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South Carolina Hunt January 2013
Roger Turner  

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a couple of deer hunts in South Carolina. After 4 years of trying, a buddy and I were drawn for a hunt at the Webb Wildlife Center. The Webb Center is a 5,800 acre managed wildlife area in Hampton County that opens for hunts. When drawn, one stays overnight at the lodge and enjoys dinner in the evening and breakfast the next morning.

While discussing the logistics of the trip, my buddy Pat let me know that we had a chance to do a deer drive, and wondered if I was interested. Since I thought deer drives were a thing of the past, I jumped at the chance!

We met with the Lower Ashton Hunt Club in their club house at 7 am. On this particular morning approximately 8 hunters wandered in along with myself and another guest. The hunters ranged from 10 years old to 75. The talk was light, with a little bit of ribbing about previous hunts and the latest football scores. Jimmy, who runs the club, chatted with everyone, reminded everyone of the rules, and formulated a plan for the drive; this morning we were going to use about 15 dogs and space the hunters along 3 different lines. We quickly paired up into trucks, and drove off.

We wound around a couple dusty dirt roads and paralleled a planted field. I was placed across the field, about mid-field, along the edge of a very large bank of trees. The hunter that dropped me off there continued to the corner of the field and stayed there. Even though this is a buckshot only hunt, for additional safety, we were over 100 yards apart and everyone was required to wear orange. I stood at the edge of the field looking into the woods waiting.

Soon enough I heard the baying of the hounds in the distance. To my dismay, they were not heading my direction. I figured any deer in the area would scatter, so I might get lucky any way. I listened to the dogs work the woods, and they moved across from me, circled around and then headed my way. After a few minutes they changed course again as the deer was evidently doubling back. After a few more minutes, the dogs appeared to head directly away, and I figured I wasn’t on the line the deer would cross. Some not terribly distant shots confirmed my suspicions. At this point, the plan is to wait to get picked up/regroup, and formulate the next drive. My mind started to wander and I was looking off at the other hunter that dropped me off, to see if he was getting back in his truck. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bit of movement.

I swung to my left and saw a buck moving out of the trees at about 40 yards. He was one of the deer that had eluded the dogs and wasn’t in a particular hurry, but was wary as whitetail are. As his front half cleared the trees, I finished swinging and drew a bead on his midsection. He saw the movement, turned his head to look at me, and I really thought I saw his eyeballs depart their sockets at the shock of seeing a hunter that close. At that moment two things happened almost instantaneously: I realized he was not a legal buck to take, and the buck executed a perfect reverse direction lurch jump and run. REALLY impressive.

One quick note - on this hunt, the rack on a buck must be 14 inches wide or the buck is illegal to take. If one does, a $100 fine occurs. There’s also a club rule that if you miss, you owe the club $5. Although I didn’t take the shot, he was a beautiful buck, and the adrenalin was worth the trip.

We broke for lunch, then headed out to the next hunt. This time we stopped at a different field. This one was a bit dusty and really big. Again, along three sides were trees and low growth. At the far end of the field was what I would consider a small forest while the two adjacent sides were like hedgerows. This time I was riding with Jimmy and another truck was following us. Jimmy drove me to just about the exact middle of the field and said, “Get out and stand here.” This melted my mind and I replied, “Here?! Right here?! In the middle of the field with no cover? Just stand HERE?!” I got a chuckle and a smile followed by, “Yep.” Okay, I thought. It was play the joke on the new guy time.

My buddy Pat, the other guest, was dropped off near the far edge of the field about 20 yards from the forest. Again, out in the middle of the open. Hmm. Another hunter, a sparky younger gal, was in the forest about 50 yards from Pat. Other than her orange hat, I couldn’t see her.

Soon enough I heard the dogs and heard over the radio, “Pat coming at you, the dogs are heading your way.” Sure enough, even though the dogs were out of sight in the trees to my left, I saw two streaks shooting along the edge of the field just inside the tree line. I didn’t know if Pat would get a shot, but they were heading what appeared almost directly toward the gal in the forest. Bang bang bang. I didn’t see Pat shoot, so I figured it was the gal in the forest. From the radio traffic, a picture emerged. The two does did indeed head right toward the gal in the woods, passing within 30 feet of her. Pat didn’t shoot for obvious safety reasons, and she missed as they flashed passed her.

Thus ended day 1.

Day 2 starts in the club house again with massive ribbing towards yours truly for the field placement comments I had made earlier. “Hmm” I thought. This time there were 17 hunters and about 45 hounds. I figured the day would be much sparkier.

This time I was placed along a hedgerow between two fields and facing the woods. There were hunters in the field to my left, and hunters in the field to my right up against the woods. From what I was told, the deer would generally cross the field to my left and/or then follow the hedgerow I was in. That sounded good to me. The morning was relatively cold, and there was ground fog in both fields. The hedgerow was trees and green growth, and the forest filled with the echoing bay of over 40 hounds. As I listened to the echoes and shook off a chill I thought, “Damn, a bona fide Kodak moment and I left the camera back at the club.”

Soon shots were being fired in the distance, but this time a truck came barreling toward me. “Jump in, we’re going to try to intercept where the deer are going.” That sounded good to me, and the hunter that picked me up did his best NASCAR impression along the dirt roads to get ahead of the deer. This really was fun! We rounded a corner and quickly redeployed. As I got set I heard another shot nearby to my right and figured it was over. This time the hunter did not miss. A nice doe was had.

Again we broke for lunch, then redeployed according to a new plan. Once again I was driven to the middle of a very large field of a two foot high crop, this time along the thin dirt road running through it, and told to stay right there. Really?! The hunter explained to me that in front of me is the forest where the dogs would run, and that the deer may come out there or out of the point of trees to my right. They would most likely cross the field, cross the road I was on, and head through the field behind me into the woods on the other side. I was welcome to stand wherever I wanted, but this should be the best spot to see not only the point, but the field straight ahead. To my left along the road at the edge of the field about 200 yards away was a hunter, and to my right along the road about a quarter mile beyond the point and past the next hedgerow was a family of hunters.

I heard the dogs in the distance and thought, “Okay, here we go.”

I was looking back and forth, trying to keep an eye on everything and saw some movement out of the corner of my eye at the edge of the point. Falling leaf. I started to sweep back to the left, and further to the left was indeed some big movement. A buck had come out of the forest and was running full tilt across the field on my left about 60 yards away. He was following a straight line course, and I could only see his body when he jumped above the crops. In between jumps my view was of his head neck and spine. If he noticed me swinging, he didn’t act like it. He was moving in a straight line as fast as he could. I swung even faster to get a shot. I wasn’t entirely familiar with the Benelli Super Black Eagle I borrowed from a friend for this trip, but I have to admit I do know enough not to rush and shoot from the bicep before finishing target acquisition. I did however execute that maneuver perfectly and was not at all shocked to see the shot be low and behind.

Continuing the swing, I decided to do things correctly. I lined up and cranked a second shot off. Still a bit low and a bit behind. Still swinging, I paused to swing past the road and the other hunters and tried to pull off a going away shot. Strike 3 - over corrected and put one in front of the buck. There goes $5.….

At this point, I realized it was time for some learning. I had lead my second shot by about a foot and dead on midline. In my overcompensation, I had lead about 4 feet. I’m guessing that the magic numbers for a full tilt running buck at about 60 yards would be 3 feet ahead and 2 feet above the shoulder. A couple of the other hunters came over to see if I killed or crippled the buck, and I had to admit I had missed entirely. That tidbit of information shot over the radio waves even faster than the “Stand here” comment. Sheesh…

About 20 minutes later, lo and behold there was some movement at the edge of the point. As I turned I saw a doe erupt about 40 yards to my right. Again, I could only see all of her when she jumped, and I figured in 3 jumps she would be across the road. Two feet in front half a foot high and squeeze when she hit the ground before her next jump. Bang. This one hit midsection just a bit to the rear. She hunched mid air and didn’t jump when she hit the ground just beyond the road. I was shooting 3.5” 00 Buck and 16 of the 18 pellets landed in a nice pattern. Yep, learning had occurred.

The next day, it was off to the Webb Center for the deer hunt there. This time it was tree stands along some of the swampy areas and feed plots. We arrived at the main center, a wonderful old building that had been converted to a bunk house. They host 20 hunters at a time, provide beds and showers, dinner the first night and breakfast the next morning. They recover and field dress your game, generally skinning it and quartering it for you (upon request). At the end of the hunt, you drive up to the processing building with coolers at the ready and that’s all there is to it.

Official check in time was noon to 1 PM, and we arrived about 12:15. My buddies have gotten drawn for this hunt before, and at their urging, we all made a beeline to get dibs on one of the better rooms. After we dropped off our gear, we went to one of the other buildings to officially check in. A pleasant gal, one of the main operators of the center checked us in. We each drew a number from a coffee can, and that number determined which stand we got. Shortly thereafter, we had our orientation in yet another building.

The orientation was very good. It was given by the biologist, and we learned all about the 5,800 acres we were about to hunt on. On this hunt, one could take 2 deer with a maximum of 1 buck. A legal buck is one with a rack 12 inches wide or 4 points on one side. If one takes an illegal buck, the fine is $150 - $450 and up to 30 days in jail all at the sole discretion of the biologist. A bad attitude could get you into real trouble here.

Amongst other things, the biologist mentioned that hogs were a problem and there was no limit on shooting them and you didn’t have to keep them. He came back to this point a couple times and mentioned the devastation they were inflicting upon the habitat. Since this was a deer hunt, nobody was too concerned. I checked the board again after the orientation and noticed that 3 hogs were taken in addition to the 81 deer over the last 5 hunts of the season. Although I have wanted to get a hog for some time now, this is not a striking number, so I wrote it off making a note that this is not the place I want to go for a hog hunt.

We ogled at the tree cam photos that were taken over the prior week, and indeed saw some really nice whitetails. We geared up and headed to the trucks to be taken to our stands. There were 4 trucks that had been set up with bench seating along the sides, and some steps out the back over the trailer hitch for easy loading and unloading. Hunter orange is again required. I climbed aboard my assigned truck around 3 PM along with my buddy Joey and we were off. Pat was on a different truck.

One thing that impressed me was how far apart they put the hunters. Some stands were a bit nicer than others, but all appeared in great shape. They all are the tripod type with a ladder going to a doorway opening. I was the last one dropped off and was given a brief on the area, where the deer would most likely appear, and any other helpful tidbit’s the driver could think of.

The plan was to stay in the tree stand until picked back up after dark. One could get out of the tree stand to check a shot, or track a wounded animal / mark the trail, but for safety reasons they didn’t want the hunter to go further than 200 yards from the stand for any reason. They had dogs to track game, and I imagined they had done this a few times before. Fair enough.

My area was in the woods, not near any food plots or other obvious success multipliers. The driver had no overly compelling information other than he had seen a really good buck along the road about a week ago.

I climbed into my tree stand, a triangular platform with no roof and a metal folding chair, about 6 feet a side. I took a quick look around and did some range finding on some identifiable trees for reference. Going clockwise, in one direction I had clear shots out to 60 yards, the next direction out to 235 along the road, the third direction 75 yards, and the last direction (along the road the other way) all the way out to 330 yards. I checked my ballistics cheater table for a few various distances, and settled in.

After a couple of hours of sweeping 360 degrees of forest, my mind begins to wander a bit. There was a particularly annoying tree squirrel that would get down from his tree every 10 minutes or so and make a lot of noise moving to the next tree. Sheesh, where’s a hawk when you want one? A little while later I fixated on an inch worm crawling along the railing. Tick tock, no deer.

Then I heard a bit of rustling but this time it wasn’t that blasted squirrel. Sounded bigger. I looked hoping to see “that big buck”, but instead saw a raccoon rambling toward the stand. He meandered in no particular hurry, basically heading right toward the stand. The raccoon continued by the stand crossing the road and moving another 10 yards before turning to a thicket directly away from the stand.

A short period of time elapsed and again I heard some rustling from the thicket where the raccoon went. This time I was facing the other direction, but decided it might be fun to spot him again if I could. As I turned around in the chair, I saw a black nose coming out of the thicket about 70 yards from the stand.

Great Oogly Boogly! That’s not the raccoon, that’s a pig! I was reflexively pulling the scope up and yanked the crosshairs onto the pig as it cleared the thicket and headed toward the road. There was only about 6 - 8 feet between the thicket and the road, so as soon as I had the crosshairs behind the big shoulder blade, I pulled the trigger. The hog collapsed in place without taking a step. “Damn, that’s not supposed to happen.”

I waited for another half hour or so, but didn’t see any movement. It was starting to get late, and I decided to go check it out before it got dark. I unloaded the rifle and climbed down. As I walked up on the pig, it started to look bigger and bigger. Yikes. This was a pretty big boy.

I went back into the tree stand in an attempt to see a deer before dark, but in vain. I climbed down the tree stand after dark and waited for the truck. After about a half hour, I saw headlights as the truck approached. As it turned out, I was the last one picked up in the last truck.

When the truck pulled up, the other 4 hunters were already in the back and there were 3 deer laying in there. Two does and one really big buck. It turns out that my buddy Joey got the buck. The rack turned out to be 19.75” wide. Super good for a whitetail!

The driver asked me if I had gotten anything or seen anything, so I asked him the question, “Why did the pig try to cross the road?” When he got a puzzled look on his face, I replied, “So I could SHOOT HIM!” He said, “Really?! Where?” We drove down the road a bit, and he saw the pig laying off to the side. “Wow! That’s big. We’re going to have a dickens of a time getting that into the truck.”

After surveying the situation, the driver realized it truly would be difficult to get the pig into the back of the truck with the 3 deer and 5 hunters. He called for another truck to come pick it up, and we headed back to the center.

When we got to the center, we found that Pat had the biggest buck of the day. That was until they unloaded Joey’s buck. He started laughing when he asked me if I got a deer and I said, “No, but I got a big pig.” “Oh, you were the one they were talking about on the radio” Evidently the staff thought it was a joke to begin with.

A few minutes later the truck arrived with the pig in the back. The crew was processing the deer of the day, but stopped to take some pictures of Joey’s deer and my pig. They asked what I wanted to do with the pig. As expected, they advised me that a pig that big and old would not be good eating. They sighed a bit of relief when I told them I didn’t want the meat. I could tell they really didn’t want to have to process it. They asked if I wanted it caped, and I figured that would give me some options if I wanted it mounted. I agreed, and they reminded us that if we didn’t hurry we’d miss dinner. Never call me late for dinner. We ran to the other building and had a very nice dinner. When it was over, we walked back to the processing building and asked about the pig. They said it had come in at 225 pounds. Not bad at all!

The next morning started with a wake up holler from the hallway of “Yeehaw, time to hunt!” and the banging of some obnoxious metallic something. It was 3:30… We were on the trucks and out to different stands by 4:15. A storm front had moved in, and rain was predicted. The staff informed us that if it started to thunder and lightning, they would be back to pick us up. We could be mad if we wanted to, but they would still throw us in the back of the truck and bring us in. Fair enough.

About halfway through the drive to my stand it started to rain. Darkness, rain, and wind come with the territory, but the 15 degree temperature drop gave me the shivers. I got in my stand, hunched over my rifle in an attempt to keep the scope and trigger group dry, and waited for dawn.

Dawn came, but the deer didn’t. Around 10 AM, I heard a truck and knew they were coming to pick me up. I got down from the stand, and jumped in the back of the truck to find that nobody had seen any deer. When we arrived back at the main center building, it was the same story all around; not a deer was seen by anyone. I guess that’s why it’s hunting and not killing. The condolence was that it had stopped raining around 9, and warmed up considerably. We all stowed our gear and went to breakfast. We finished up, packed up the truck, stopped over at the processing building for the deer quarters and pig head, and bid the Webb Center good bye.

The last 4 days of hunting had been some of the most fun I’ve ever had!

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