“Good luck,” whispered my dad as the guide deposited me at the base of my ladder stand. Easing up to my perch in the humid dark, I turned to wave a silent good-bye to the man who raised me. Although we’d always been close, Dad and I were hunting together for the very first time at the ages of 64 and 36.
We’d chosen Buffalo Creek Guide Service in Bertie County, N.C., for several reasons: it was a convenient drive for both of us, they offered an excellent managed herd of deer with opportunities for wild hogs, access to knowledgeable guides and a crew that understood the needs of hunters who aren’t as young as they used to be. When I’d met owner Johnnie Dale at NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Charlotte, N.C., I’d been frank with him. “My dad, some of his Army buddies and I would like to go deer hunting together, but some of them aren’t really up to walking for miles and miles on do-it-yourself hunts anymore. Bum knees, bum hips...it’s a lifetime of running in combat boots coming back to haunt them.”
“Oh, we’re well used to that,” he replied. “We have ATVs and ground blinds, so we’re set up to work with all kinds of hunters, even disabled ones.” It turned out that we’d made the right choice when my father had surgery on one of his legs less than a week before our hunt was booked to begin. With our knowledge about Buffalo Creek’s capabilities, we decided to forge ahead with the hunt regardless.
The next challenge was my rifle. Just before we left, I’d received a Savage Edge rifle chambered in .243 for testing and evaluation. I had planned to sight-in before heading to North Carolina, but lead-removal work on the NRA Headquarters Range prevented me from doing so. I could only hope our guide would be patient with me bringing a gun so new we had to cut the tags off of it. I needn’t have worried: The Edge, Savage’s new entry-level offering, shot beautifully. We spent six cartridges sighting it in, after which it drilled several neat MOA groups. “I just love a Savage,” chortled Harold Dowell, our awesome guide, tracker and man-of-a-million-stories. “All the accuracy at half the price.”
Rifle season starts early in North Carolina, and in these climes that means that a late-October hunt might offer daytime temps in the 80s. It made for a comfortable pre-dawn morning as I sat in a Cabela’s Women’s RainSuede Packable Dry-Plus Parka and pants though. I was grateful for my Thermacell: Bertie County had recently had 22 inches of rain, spawning a Biblical plague of thirsty mosquitoes that thought DEET was a fine joke.
Shortly after legal shooting light, I caught a flicker of movement at the edge of the loblolly pine forest below me. Through my Alpen binoculars, I confirmed a small herd of does. Since my tag covered one doe and two bucks—and since I am superstitious about not passing on an opportunity early in a hunt—I decided to harvest one.
I’ve read before about champion shooters who can time their shots in between heartbeats, and up until now was mystified about how that might be done—most of the time, I’m as ignorant of my heart’s doings as I am of Stephen Hawking’s theories about dark matter. But now, in this moment, my heart thundered timpani drums in my chest. Centering the reticle just behind the doe’s shoulder, I waited for the fermata and squeezed the trigger.
The Edge sent a .243-caliber, 100-grain Hornady projectile into the doe’s shoulder, collapsing the 70-pound animal in its tracks from 180 yards. Buffalo Creek prefers that its hunters wait for the guide to return and tag downed animals, so I listened giddily for the sound of his truck. My anticipation ramped up a few minutes later when I heard the distinctive thunder of my father’s .450 Marlin lever gun.
I know, I know: a .450? It may seem like overkill unless you know that my dad is both red-green and blue-green colorblind. He is unable to see or follow blood trails unless there’s a fresh coating of snow to make the red stand out—not likely in these temperatures. So Dad’s philosophy has always been that deer need to drop more or less where they are shot, and if that means sacrificing some of the meat (not to mention the bridge of his nose, which took a drubbing from his scope)...so be it. This caliber choice limits his options when it comes to ammunition; Hornady Manufacturing makes the only commercially available ammunition for his rifle. However, he’s been extremely pleased with the LeverEvolution performance, and Harold was tickled pink that Dad’s deer didn’t have to be tracked.