I’m not sure what qualifies for a “cold snap” in South Carolina these days. It seems as though the last couple of winters we have had a half-dozen days below freezing and that is about it. As a result, the overwintering pine bores and mosquitoes come out with a vengeance as soon as the temperatures rebound to 70 degrees regardless of the time of year.
One thing is for certain on my farm near Branchville, during the fall if the temperature drops 10 degrees and the barometric pressure dips from one day to the next, the deer move. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a drop from 85 to 75 degrees or from 50 degrees to 40 degrees, they move.
Several weeks ago such a change was in the winds. It just so happened I had that afternoon off as did my friend Paul. Though we had just finished doing some chores and probably smelled like diesel fuel, we decided to rush to Canaan and climb into some stands. The winds would be from the north and our reeking of petroleum wouldn’t matter.
After the obligatory stop to get Paul his gallon of Mountain Dew, we headed to the farm. Once there we split up, Paul to one end of the farm and me to the other Southern end. I drove the truck to within a hundred yards of the stand and left it on the side of the road. I walked in slowly so as not to bust any deer out of the food plot.
I should have walked in faster as I might have caught a trespasser in my stand. There was a bottle of Evolve scent spray hanging on the rail when I got there. Apparently the perpetrator either heard my truck or saw me working my way toward the stand and evacuated so fast he forgot his spray bottle. It was also possible he left it there a few days prior but that didn’t make enough sense to have left so fast. I wondered which way he went.
I settled into the stand and used my new bottle of Evolve to de-scent my dirty jeans. I hadn’t been there long before a doe and her yearling walked into the back of the plot and slowly grazed toward the corn pile I had on my end of the field. A small six-point followed them into the plot and harassed them until they ran into the woods on the right side of the field. Within a few minutes another couple of does came into view from the right.
They immediately moved toward the corn and then grazed past in and down the road in front of me that would have them pass below my stand. The wind was in my face and I wasn’t worried about them scenting me unless they came all of the way past my stand. The lead doe stopped 30 yards out and dropped her nose to the ground. She stepped back and sneezed. At that both does bolted back uphill into the food plot and ran out to the left. Ah so!!!!! That settled that! The poacher must have exited the stand, ran down the road and then through the woods to the left. Mystery solved!
Something of note then occurred. As soon as the does left my view a very nice buck ran out of the woods and followed them out of sight to the left. I raised my rifle too late to get a close view of him but he appeared to be a mature 10-point buck. I began to lower my rifle and he turned and came at a trot back into view. Once again I raised my rifle and grunted to try to stop him. It didn’t work.
He was about to move behind the limbs over hanging to road to the right when my crosshairs settled on his shoulder. I began to squeeze the trigger as the leaves from the branch began to obscure my view. My faithful old 30-06 apparently decided that I was waiting too long and fired itself as it has often in the past when I am screwing up.
I waited a minute or two. At the report of the rifle the buck had just taken off straight into the woods as if not hit at all. I didn’t hear movement or cracking of branches. I eased down out of the stand and shucked another cartridge into the chamber just in case he was standing inside the woods wounded. I need not have worried as the old Ruger had not failed me.
The buck was five yards in the thicket. He was a very nice River swamp buck with a thick 8-point rack and swollen neck. He was the first buck I had taken on this property in five or so years. I usually just watch them. I have friends and patients that needed the meat, otherwise I may have let him go, but the adrenaline rush that I got when he popped into the field out of nowhere sort of set the automatic sequence between my rifle and myself in motion. It was good to know we still have it!
• Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.