Saturday, December 27, 2014

White River Refuge- If You Want Easy, Don't Come Here.


Abundant  Acorns- Overcup here.  
Yes, I still make annual excursions to bowhunt the  refuge, but it had been ten years since I'd applied for the refuge's annual  muzzleloader  hunt.

Here's my adventure.

Friday October 17th,  Refuge Scouting:
Finding concentrated deer activity on the refuge can be difficult and always requires  a lot of foot work.   As I began scouting I found Overcup and Nuttall acorns carpeting the forest floor. It's counter intuitive I know, but the bumper crop of acorns this year didn't make it any easier.   Yes, plenty of fall food for deer; but when acorns are scattered in this way, deer are also scattered.    With my daylight to dark wide ranging scouting effort I  was able to find  three  promising stand locations to choose from.


Fresh scrapes line the lake.

Saturday October 18th. Opening Day (Lakeside location.)

Saturday morning no deer sighted.

Saturday afternoon about 5pm, a young fork horn stealthily appeared  fifty yards to my right skirting the lake's cypress lined edge. He was about to pass between me and the lake when he finally caught my scent, reversed course and  bolted a short distance,  only to resume his stroll until he was out of sight.

Other than a midday lunch break and lake side nap  I remained in my  Summit climber till dark. Throughout the day,  I  never heard or encountered another hunter. Excepting a few faintly heard, far off distant shots as the day passed, I was totally alone.  Thanks to the remoteness of the refuge's 160,000 acres and the laziness of most hunters  it is still possible to hunt in solitude. (Enthusiasm for the lost art of walking seldom propels today's hunters more than a 100 yards from their truck or ATV),
Lunch and nap on lakes edge.

As  evening came, the lake behind me held on to the fading light of dusk  much longer than the darkening forest in front.   With light too dim to now shoot I carefully cracked open the breach of my gun,  plucked out the gold colored 209 primer  and lowered my muzzleloader to the leaves below.

Remote unnamed lakes still exist on the refuge. 
Light cast from my small flashlight was barely sufficient to guide me through the ritual of unhooking my Summit climber from the soft barked tree  I had just descended.   As I readied my stand for packing....reality crept into my thoughts;  As seductive as this unnamed lake was,  I knew it was unlikely my schedule would permit me to return this year. The thought of not returning saddened me.

With treestand now strapped to my back I quietly began my trek out.   I had made the decision that tomorrow morning I will relocate along the rivers edge 12 miles South.

Sunday Morning-October 19th,  (Rivers edge location.) 
A few years back I gave an old  aluminum mountain pack frame new life by zip-tying  it to the bottom of my climbing treestand.  The wider padded straps and hip belt offered  more comfortable weight distribution on longer hikes than the circulation robbing cheap-o straps supplied by the treestand folks.

Rivers edge. 
So with my modified treestand on my back and my day-pack "piggy backing" on my treestand,  I marched off  into the predawn darkness, flashlight in one hand,  gun clutched in the other.

The weight of my  stand, pack, gun and  early morning darkness  made the hike seem uncharacteristically  longer than the three quarter mile jaunt it was.  The 15 foot cone of hazy light  projecting from my bobbing flashlight did  little to show where I was  going...only where I  needed to place each successive step.   My GPS  provided continued corrections to my heading while my flashlight  showed me where I needed to place each step along the way.

I arrived at the rivers edge just as twilight  began to reveal potential trees that I might ascend.  The open sky above the  river allowed light to hit the forest floor much sooner than might elsewhere.  I quickly positioned my climber  high enough to survey the open forest in front, while behind me the rivers edge would channel any flanking deer to within 75 yards.  

As the rising sun began to scatter golden like lazer beams across the forest floor a coyote appeared.  He hopped up on a log, then stopped, as if to soak up the warm rays for few seconds before continuing off  with that purposeful gait that coyotes always seem to have. They  never linger and always seem like they have some place else to be.  But on this day his schedule permitted him to stop and linger in the sun's warmth.
Shared duty to protect this dwindling habitat.   
Time 8:15am. Ninety yards in front of me  under a tall Overcup,  a chocolate racked buck appeared heading my direction.  As he moved closer I cocked and  readied my muzzle-loader.  At 60 yards I raise to shoot; I aim, I  squeeze, the hammer falls, snap!  But no boom, just silence as the buck, still unaware of my dryfire continues to close the distance.  In my rush of excitement combined with my un-practiced hand I had flipped the safety/hammer block the wrong way preventing the falling hammer from striking the pin.   As the buck moved ever closer,   panic sets in as I fumbled to re-cock the hammer, the buck now almost under me.  This time...snap- boom!  The 50 caliber 200 grain Sabot bullet found its mark, humanely dropping the heavy horned nine point buck like a sack of potatoes. And down just fifteen yards from the base of my tree.
Drag system in place. 

Fifteen yards from the base my tree  BUT a very long three quarters of a mile through the refuge timber to my  4-wheeler.

Fortunate thoughts.
After climbing down I  rushed  over to admire what the refuge had produced; and had now provided me.  There was no longer a need to rush though, because from here forward, I wanted time to slow  down.

As I knelt next to him  I tried to process the conflicting  emotions that sometimes haunt me when I take the life of such a majestic animal. Though a strong hunter's instinct resides inside me I have always felt a huge sense of respect for all wildlife and a sense of duty to protect this ever dwindling habitat in which they reside.

To the leaders before me who had the forethought  to set aside this slice of vanishing bottomland  wilderness we now call Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge, I  remain forever thankful.  For without  their wisdom and unselfish ability to look beyond their own generation I would not be able to experience these adventures.

The Greater the Effort...
As I leaned into the first twenty five yards of dragging my trophy I must admit three quarters of a mile started to seem a little daunting.  It made me think of  those hunters who refuse to venture too far off the road. If they could see me now, would they gloat? Would they say; "I told you so?"  My response would be that few things worth having are free from effort or sacrifice.  If you want easy; go buy your burger at Walmart. Don't come here.

Light from the rivers edge shines behind me.
Over five hours later, I sent a final text to my  worried wife that I had managed to get all my gear, treestand and my prized chocolate horned buck to the truck.

The saying "The greater the effort the sweeter the reward" rang very true for me.  With  my energy and strength nearly exhausted, and the once seemingly monumental task now completed, the reward was feeling mighty darn sweet.

Jim Taylor,










2 comments:

  1. Krystal Dean GeorgeDecember 30, 2014 at 8:03 AM

    Loved reading your story. My parents live in St. Charles and our family respects the refuge as you do and we appreciate whole heartedly your respect for this wonderland we are able to be a part of as well. What a beautiful healthy deer. Congratulations my friend and may there be more men like you and my father.

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  2. Hi Krystal! Thanks for taking the time to share your positive comments. I think it's pretty cool that your whole family shares such a deep respect for the refuge. JIM

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