|Abundant Acorns- Overcup here.
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.
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.
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.
|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.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.
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.