As the sun rose on the freshly tilled food plot, it was everything I could do to stay awake. All the caffeine in the world couldn’t keep me awake after the sunup-to-sundown hunting schedule I had been keeping for the past two days. And yet, despite my determination, I had yet to put a bird on the ground.
My lack of success surely wasn’t due to a lack of game, as the mornings leading up to the South Carolina season opener had been filled with birds gobbling in the hardwood swamps. But, my confidence was fading. As I sat beneath a hickory tree with my bow in my lap, fighting off sleep as well as the cold, I was completely unaware of the events that would unfold in the following hours. I was about to experience the turkey hunt of a lifetime.
The opening day of the South Carolina turkey season brought with it a terrible cold front, and three days into the season we were still feeling it’s effects. Like previous days, the morning of March 22nd found Robert Hewitt and I shivering on the edge of a field in complete silence, hoping with all we had to hear a faint gobble, despite the conditions. We had left the cabin that morning with high hopes, knowing that the 20 mph winds had finally begun to subside. But, those hopes were beginning fade away just as they had the mornings before.
As the sun finally begun to peek above the cypress trees, we heard it. Deep in the swamp a tom had come down from his roost, letting out a beautiful gobble as he made contact with the earth. I looked over at Robert and noticed the smile showing through the edges of his face mask. “Did you hear that?” Robert asked. “Get psyched dude, it’s game time,” I hissed excitedly while quietly clapping my gloved hands.
We waited until 9:00, calling every 15 minutes, but despite our greatest efforts to seduce this tom, we could not coax him from the safety of the swamp. It was as if someone had dropped a weight on my chest, something that had seemed like a sure thing an hour before now felt a million miles away. We packed up our gear and headed back to the cabin.
By the time the grey walls of the hunting cabin were in view, we had already planned our next plan of attack. We loaded up and headed to the next farm only to experience the same results, and the farm after that was no different. By now, it was approaching 12:00 and I think the turkeys a county over were hearing my stomach growling. Luckily, Robert carted me down to a local store for a generous helping of fried chicken, collards, and rice with gravy. With stomachs full and pride recovering, Robert and I headed out again. The excitement was just about to begin.
Stairway to turkey hunting heaven?
After a painfully unsuccessful ‘spot and stalk’ on a brace of toms in a sour weed field, we once again headed for the cabin to draw up or final battle plans. We decided that our best bet was to head back to our original spot in the hickory trees and hope the birds were finally beginning to work their way out of the swamp.
As we turned the corner and approached a big pole barn, I noticed a large ladder leaning against a tree. “We use that to survey the property,” Robert responded to my inquiry regarding it’s nature. “Want me climb up and see if I can see anything?” he said.
I watched as Robert climbed the ladder perched against a massive long leaf pine. “There are 3 toms right behind us,” he exclaimed with a hurried hurried whisper. I headed over to a nearby thicket with our gear as Robert hastily placed our jake and hen decoys.
Once we were both hidden, I placed the diaphragm call against the roof of my mouth and tried to work the toms our way. The wind had picked back up by now and the birds were a good distance away, so we quickly realized we needed to be closer. Robert crawled to the corner and placed himself behind a group of pines. But, as I creeped in behind him, I still couldn’t see the birds. I decide to attempt a move that could make or break the hunt.
Binoculars, belly crawls and briars
Between us and the birds was an elevation change of about 2 feet which manifested itself in the form of a small hill in the middle of the field. I knew I would be able to see the birds from the other side of the field, but that would require belly crawling a distance of about 30 yards to an adjacent briar thicket. I slung my binoculars around to my back, grabbed my shotgun and hit the dirt.
As my long (and extremely awkward) crawl progressed, I looked back several times to see Robert stifling his laughter as he watched me flounder my way into the thicket. I picked the briars from my clothes and brought my binoculars to my face, seeing three red-heads bouncing for the timber. I fumbled with the diaphragm as I worked it towards my mouth, and the instant I let out a series of cutts and clucks, the birds did a 180. They could finally hear us.
I ripped off my glove and texted Robert. They were coming! I watched as his gun went up, with mine quickly following suit. I let out a soft ‘cluck-purr-cluck’ from the diaphragm and the toms headed for us at full steam. And, that’s when it happened.
As three beautiful long beards stepped in front of us, I leveled the red bead of my dirt covered Franchi on the middle bird. But, as I pulled the trigger, the rear bird picked up his pace and placed his head directly in line with the cloud of the #4 shot. My adrenaline level peaked as I watched the two birds flap their wings in the dust for a final time. I looked as Robert pulled the trigger on his Browning A5. But, as he shot, the last bird standing took a step backwards, barely avoiding the fate of his friend. We could only watch as he flew back into the swamp, leaving Robert empty handed.
Though one bird escaped, we instantly hopped up and closed the distance between us, hooping and hollering. After several shaky high fives and congratulations, I went to examine my quarry. The middle bird (the one I originally targeted) possessed 1-1/2” spurs accompanied by an 11-1/16” main beard and 6” second beard, while the second bird boasted a pair a 1-5/16” hooks with an 11” main beard and 7” secondary beard. Prior to this, my largest bird was a 10-1/2” double beard. With one shot, I had killed my two biggest birds, both of which possessed double beards! It was absolutely the turkey hunt of a lifetime.
Reflections on the turkey hunt of a lifetime
Nowhere are the fingerprints of God more evident than in the pursuit of wild game. And, each time I head for the woods, I’m reminded to thank him for the blessings he provides. While I would love to say that my success on this hunt was completely of my own doing, I must give the credit to the one who created me, gives me the ability to do what I love, and who provides the very game I seek.
It’s far too easy to become confident in our own abilities as hunters. But, we must remember that without God, nothing we do would be possible. To God be the glory!
– By Benjamin B. Graves
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Hunting is something that I grew up doing. When I was little, I was the one in the family who wanted to be a veterinarian and save the animals (Although when you are little, it seems that is everyone’s dream job.) I was always out in the woods with my father and sister tagging along in their hunts because I loved the outdoors and the adventures it brought. I was there when they harvested some of their amazing whitetail deer. And, I began to want to do the same.
Become a vet or be a hunter?
As I entered high school, I began to have a bigger interest in hunting and less interest in being a vet. I studied and finally got my hunting license. Soon after I got it, I harvested my first doe with the bow. Then, not too long after that, I was able to harvest my first whitetail buck. It was only a 5-pointer but it is something I will never forget.
Why I love hunting
That feeling when you release the arrow and hear that wack on the deer that you were waiting to harvest is unforgettable. You watch it run, and then instantly, you get the shakes and excitement knowing you just harvested a nice deer.
Still to this day, once I release that arrow or pull the trigger, I’m shaking like a leaf in my tree stand. Then comes the waiting period until we go look for the deer. For me, the waiting is by far the hardest part of hunting!
Big 9 on my mind
So, let’s forward a couple years. It was late into bow season, November 1, 2017, when it all happened. That’s when I harvested my biggest buck yet; my 9-pointer. In August, before the season began, we had trail cameras out to see what was in the area. We saw a lot of small bucks and a bunch of does.
A couple weeks later, the big boys started to show up. We caught a nice 9-pointer on camera, several 8 pointers and some non-typical bucks. I had my eye set on that mature 9-pointer. He came around the same time every day and I was looking forward to opening day.
I sat opening day morning and evening and all I saw were some does and some smaller bucks. I sat almost every day I could and he never came out.
Finally, I checked my camera again to see if he was still in the area, and on October 30, he showed up again. But, this time there was no velvet and he was bigger then ever. I knew I had to get this buck before he moved somewhere else. I sat that following day and saw nothing.
Luckily, I was able to get out of work early on November 1st and rushed to my tree stand. I got into my stand around 2 PM, and I was prepared to sit a while to wait and hope he would make an appearance.
Turkeys and squirrels and bucks… oh my!
In the distance I could see two does walking around. In addition to the does, a small button buck came in behind me. They hung out for a while but there was still no sign of the big 9-pointer. Around 3 o’clock, 20 turkeys came in and stayed in the area for a while, but moved on quickly. Usually in the past when I have seen turkeys come in, shortly thereafter I usually see another deer. And, just like that, another small one was walking around to my left.
While sitting in the woods, in the peace and quiet, every hunter always hears that “deer” walking noise and their heart starts to beat. That’s what happened to me, but realized it was just a squirrel messing with me. What hunter hasn’t had a squirrel fool them into thinking a nice deer was walking in? I checked my phone and saw that my dad had texted me asking if I saw anything and I replied with, “nothing yet.” Then I texted my boyfriend, saying the same thing. Then, all of a sudden, I heard that “squirrel” walking noise and told myself I shouldn’t even look up because I knew what it was. I looked up to my right and there he was. Walking with his head down smelling right where the two does had been walking.
When I spotted the big 9-pointer that I had been after, I knew I didn’t have much time because he was on a mission and didn’t care who was around him. I got my bow up quickly and now I had to shoot all the way to my right side, over a tree limb where I never shoot from. I put my crossbow up over the top of the limb that was directly next to my stand. And, I was trying to hold myself off of the seat.
As I looked through the scope, the strap for my bow moved and hit the tree limb and made a small “bang” noise. That quickly, the buck stopped in his tracks and looked directly toward me. I knew that this was my only chance that I would have to get this buck. He was completely broadside and I had the cross hairs right on his vitals. I pulled the trigger and saw him jump high in the air, land, and make a small circle and ran back on an angle. I saw him through some laurels and then lost him but heard loud noises coming from that area. All I could think about was if I had made a good shot. “Did I rush it,” I thought. “Would my shot be fatal?”
The N1 Moment
The smile I had on my face was ear to ear. I was shaking. And, then the tears came. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I was overwhelmed with joy and relief. As I was shaking, I texted my dad to tell him, “I shot the big boy”. He said he was on his way to say where I was and to give him some time before we go look. It felt like the longest wait of my life. He finally arrived, and I was pumped to go look and was just praying we would find blood.
When my dad got there, we started looking and quickly found a pile of blood and knew that was a great sign. After following the blood trail for only about 15 yards, my dad said, “Okay let’s go, I don’t see it” which he always says when were tracking a deer and he see’s it before me. So, that quickly, I knew he had found him, I just didn’t know where. I remember asking “where, where, I don’t see it?” He pointed down, and there he was laying underneath a small tree that he had hidden under. I jumped up and down in the air and hugged my dad with tears in my eyes! All I could say after I picked my head up and said, “I can’t believe I finally got him”.
I can honestly say that this was one of the best moments that I have ever experienced while hunting. The combination of excitement, nerves, adrenaline and thankfulness for being able to harvest such an amazing deer.
– By Justine Mattia
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Deer dogging has been around for many years, and deer hunting with dogs is a tradition in my family that has been passed down from generation to generation.
From a passion to a business
I started White Water Kennels, in Elba, Alabama, in 2014. In the beginning, it was simply a name for my personal hunting dogs kennel. But, over the next several years, it grew into a well-organized group with several members in several states. We take our love for hunting with hounds very personal. We try to develop a dog through a process of training techniques, with very strict guidelines.
A dog is born with a natural instinct to use its nose and to hunt. We simply help the dog reach it’s full potential. And, while there is no perfect dog, we train deer dogs to be the very best they can be. We take pride in what we do and pour countless hours, days, weeks and months into training dogs to become well-developed and experienced hunting and running machines.
Our decision making is based on careful studying of our packs. We have what we call brood males and females that we breed according to what we are wanting to gain in the packs. For instance, if we are wanting to add more trail dogs, then we have certain dogs we breed for that. The same holds true for running dogs.
When puppies are born and ready to train, we put them through a series of training techniques that we developed to see what each dog has to offer. In addition, we determine what areas we need to spend the most time in correcting shortcomings.
The way we look at is, a dog is only as good as it’s owner. The time you spend training a dog will show, as well as the time that is not spent. Because laws are getting very strict in our area on dog hunters, we collar break, whistle break and horn break every dog we produce to a guarantee.
Investing in the dogs = memories waiting to be made
I enjoy watching how well all the guys work together for the benefit of the kennel and the work each one puts in to make White Water Kennels the best it can be. We love each other, the hours spent together, the memories made, and watching young hounds develop and progress through our training techniques.
I strongly encourage anyone who has never hunted with hounds to try it. And, when you do, I believe you’ll feel the thrill that we do every time we dump the boxes. To us, it isn’t about the kill. It’s about the sound of the hound and the race between the dogs and the game. Its’ in our blood, and we’ll love it till the day we die.
– By Hayden Disotell
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