This is a big deal. Work will wait, schools will close—all in the name of deer season. Can you feel the wind blow out of the northwest? Oil up your guns. It's opening day.
In the pre-dawn darkness I haul my carcass up the same hill I've climbed for more than 30 years. It's not a long walk, but it's a steep one. I like the spot "up top" because it overlooks a bench deep in the woods where bucks like to bed. It's also close to national park land, which spells "sanctuary" to me. Tapping a little honeyhole like this next to un-huntable land has worked magic for generations.
About halfway up, I pause to keep the lather to a minimum. But it's too late, as the bead of sweat that runs down my back reminds me. I remove my hat and wipe my brow, and my mind wanders to all the bucks we've killed here over the years. The spike I shot over a scrape in muzzleloader season; my oldest son Anthony's first deer; Uncle Steve's 14-pointer and a wide-racked sucker that looked like it belonged in Texas; my brother Marc's two 150-inch whoppers; and the double-mainbeam freak I tagged the day before Thanksgiving just a few years ago—all were taken on this hillside.
Then I think about all the brutes killed by hunters in places that grow bigger bucks than our little piece of the Old Dominion will ever produce. Beginners, one-week-a-year types, diehards, eccentrics—I see every hunter's face, go over every account I've read in magazines in a 10-year span. A choice location is almost always part of the equation. But surely there is chance involved, too. No matter how smart or how persistent we might be, Lady Luck always has her say. How else to explain the first-timers who drop Booners on opening day?
Yes, that's the ticket, that's the key that helps me put one foot in front of the other, sweat be damned. It doesn't matter where one hunts, only that he does so. Luck can shine her light on any of us, anywhere. It doesn't matter whether it's our first step into the woods or if we've spent half our lives there, we need only hunt to join the fraternity. Still, I can't help thinking a nice buck would ice the endeavor. Why can't this be the year I drop a Booner?
So I climb, anxious with the knowledge that it could happen here, now. I'll never know for sure unless I get up top and settle in before the bucks show up after a night of feeding. As inveterate gamblers like to say, "Ya gotta be there for the roll."
Tips to Lay Out Ol' Tom
Fly-down time at dawn
is, quite naturally, assumed by many hunters to be the best time all day to bag a tom. Trouble is, the hen or hens that old fella is visiting at that time of day may not let him off the hook long enough to pay attention to your calls and come anywhere near your setup. But during the peak of the breeding season, those hens are apt to visit their nests by noon. Your best shot at calling him close may come then, when old tom is lonely for attention.
Many times a tom hangs up
not because of an obstacle, but because he's walked far enough toward your call and, having not seen a hen, walks away. Your mistake: setting up too far outside that all-important range and never seeing him. When you call, be sure of a good line of sight through terrain and vegetation, and depending on cover, try to get within 100 yards of him before plopping down.
If you hear a gobbler moving away from you,
don't waste more time and breath trying to call him back. Instead, get up and hustle in a wide circle around him. If you need to hear him for reference, use a locator call. When you feel you are ahead of him, quickly set up and give a series of aggressive yelps with a call you haven't used yet. Many times this "fresh hen" tactic will prove successful.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »
Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »
Number (in pounds) of an average adult male
Number (in millions) of alligators across the southeastern United States, 3 million of which live in Florida and Louisiana
Number of documented attacks on humans in Florida since 1948, 17 of which resulted in death
Number of states dubbing the alligator the state reptile (Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi)
Length (in feet) of the largest reported alligator (killed by E. A. McIlhenny of Tabasco pepper-sauce fame on Marsh Island, La., in 1890)
Number of teeth in an average alligator's mouth
The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.