, after seeing four live deer and eight that were killed by vehicles on I-59.  I kept thinking to myself, “Man these deer are everywhere. This is going to be a great hunt.”

 

Pushmataha Plantation            

 

With over 180 feed plots spread out over 13000 acres, Pushmataha Plantation offers its hunters a well-managed herd, a variety of hunting terrain (hills to swamp), and a host of amenities that make for a very comfortable hunt.  Mark Ezell and his staff treat you like family and provide home-style cooking; warm and comfortable sleeping quarters, hot showers, and cable TV.  There is a rifle range if you want to site your scope, a cleaning shed where your kill is dressed and quartered for you.  When it’s time to hunt you are dropped off to your stand, which is usually a wooden blind with windows and chairs overlooking a 1.5 to 2 acre plot of rye grass.  When the hunt is over, you and your deer are picked up and brought back to the lodge.

 

Tuesday afternoon.

 

I had never seen a 4WD passenger van before, but that’s just what they loaded us into.  “Bull”, the driver, brought six of us who were the “MEAT” hunters to an area where anything except spotted fawns was legal.  Everyone was pumped.  However, one of the guys, Camille, had never killed a deer, so he was even more so.  I was hoping to get an early kill, after which I would concentrate on getting a trophy.  The terrain was flat, dry and thickly covered with young pines.  We passed other hunters from nearby lodges.  I got the impression that we were hunting the outer edges of the property.  Still I was excited at all the hoof prints along the roads. 

 

When we got to my stand though, I was somewhat disappointed.  There was a raised box stand, about 6 feet off the ground, overlooking a bend in the road that had been planted with rye grass.  The plot stretched about 200 yard in either direction from the stand and was probably 60 yards wide.  It was certainly big enough and beautifully green, but I was shooting a 30/30 Winchester and was not comfortable with a 200-yard shot.  Additionally, I felt that driving the van through the green field twice would not do anything to help bring in a deer.  Nevertheless I climbed up into the stand and tried to get comfortable.

 

I started to scope out the plot, looking for trails where the deer would possibly come out.  It was still early and I figured I’d be waiting till just before sundown.  The raised stand offered a pretty good vantage point but it shifted in the wind and creaked and moaned.  I was not a happy camper.  I couldn’t even scratch my butt without the crazy thing moaning and groaning.  Still, I thought, the deer hear these noises all the time so maybe it won’t bother them.  It wasn’t too long before my worries were dispelled.  Just after 4:30, four does appeared out of nowhere.  They were on the eastern edge of the food plot and looked as if they walked right up the middle of the road.  I scoped them out and waited, hoping they would walk in a little closer.  I also hoped that a buck would be following behind.  So I waited.

 

About 10 minutes had past and the deer did come a little closer; grazing very slowly but working their way across the field.  There was an adult doe of about 120 pounds or so, two younger does and a fawn.  I set my sights on the big one and waited for a good shot.  Every breath I took made the stand creak.  And every creak the stand let out made the deer look up at me.  Still I tried to control my excitement and make a good shot.  I estimated the shot to be 170 yards or so and figured in a drop for my 170 grain bullet.  When I fired, the big doe jumped straight up in the air; I knew I had hit her.  But when she came down, she casually trotted back into the woods.  Now, I needed to see if I could find any blood.

 

When I made my way up the road, I found where the bullet hit the ground, but I did not find any blood.  What I did find was a hand full of white fur that I had grazed from her breast area.   I knew then that my shot was an inch low and I had missed a chance at a beautiful deer.  I followed her trail into the woods, but never found a drop of blood.  It would have been a hell of a shot, but all I had was a one-that-got-away story.  That was my first shot in over 24 years and the first deer I ever missed.  Still I felt optimistic that I would get another chance.

 

Meanwhile back at the lodge…

 

Needless to say, when we got back to the lodge, I caught all the grief befitting the guy who missed the only shot fired by 12 hunters.  The only thing that saved my shirt tales was either the handful of fur in my pocket, or the fact that I was wearing a sweatshirt (no tales).  Still the southern fried chicken we had for dinner was delicious and everyone was pumped for tomorrow’s hunt.

 

No Alarm Clock needed

 

4:00AM couldn’t come fast enough.  The aroma of hickory smoked bacon frying in the kitchen got everyone out of his bunk.  Eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, were among the buffet of items available.  The coffee was good and hot.  It wasn’t as strong enough to dissolve rust the way I usually drink it.  Three cups however were enough to get me percolating, and more than enough to make it through the morning.  We loaded up the van and started off to a different area than the evening before.  By rotating the areas, a hunter gets to see different terrain and conditions.  Plus, by not over hunting an area, the deer don’t get too spooked.  Bull put me out near a box stand that overlooked a low hill that was planted with rye grass and clover.  The temperature was in the twenties, so I appreciated the enclosure that held in a little heat and kept the wind off my back.

 

You’re not going to believe what happens next.

 

When the field started to lighten up, there was a heavy frost covering the grass.  I figured that the sun would probably have to get up and melt the ice before anything would happen, so I patiently waited and scoped the edges of the plot, looking for likely deer runs.  The far corner of the plot was more of a shot than I wanted to take, but the best shot was to the near corner, which had plenty of thick woods close by.  I couldn’t help feeling that it was the best place for a deer to come out. 

 

Just as the sun peeped over the pines, three stray dogs started checking out the food plot.  I couldn’t see collars on any of them so I couldn’t tell if they were wild dogs or somebody’s hunting dogs that had gotten loose.  They did look like they knew how to hunt.  Two of them stayed on the edges of the field while the third one went into the woods sniffing as he went.  Obviously not picking up any scents, they soon disappeared but circled the plot and came right past the stand 15 or 20 minutes later. 

 

I thought for sure that if they hadn’t run any deer out to me by now that they had probably run them off.  Nevertheless, about 10 minutes after the dogs left for good, I looked across the field and a deer was walking right toward me.  It was a pretty good size buck, probably 175 pounds or more.  He only had one antler, but it was huge.  It looked like 5 or 6 points and the base was massive.  Needless to say, it was the biggest deer I had ever seen, and he was walking and sniffing right toward the stand.  I put the scope on him, as he was moving.  And when he got to about 40 yards away, he stopped, bent down, gave me his shoulder and said, “Shoot Me”.  As I pulled the trigger, I thought, “You’re Mine.”

 

WHAT!!!

 

“Click,” went the rifle, not “ka-powww”.  The deer looked up and started running.  I had the sinking feeling of “Did I forget to chamber a shell?”  I cocked the lever and the bullet ejected.  “What the…,” “How in the hell?” Before I could figure out what happened I picked up the LIVE bullet, saw that the primer had been hit, and chunked it out of the box stand before it decided to go off in my hand.  Of course, by now the big buck was long gone.  I now felt frustrated, aggravated and jinxed.  I didn’t deserve this.  It’s just not fair.

 

I sat there a few minutes trying to make sense of what had just happened and hoped against hope that I would get one more chance before the hunt was over.  But in my heart I knew that I already had my chances and my hunt was probably already over.  The van came a little while later.  Still, no one had killed anything.  Everyone was a little quiet until I finally told my story.  Naturally each one had a suggestion for me. 

 

“Better go to the range and check out your gun,” warned Scott. 

“I would have cocked it and fired again,” said Danny.

“How old are them bullets?” asked Bull.

 

They all were trying to help, but their true feelings came out when someone finally said, “That’s great, the only one seeing any deer can’t make a shot.”  I know that these things happen, but at that particular moment I was feeling pretty damn rotten.

 

Breaking the ice.

 

When we get back to the lodge, Camille, Bobby and Johnny had all killed yearling does while hunting not far from the lodge.  This made everyone else feel a little more confident about getting a shot.  While I was certainly happy for them, I felt that the gods of deer hunting had already given me my chance.  I tried to act optimistic, since we still had two more hunts to go, but my 24-year dry spell was starting to weigh on my shoulders.

 

Danny and I walked back to the range. I fired five rounds, to convince myself that my rifle was not damaged or malfunctioning and to also verify that it was sighted in correctly.  We both concluded that the misfire was a fluke.  It’s timing was horrific, but it was nonetheless a fluke.  We went back to the lodge for lunch and tried to get pumped up for the afternoon hunt.

 

“If Mr. Buck comes out on you this evening, call me on the walkie-talkie and I come take care of him for you,” teased Danny.  “No one works a Bolt-action any faster than I do.  I’ve got five bullets in my clip, I know one of them will fire.”

 

Soon it was time to get back to work.  The temperature had warmed up quite a bit, but we all knew that when the shadows got long the mercury would plunge pretty fast.  I brought my heavy jacket, even though I didn’t need it at the moment.

 

Reality Sets In.

 

As much as I wanted a chance at redemption, Wednesday evening’s hunt found me somewhat depressed and awfully pessimistic.  I didn’t expect to see anything this evening and the field I was hunting didn’t make me any more hopeful.  This plot was long and narrow with a creek-bed on the far end about 250 yards away.  Although the rye grass was thick and green, I didn’t like the piles of cut-down trees on both sides that blocked my view into the woods and acted like a barrier for the first 75 to 100 yards.  Even if I saw a deer, it would probably be at an uncomfortably long distance.  I had only been in the stand for 10 minutes, and already the reality of another unsuccessful hunt was setting in. 

 

My mind started drifting and my heart wasn’t into watching the plot.  Hunting from the box stands was comfortable and looking over the food plots was probably the best place to see deer.  But I found that the box limits your view and blocks many sounds. Part of the reason that I love hunting is watching the squirrels play in the oaks, listening for the hoots of the owls, watching a hawk gliding overhead, trying to identify the birds by their calls.  I decided then that my morning hunt would be from a tree stand.

 

When darkness finally came, I had not seen any deer and I could not wait to get out of the stand.  I walked up the trail to the road thinking that Bull would be driving up soon.  After waiting 10 minutes or so in the dark, my flashlight batteries were starting to weaken.  All of sudden, out of the darkness, I heard a deep snort.  It didn’t sound like a deer; I thought it might be a hog.  I shined my dim light in the direction but could not see more than a few feet in front of me.  At that moment, the box stand seemed like a pretty good place to wait for the van to arrive.

 

When the van did arrive, there were some happy hunters aboard.  Danny had gotten a button buck.  Pak had shot a doe, and Camille had gotten his second deer.  When we got back to the lodge, there had been a few more deer killed.  There would be a lot of deer stories at dinner tonight.

 

Son of a Gun

 

At dinner, there was a lot of celebrating since most everyone had at least seen some deer.  Camille got his face bloodied for shooting his first deer that morning and his second that afternoon.  Johnny had the best story of the night.  He was hunting in area designated as the trophy bucks only (eight points or better) and watched as an assortment of twenty-four does, fawns, spikes and four pointers danced and played under his tree stand.  After watching and taking some pictures of the proceedings, a mature six-point starts to get “friendly” with one of the does.  Out of nowhere, a monster buck charges the six-point knocks it to the ground and starts battling for the doe.  Meanwhile Johnny can’t tell whether the “Monster” has enough points, because it’s rolling around and tangled up with the 6-point.  Within seconds the battle moves beyond Johnny’s view behind a thicket.  Helplessly, Johnny watched and waited and hoped he could get a shot.  The bucks never did come back and it got dark without Johnny getting his shot.

 

I mentioned my misfire incident to Rainer Ezell, Mark’s son, and was surprised at his response. “Why the hell did you bring a 30-30 to this place.  You ought to be shooting a 270 or a 307.  Why heck, if you needed a gun, you could have used one of mine.”  I told him that my gun shoots just fine, thank you. (Most of the time.)

 

Desperation Thursday

 

Thursday morning, last hunt, it’s now time to make it or break it.  The monkey is sitting squarely on my back.  If I am going to end my 24-year drought, this was my last chance.  I told Bull that I want to hunt some bottoms and I wanted to hunt from a tree stand. 

 

“Eight points or better?” asked Bull.  “I’ve got a good ladder stand in the woods. But it’s eight-points or better.”

“What about does?” I asked. “I’ll take eight or better if I can also get a doe shot.”

He replied, “Yea, does are OK.”

“All Right, put me there.” was my response.

 

Once I got up the ladder and got settled, I started to survey the area with my binoculars.  I was in the woods with plenty of oak and other hardwoods.  The ground cover was not thick but a hundred yard ahead of me was what looked like a creek-bed.  It was thick with saplings and ran east to west with a line of demarcation between the heavy brush and the sparse ground cover.  I could see my ribbon trail in back of me and across the road about 300 yards away I could barely see a green field through the trees. 

 

This change of venue was good for the spirit.  I was determined to hunt hard and make it count.  I sat very quiet and listened hard.  I watched the tree line intently and scoped every leaf that moved.  A red-tailed hawk flew within about 50 feet from my stand.  I watched two squirrels chase each other around this giant white oak.  The cold north wind chilled my face and I was happy that I decided to hunt from this stand.  I worked at it as hard as I could from 6:00 until 9:30.  I sat back and rested for a minute.  The hunt was almost over.  I guess I’ll be going home empty handed again.

 

The sound of a twig snapping brought me back suddenly.  As I looked to my left I could see three does trying to sneak past me.  The mother was a decent sized deer and there was a smaller deer and a fawn.  I tried to get my gun up quietly, but by the time I could get a bead on them, my only shot was on the fawn.  Reluctantly I watched the thick brush move as they made there way into it.  I couldn’t believe it. I missed another chance.

 

By now, I was talking to the Lord.  “Why God?  Why is this happening to me?  I have worked so hard to be a good hunter.  I don’t outlaw. I don’t kill just for sport. I deserve better than this.”

 

I couldn’t help feeling that I was a lousy hunter.  I guess I will probably give it up and sell my guns.  I just can’t believe that I had seen nine deer in three days and I don’t have anything to show for it.  I can only imagine what they will say when I get back to the lodge.

 

At that moment, like an inspiration, as if God himself had spoken, I sat up and thought: “Three does walking pretty fast… there might be a buck trailing behind them.”

 

Plan your work, Work you plan.

 

I decided that the buck would be following the same path that the does had just taken, so I knew where he would be headed and approximately where he would be coming from.  I turned the chair around and faced the left side of the stand.  I propped my rifle on the railing and aimed it in the approximate direction.  I sat there and scanned that left side and sure enough, almost 15 minutes later, Mr. Buck showed up.  I spotted him way off in the distance walking to where I expected him to walk, walking from just about where I expected him to come from.  I picked out a shooting lane aimed for a specific spot and waited for him to walk to it.

 

He was on a mission.  He was walking pretty fast with his head down and he was sniffing the does’ trail.  It was obvious that he was in the rut and had something on his mind other than looking out for hunters.  It just then occurred to me that I needed to count his points.  A seven-point buck would cost me a fine of $350.00, so I had to be sure.  I scoped him as he was getting closed to the firing lane.  I could see 3 tines on one side and 2 for sure on the other.  He probably would have 2 spurs at the base.  He may have seven or he may have eight.  What if I let him go; I will never know if it was good or not.  My heart was pounding hard.  It was the moment of truth.  This deer may cost me some money but I have to get this monkey off my back.  No guts no glory.  I have to shoot this deer.

 

Just like I planned, he walked into the firing lane.  I took a deep breath, squeezed off the shot, and this time the rifle fired.  I hit him where the neck and shoulder meet.  He dropped like a stone and he was dead before hit the ground.  I felt the flush of exhilaration as I tried to regain my breath.  I sat there in the stand for a minute staring at the tree that he fell behind.  I didn’t expect him to get up, but I had chambered another shell just in case.  Another few minutes passed and I was climbing down the ladder.  I looked at tree some seventy yards away and started walking toward it. 

 

I walked up to the tree and looked behind it.  “No deer? No way!”  There is no way on earth that deer could have gotten up and ran off while I was climbing out of the stand.  My heart sunk again.  But quickly I looked back at the stand and again at the tree.  “Maybe this is the wrong tree.”  I lined up the tree and the stand and walk about ten yards further.  Sure enough… there he was lying behind the next tree.

 

I kneeled down next to the fallen buck and started counting points.  You can imagine my glee when I found a half-inch nub on the antler that I had counted as 2 tines in my scope.  And that one makes 8; I had a Trophy buck.  I started dragging him back to the stand, but just as I made it to the stand, I hear the van driving up the road.  Ten minutes sooner and that deer would have been spooked by the sound of the van.  I had scored a last second field goal to win the Super Bowl.

 

 

The Celebration Begins.

 

The rack of the van already had two other deer in it.  Camille had killed his third deer.  Scot had gotten a spike. When they put my buck on top, I just stood there and stared.  “Come on,” said Bull “We gotta go celebrate.” When we picked up Danny, he had killed his second deer, a one horned spike.  He called it his “Unicorn.”  All in all we had a pretty successful morning.

 

The lodge was a very happy place.  Out of twelve hunters in our group, eleven had killed. Three of the eleven had more than one deer.  There were a lot of pictures taken and some whisky drank and my face was bloodied since that was my first BuckMy 24-year drought was over and I just can’t wait for next season. 

 

The Stuff Memories are Made of.

 

Deer hunting can be a very demanding pastime.  It can drain you physically as well as emotionally.  If you enjoy being in the woods as much as I do, the demands are worth it.  If  you happen to get lucky enough to be successful in your quest for a trophy experience, you have a memory that no one can ever take away.

 

 

Hunting Pictures

Alabama Hunting - Pushmataha Plantation,  Butler, Alabama

www.alahunt.com

 
PO Box 2143, Covington, LA 70434
 
Telephone: Covington, LA:  985-892-9570    -    New Orleans, LA:  504-289-2235 

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