Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The year the wildlife refuge felt more like a mall.

I remember opening the letter from the government notifying me (back in 2001) that I had been drawn on a quota hunt to take a doe with a muzzleloader on the Hiwassee Refuge. Just the word refuge makes you think of wilderness and protected unspoiled land. I immediately called Ron who had put in with me, we had hunted the water fowl sanctuary on an earlier bow hunt. It was a great trip, we had placed our stands so close together (due to the fact that most of the property was corn fields with only small stands of trees) that we could see each other. Most of the morning was filled by watching a drunk shoot arrows from his stand into the empty field that separated us until he climbed down and fell asleep on the trail. It wasn't long till TWRA's finest came and loaded him into the back of their truck like a sack of laundry. The first deer we saw was a fawn which I had missed with my Hoyt Raider compound bow not once but twice (I have since switched to a cross bow). Only an hour later we heard a crashing of limbs, then bursting from cover directly behind Ron bounded three does running full speed. By the time Ron got his bow up and let an arrow fly it was aimed at the last deer in line. I cannot explain how but the deer dropped only twenty yards out in the corn field this hunt ended successfully with a miracle shot. Needlessly to say we were excited about the upcoming hunt with a firearm. we began to plan immediately. We were to camp on the refuge and not leave the woods until we had harvested suitable table fare. The kind of hunt I like. As Ron and I rolled up on the area that the warden had told us to camp I was shocked. The camping area looked more like a shanty town must of appeared back in the gold rush days out west. We found a small patch of ground between a pop-up camper full of some pretty rough looking hombres and a tent occupied by a old school longbow naturalist. We spent the evening scouting and hanging tree stands. we bedded down that night to the sound of drunken campers raising hell and one gunshot! It rained that night and my father met up with us in the morning and took a spot close to the campsite. He was smart enough to know the only place that would not be crowded would be close to the front since most people believe you need to go deep to see deer. I had my stand on a tree only 100 yrds or so from dad and was surprised upon my arrival by someone sitting in a tree only 5 foot from the one my stand was hanging on. The joker kept shining his flashlight on me like I didn't see him, finally I said "hey pal I have to get my tree stand if I'm going somewhere else". I hiked for 20 minutes past hordes of flashlights all being shined at me. I felt like the guy no one wanted to sit next to in the lunch room. I had gotten to the end of a long finger of woods jutting out into a corn field before I lost sight of any flashlights. I had never seen a more crowded stand of trees. It reminded me of the claustrophobic feelings I get at the shopping malls when my wife talks me into subjecting myself to the rude and numerous masses. Just as the sun rose I was in the middle of wrapping my summit climbing stand around a tree when a fawn jumped from the corn about 15 feet from me. We stood frozen for what had to be a decade when I made my move for my side hammer frontiersman 50 cal muzzleloader. By the time I got the iron sighted gun up, the deer had ran 60 yards. Luckily for me curiosity got the best of her and she turned broad side to look back at me. After filling my tag and gutting the whitetail version of veal I started my drag back to camp by way of dad. Half way back our long bow shooting neighbor fell in beside me (couldn't even be alone dragging my deer). He congratulated me on my deer and followed me to where my father was sitting with the year and a half old doe he had shot, then had to track all the way off the reserve. I left this hunt with meat but also with the realization that hunting is best when people are not around. I would rather kill nothing in solitude than fill my freezer in a crowd. The reserve felt more like a mall that day and I hate malls.

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