Well, to finish my long running saga, I finally got my first deer in real life! I know that it is not very big, but it still was very exciting for me. They don't get very big down here in the Everglades swamp and they are very elusive, so I have to consider myself very lucky. I guess this would be considered an average size deer and I have seen much smaller racks. This was a 4 pointer with a pretty rack. We did not get to weigh it out because the check in station was closed. I would guess that it was somewhere between 75 and 100 pounds.
Let me tell you, it was heavy enough to be a monumental pain in the neck to drag back a half a mile to camp! There has to be a better way to do this. Thank god I had my two sons (Chuck and Mike) to help out getting it back. We bagged and tied up the deer, they dragged it all the way back to camp while I carried the tree stand, belly pack, two rifles and held the light. It was about 60 pounds for me and a major undertaking for them to drag this thing back through the swamp at night.
To the best of my ability to count, this was about my 12th attempt when finally I scored. We are walk hunting, so it is pretty limited as far as conveniences. No ATVs or Buggies. I think the new 28 pound climbing tree stand made the difference.
I have to give a special thank you to my buddy Fred Sleezer. Fred set me up with all kinds of study material on strategy on how to hunt, track and make the first shot count. Fred also helped me pick out my new all purpose rifle, the Winchester Model 70 Classic Stainless in .338 Winchester Magnum Caliber. (He even personally hand loaded the 200 grain ammunition.) We went to the range, zeroed in the rifle and he even made me practice for two weeks in my house dry firing at a target on the wall to make sure I did not forget anything (like taking the safety off or chambering the next round while keeping the scope on the target in case he got back up and ran.) In this case it worked. There was no need to track this dude. It was a perfect kill zone shot at about 60 yards. He went straight down and did not get back up.
Thanks Fred!! And a special thank you to my two sons. Hunting with you two made the whole experience twice as valuable.
For those of you that want to know how the hunt played out, keep reading. We arrived at the camp site at about 5 AM. It was a particularly cold morning. It had to be in the low 50s to mid 40s. In the swamp with a cutting wind, this is COLD! We made our way out to our designated tree stands. Chuck went to one that had be placed there years ago by someone else. Mike went to one that I hung last week and I planned on putting my brand new climbing tree stand up in a spot that I decided might be good. I had seen many times, deer track right in our muddy boot tracks, on the swamp buggy trail walking back to camp. This was a source of constant aggravation. I would go out into these god forsaken remote spots and not see anything, then walk back to camp only to see that the deer had walked right in my foot prints!
Well, I decided this time was going to be different.
I had seen this big pine tree that over looked the buggy trail and some rather promising sloughs (Watery cypress strands full of water moccasins). In case some of you have never put together one of these climbing tree stands, let me tell you, it is not simple or always quiet! (And the instructions leave a lot to be desired!)
As a sidebar, in one of my previous hunts while alone, I attempted to use my brand new tree stand.
The first time I used it after reading the numerous ominous warnings about great bodily injury and DEATH in the instructions about not reading and fully understanding the generic instructions, at about 20 feet up the air I finally discovered what those two extra bolts were for! They stopped the darn thing from flopping back and forth and falling off the tree! Well thank god I at least understood why I was supposed to tie the two pieced together. In case the bottom piece falls out of the straps that hold it to your feet, at least it won't fall all the way down and out of reach. Well it did fall off my boots but the rope at least kept it where I could retrieve it. To do this I had to be a contortionist and bend over double, extrude myself through the access way in the top part of the stand, grab the bottom part and pull it back in place. This is where I discovered where the bolts should go. Luckily I had them in my pocket. While still contorted upside down at an elevation of 20 feet, I placed the bolts in the right holes. Then after securing this bottom section on the tree again and strapping my boots into it (REALLY TIGHT THIS TIME!), I noticed to my horror that the top piece did not have the bolts in the right place either! Remembering the dire consequences about attempting to adjust the tree stand while in the tree and visualizing my bleached bones stuck up in this tree a year from now, I decided, GO FOR IT! I would rather die falling out of the stand than being stuck up in this tree waiting for someone to wander by in the swamp! I did the unthinkable and reassembled the stupid stand while in the air. (I had my safety strap on.) Well I survived this hunt, and saw no deer either!
Back to yesterdays hunt. The mornings hunt was fruitless after only seeing a few does and freezing our toes off. After getting this thing out of the tree, I decided rather than disassembling it again and humping it back to camp, I would stash it in some brush. The afternoon hunt started with me trying to quietly extricate this tree stand from the palmetto scrubs. This turned into a particularly noisy experience. After being upset about making all this noise, I only came to find out that in order to get to this big, huge strategically place pine tree, I had to walk through these noisy palmetto scrubs. The quietest route was to walk across this log while holding one half of the stand in each hand. Well, as you probably guessed it, I slipped and fell backwards into the palmettos creating this huge crashing noise that was heard by both of my sons 400 and 500 yards away! (We were using the Motorola Talk-About radios with ear piece microphones that work great by the way!) They were saying, "What the hell was that?" and "Was that Bigfoot?", as I laid there on my back in the brush looking up at my feet! I said "I didn't hear anything?"
Finally I began the slow deliberate climb. At about the 25' level, the tree started to grow off south at about a 15 degree angle. So I had to either go on the underside of the tree (creating an unsafe situation) or climb at an uncomfortable angle. Again I chose the latter. So when I finally got to about the 30 to 35' level. I had to stop because of branches. I double and triple checked the fact that the stand was securely wedged into the tree. Finally, I pulled my rifle up with the rope and waited in the stand.
After about two hours, the sun started to go down and it again started to get really cold. This time I did not have the thermal underwear on because it was hot in the afternoon. I was really getting chilled and was shivering. (It didn't help that I had just started to get the flu big time and was feeling like horrible!) We were all whispering about how we were freezing and shivering uncontrollably when Chuck decided that he wanted to start walking my way. He was thinking that he might flush something my way. At this point, I was more than happy to agree. The night was almost upon us and I figured it would take him 20 minutes to make his way over to me.
Just about that time, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye to the left. I slowly turned my head and saw to my amazement a beautiful 4 point buck about 50 yards away. I told Chuck to "FREEZE, I have a buck in sight!" (Now the problem was that I had my rifle laid across the rifle rest of the tree stand, but at this bad climbing angle it was pointed up.) I had to slowly and quietly remove it, pull it back (it is a 28" barrel and I remember thinking, damn, how long is this thing!). Finally I got it back past and under the rest, quietly clicked off the safety, brought the scope up to my eye, zoomed it into 5X magnification, put the cross hairs on the kill zone for a perfect broadside shot, and then the buck walked behind a tree. SHIT! (Sorry, I can't think of another word that better expresses my feelings at the time.) :-)
I tried waited him out. The scope started to wobble from weariness and I removed the scope from my eye and rested the gun against a brace. He started to move again, I again slowly brought the scope up, he was now at about 60 yards, he walked out into the middle of the buggy trail. He was now at about a 45 degree angle walking away from me. I again put the crosshairs in the kill zone, (I heard Fred whisper in my ear "Easy, clean, smooth trigger pull. You won't even hear the shot or feel the recoil.") and then WHAM! He went straight down. I racked in another round, stayed on target and watched as he started to try to get up. Remembering all the literature that Fred made me read, I waited him out. I did not want to ruin the meat with another shot. He laid back down and stayed down.
I told Chuck and Mike, "One Shot, One Kill!". "He's down. Chuck stay where your are for a few minutes to give me the chance make sure that he was dead." A few minutes later I told Chuck to "Move in! I'll wait in the tree to be sure!" Chuck ran up and confirmed the kill. 20 minutes later, I was safely out of the tree and face to face with my first trophy buck!
What a beautiful day!
"Now how in the hell are we going to get this thing a half a mile back to camp?"
Charles "Chuck" Manetta
My Sons Mike and Chuck
Above, Me and My First Buck.
Below, Chuck, Me and Michael