My buck season scramble

You really never know how things are going to play out. The Friday before the opening day of buck season for 2017 was the day I learned the property where my kids and I have hunted for the past 15 years would not be available. The landowner, who had graciously allowed us to use the acreage as if it were our own, decided to allow their family members to hunt there.

Although that was certainly disappointing, I cannot argue. It’s their land and the only agreement we had was a handshake and written permission. A person is allowed to do whatever they want with their own property as far as I’m concerned. The timing didn’t work out too well, but that’s just how it goes.

As a result I was forced to scramble to find a place to hunt on Monday morning. A buddy from here at the radio ranch had some property near his home in Fayette County and offered it up. I took it because I had no other choice, but you’re always flying blind when you walk into a new piece of ground you’ve never seen before.

I arrived about daylight on Monday morning. The property certainly has potential, but it’s thick. It’s been timbered in the past 20 to 30 years and the secondary growth is filled with evergreen. The wooded section was dense and while there were obviously plenty of deer there, seeing one long enough to get a shot was a problem. I got a “glimpse” of a lot of deer as I tried to sit and look. The area also featured a couple of open fields which in other years might have been great, but with this year’s mast deer just weren’t in the fields. The other drawback to the Fayette County location was the distance it took to drive there. Sure, I could have stayed in a nearby motel or cabin–there were plenty in that area or if I wanted to impose could have probably crashed at my buddy’s place…but again there was no time to prepare.

Later in the week I headed back to the old home place in Virginia. My dad’s farm is about 50 acres and surrounded by other farms–but very little farming is happening there any more. The old pastures and meadows are now starting to grow up with cedars and brush. It looks sad when you consider how it looked when I was a kid. My dad and his neighbors were adamant about keeping the place looking clean. Cattle were grazing, row crops were growing, and everything was neatly trimmed.

On the other hand it’s starting to offer some good cover for deer. The deer numbers are finally plentiful. When I was growing up there, the sight of a deer track was worth a mention as a conversation subject at dinner.

I hunted Thanksgiving Day–the one day I had to hunt before having to return to West Virginia to call some playoff high school football games on the radio. I was in awe of the numbers of deer. I observed 7 does–probably half of them were last year’s fawns. They milled about without a care in the world. Unfortunately the state of Virginia only allowed antlerless hunting on the SATURDAY in the middle of buck season–and it was Thanksgiving Thursday.

After the Thanksgiving feast I returned to the woods to give it one more shot….and just before dark my patience was rewarded when three does stepped out of the woods–and were soon followed by a small buck. The rut was still in high gear and the young buck couldn’t keep his wits about him. He strolled in looking for love and I squeezed the shot as I easily placed the cross hairs on his shoulder. He ran off into the woods–but wasn’t hard to locate and as I was field dressing the deer it occurred to me, it was the first time ever I had killed a deer on the farm. My brother and my dad have killed them there in recent years, but I had never had much luck.

When I was young I had hunted these same hills for squirrels, rabbits, turkeys, and grouse. But deer had always eluded me. There were never any whitetails plentiful enough to warrant hunting on the farm in the 1980’s. I often tell my kids about how much more difficult deer hunting was as I was growing up. It’s hard for them to believe when they had already killed more deer by the time they turned 18 than I had in my adult life. It’s amazing how much proper wildlife management decisions–funded by hunting and fishing license sales–have improved the opportunities we have to hunt and fish with success, not just in West Virginia but all across the United States.

The obstacle now isn’t finding deer, it’s finding a place to hunt them.