It was just the slightest sound -- a soft rustle in the leaves, but it caught my attention. I looked up to see a big doe. She was only about 20 yards from the ground blind and was bounding away with her ears pinned back and her tail clamped down. She was in a hurry, and I knew that something was chasing her.
She had come from the thicket on my right into the narrow stand of hardwoods that bordered the overgrown cut-over and was gone just as suddenly as she had appeared. I knew that she had not seen me in the blind, and I knew that she had not winded me, as the wind was blowing softly to my rear.
I listened intently for a few seconds to see if perhaps there were hounds on her trail. I had seen some dog hunters just up the road on the way to the land -- but I heard nothing. Then I realized that maybe a buck was chasing her. I reached over and grabbed my rifle that was leaning up in the corner of the blind.
I had not hunted this land in more than a month, but I had spent an afternoon back during the Thanksgiving holidays doing some scouting here. I knew there were some bucks in the area.
My brother Matt had put up this ground blind a few days before the season opened in September. He had only hunted the blind once. He had not hunted any of the other stands on the land. I had continued to put corn on this stand and the others throughout the season, but no one else had hunted the ground blind, even though they could – it was Matt’s stand. We hunted all the other stands.
I had invited him to go on some dog drives in the Lowcountry throughout September and into October, but he had declined. I was concerned, and when I saw him, I realized that he had lost a lot of weight. He told me that he had not felt good for some time. I knew that he was hardheaded, just like me, and wouldn’t want to go to the doctor like he should. We tend to think that we can will ourselves to get better.
After that, I just didn’t have the heart to go hunting. Somehow it just didn’t seem right to go when he couldn’t.
To our dismay, Matt passed away a week before Christmas. I will miss him terribly. He was a husband, a father, a brother and a friend. He was 53 years old.
Two days after the funeral I decided to go sit in his ground blind. I had not been hunting in more than a month and would dedicate this hunt in his honor. It was a beautiful Friday afternoon -- sunny and pleasant with a soft breeze out of the southwest. Perfect for the ground blind.
The blind is a short walk from our sign-in box and I was settled in by 4 o’clock. There is a lane that runs east/west between the hardwoods and cut-over to the north and the open pines to the south. There is a corn pile 70 yards to the west at the end of the lane. Another cut-over lies to the west.
When I opened my pack to get my binoculars I realized that I had left my big flashlight at home, sitting on the counter. What would I do if I got a shot close to dark, and needed to do some tracking?
It seemed to be late in the season for rutting activity, but the doe that I had just seen was not acting normal. Almost as soon as I got my rifle in my hands I heard a buck grunting out in the cut-over.
Then there he was, 20 yards away, his big yellow antlers gleaming in the sunlight. He overran the trail that the doe had followed and he stopped in the hardwoods, looking at the ground blind. I didn’t have a shot. There were too many trees. I found him in the scope, but he was so close that his image was blurry.
He only stopped for a second then bounded across the open lane into the pines. He stopped again, broadside. This time I found him in the scope and had an open shot at his front shoulder. I squeezed the trigger and the big rifle roared. I was surprised, amazed and delighted when he went down. A few kicks and it was over.
I had not shot a buck in two years. I’ve sat and watched them walk. I passed on a buck in the Lowcountry this year, on a dog drive. This buck was a gift, and I thanked the Lord for giving him to me. My brother Matt would be proud.
Oh, the flashlight? I didn’t need it. I looked at my watch. It was 4:30 on a beautiful sunny afternoon.