The Story of An Unforgettable
Alabama Deer Hunt
By: Patrick Harmeyer
Agony and The Ecstasy.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
not going to believe what happens next.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
go to the range and check out your gun,” warned Scott.
have cocked it and fired again,” said Danny.
are them bullets?” asked Bull.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Reality Sets In.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
points or better?” asked Bull. “I’ve got a good ladder stand in the woods.
But it’s eight-points or better.”
about does?” I asked. “I’ll take eight or better if I can also get a doe
replied, “Yea, does are OK.”
Right, put me there.” was my response.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
your work, Work you plan.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Buck. My 24-year drought
was over and I just can’t wait for next season.
Stuff Memories are Made of.
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.