Deer Hunting on Base

It’s officially Fall, and here in Georgia archery deer season is already underway. We’ve had no break in the heat as yet and I’m sure these days in the nineties have put a damper on it. Deer gun season starts in mid October and I’m starting to feel the old familiar anticipation for the hunt. Naturally my thoughts turn toward seasons past, success stories, and the big bucks that have gotten away.

My Father before me was a hunter, and I grew up on stories of deer hunting in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The camaradie and tall tale telling around the campfire. I heard all about the trophy bucks taken by feats of skilled marksmanship as well as those due to sheer luck. I always loved the tales where the deer got away and left the hunter bumfoozled. To a young boy’s mind it was all adventure and excitement.

Getting drafted for the war in 1942 would interrupt my Dad’s Fall hunting ritual. No need to take his deer rifle as the Army would provide him one of their guns. Although it would not be deer he hunted.

Dad would return to the deer woods in the Fall of 1945 and his first post-war buck would be downed with a likely purloined(not by him) P17 Enfield bolt action in 30/06. He’d even used hard ball ammo so he had to track the deer a bit after shooting it before he located it.

After being called up for Korea, Dad opted to make a career out of the Army and would never hunt his home state again. He never lost the urge to go hunting though. Wherever we were stationed Dad sought out the local hunting opportunities.

Just about anywhere you are in the States today there are deer. This was not always the case. Due to proper management, agricultural clearings and forest management, there are likely more deer now than ever before.

We spent the early fifties in England. At that time there were no hunting opportunities there for deer. This may since have changed..I don’t know. I do know there are lots of Red Deer up in Scotland.

Our next posting was to Stillwater Oklahoma. I’m not sure what the deer population is like there now, but in the late fifties there was not a huntable population there. I never laid eyes on a deer the whole time we were there.

Germany came next and once again there was no opportunity to hunt in our area of the country. I hear there are areas in Germany where the deer have rebounded and I’m sure there were areas when we were there that held deer. I do remember there was some boar hunting to be done, but it was very restrictive and supervised by local rangers and burgomeisters.

In 1963 we would return to the States and our home for the next few years would be Fort Leonard Wood in southern Missouri. Dad had been out of the deer hunting loop for thirteen years by this time, but good things had been happening for deer hunters during his absence from the deer woods. The deer were in the midst of a nationwide revival and populations had rebounded in areas where they’d been hunted out in the past. Fort Wood had a lot of deer on it and Dad and I would soon seek to take advantage of that fact.

You know military bases are often a font of wildlife because over the years they’ve served as a sort of haven and refuge for wild things. Fort Wood was one of those places. The base had been created during WW2. It was situated adjacent to the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri and as such was characterized by rolling hardwood covered hills and clear rushing streams.

Like most military bases, there had once been people living where now there were training areas. The local farmers had been a fairly poor lot as the soil there was rocky and hard to work. However it was their home and I’m sure they were unhappy to leave it.

By the time we arrived in 1963, the local wildlife population had had twenty-three years to recover from local hunters anxious to put some meat on the table. The forest was also well on it’s way to reclaiming those areas cleared for farm fields and pastures. Scattered throughout the base you would encounter signs of the area’s former inhabitants as you roamed the woods. There would be falling down old houses and barns to explore. Old galvanized washtubs, junked vehicles and farm equipment would litter these sites. On a hike one might stumble upon overgrown apple and pear orchards or daffodils marking someones old flower beds. All in all this absence of people and the regrowth of habitat had done wonders for the deer population.

I do not remember if Fort Wood had a gun season in those days. I do know that Dad had no rifle, as he’d always used his Father’s rifles when he’d lived in Michigan. I do know for sure that Fort Wood had an archery season. Dad had some experience with bows as a younger man and he promptly went out and bought a Pearson 55lb pull, laminated wood recurve bow. For those familiar with today’s modern high tech compound bows…think of Dad’s bow more along the lines of the one Robin Hood shot. In the early sixties compound bows were a recent invention and nowhere near as advanced as those of today.

Recurves were still more powerful than those early compounds and comprised the bulk of the bows used for hunting. Arrow technology was basically unchanged through the millenia and still was comprised of wooden arrows with feather fletches. Practice arrows would have a rounded and somewhat pointy sheath of metal permanently affixed to the business end and hunting arrows had the more familiar arrowhead shaped point made out of hardened steel with razor sharp cutting edges.

Dad hunted that first fall we were in Fort Wood and he did so unaccompanied by myself..much to my chagrin. Of course I didn’t have a bow or know how to shoot one then. The Spring of 1964 would change that.

Fort Wood offered a lot of organized activities for dependent children and one such activity was a course of archery instruction. It was held on Saturdays that Spring of 1964. The Army provided us kids with instructors, bows, arrows and targets. I ate it up…so much so that Dad went out and bought me my own bow and quiver full of arrows.

That first bow was a 25lb pull fiberglass recurve. The arrows were of the cedar target variety. Dad brought home some hay bales as a target backstop for me to practice my skills in the backyard. There was nothing but miles of woods out behind the house, so no danger of launching a arrow into someones home. I was also given free reign to wander the woods plinking at whatever with my bow and arrows.

Naturally I lost arrows and broke some or got them irretrievably stuck in trees so I would use some of my paper route money to buy more arrows. The PX always kept a large box of cedar youth target arrows, and I’d cherry pick it for the straightest and truest shafts.

I got pretty good with that bow. Practice makes perfect! I was soon lobbying for both a new more powerful bow, plus to get to go hunting with Dad in the Fall. Dad came through on my birthday with a new Fred Bear 35lb laminated wood recurve, but he told me he thought I was still too young and inexperienced to go hunting. It took me awhile to get used to pulling that bowstring back to the anchor point at the corner of my mouth till my thumb touched my earlobe, but once again practice makes perfect.

By the time deer archery season rolled around I’d gotten pretty good with that bow and had also not let up on my lobbying efforts to be allowed to hunt. Opening day came and yours truly didn’t get to go. Dad put an arrow in a buck that first Saturday of the season and hunted for it till well after dark with no success. He spent all day Sunday looking for it and still never found it. It was sad and he was pretty upset about it. It left me wanting to go even more and my lobbying and whining intensified. Finally Dad relented and said he would take me the following weekend.

I was really excited about the prospect of getting to go deer hunting and of course I immediately started asking for some hunting arrows for my bow. As I indicated earlier, back then you couldn’t just buy a hunting head and screw it on the the arrow shaft like you can these days with the aluminum and carbon shafts now in vogue. You had to buy a pre-built dedicated hunting arrow. Dad assured me that he would take care of me, and for me to stop nagging him about THE “*%@#durned arrows!”

The Eve of the anticipated hunt came and I had to ask, “Dad, did you get my arrows?” He responded, ” %$&*#$@. Didn’t I tell you I’d take care of you? Now shut up about it!”

Dad woke me up around 4am. Looking back I don’t think he figured I’d get up, and then he wouldn’t have to take me. It was no problem for me to get up as I’d been so excited I’d never gone to sleep to begin with! We got dressed and ate a hot breakfast, loaded our gear and our bows into the car and headed off for a section of woods Dad had previously scouted. Still no sign of my new hunting arrows.

We arrived in the predawn darkness at the designated spot which was located off an old dirt road which ran way away from civilization out in the troop training areas. We got our gear out and it was then that I found out that Dad had not after all gotten me my own hunting arrows, but rather he just opted to give me one of his to hunt with.

Now back in my younger years I didn’t understand all the mechanics and physics involved when it comes to propelling an object from point A to point B. I did not understand that for whatever sized object you wish to propel a sufficient force must be behind that object in order to provide the necessary momentum. Little did I know that in a very short time I was to be provided with a first hand experience which would illustrate the physics involved.

As the first hint of gray light started to permeate the woods, we set off down what probably used to be an old farm trace. It lead through a forest of oak and hickory and past a big old collapsing barn whose environs were littered with miscellaneous junk and was fast being reclaimed by the forest.

We continued on past the old homestead a hundred yards or so through the woods until the trace crossed a shallow dip, and across the low area the forest ended off to the left side of the trace while continuing on the right hand side. That area to the left had probably been a pasture or farm field at one time and was now overgrown with brush, although there were a few larger trees in it.

Right after crossing that low spot Dad stopped and showed me where I was to hunt from. An old deadfall log was lying right behind a hardwood adjacent to the trail. Dad sat me on that log next to the tree, and I was to use the tree as cover and look out beside it for any deer that came to feed on the oaks around me. He said he’d be going on a bit further and getting up in a tree. I did not know it at the time, but he had me in sight from his stand.

So there I was all alone in the woods. I was both excited and nervous to boot. It was probably about an hour later that I picked up movement alongside the trace road directly across that low area . Deer!!! Sure enough there were deer feeding on the acorns not more than thirty five or forty yards away. My heart started thumping and my vision narrowed as I focused in on those deer.

I eased up off the log and leaned my left shoulder against the tree and peered around it at the deer. The deer gradually fed my way and I soon could tell that there were five of them and all were racked bucks. Now I’ve hunted a lot since those times and only once since, have I seen that many bucks together in one place.

Soon one of the bucks fed to a point where he was broadside to me at no more than twenty yards. Twenty yards was well within my accuracy range. I could shoot farther but I’d figured that when hunting fifteen to twenty yards would be best.

I t was then that an event strange to me would take place. First off my heart was about to beat it’s way out of my ribcage. Never had it beat so hard. Along with the excitement I was feeling some fear as well. I mean this buck was a nice one. Eight or ten points and probably 200lbs easy. In fact it’s likely that a mature buck in that locale would easily be 250lb live weight. That buck was way bigger than me and appeared to be better armed as well. But my biggest worry was that I appeared to be going blind! All around me my vision had gone black except for a small spot right where the deer was standing. Everything in my peripheral vision had gone black.

I overcame my fear and excitement long enough to slowly ease myself off that tree and edge a few inches to one side so I could get an unobstructed draw on the bow. I had already nocked the arrow and I eased back on the string to full draw. It was at this point that some part of me realized that even at full draw I must have had at least twelve inches of arrow and broadhead sticking out in front of my bow.

Now with a recurve bow, you more or less draw back, settle a tad on your aiming point and let fly and trust that your practice and shooting instincts will prevail. It’s a pretty quick process because at full draw you can’t hold the string back for very long before you tire out. That is the main advantage of compound bows. With compounds the holding weight is usually at least half that of the draw weight. So you can have a sixty pound bow and hold it back like it was only a thirty pounder.

So I pulled, got on target and let fly. All pretty much in one protracted motion. My windage was perfect and the released arrow was on track for the desired heart/lung area of the deer. Then all that physics stuff kicked in. You see, Dad was around six feet tall and with a recurve bow his draw length was about 31 inches. Add a few more inches for the arrow to clear the rest and the boadhead to be out in front of the bow and his overall arrow’s length was probably around 34 inches long.

That length coupled with the fact that his bow required a thicker shafted arrow than my little bow and what you ended up with trying to shoot his big arrow out of my smaller bow, resulted in essentially the same thing as trying to launch a softball with a slingshot. In other words that arrow I shot commenced to lose altitude pretty quickly.

The arrow ended up passing just beneath the deer’s brisket and stuck in the ground just beyond him. The buck was startled and leapt a couple yards and then returned to where the arrow was stuck in the ground, proceeded to sniff it, and then looked up and all around as if to find and locate the person who’d had the gall to launch the thing at him! The other four bucks were not bothered at all and likely wondered what all the fuss was about. They all shortly proceeded to resume their feeding upon the acorns.

I had eased back behind the tree and was peeking out from behind it, disgusted that I’d missed, and starting to realize I wouldn’t have, if I’d had properly sized arrows. I felt the beginnings of some anger toward my Dad building up in my gut. There was also another feeling ruminating around in my gut, and that was fear. I’d never been afraid of a deer before, but I’d never been this close to a big buck either. It suddenly occurred to me that I was no longer armed, being slap out of ammo, and I was starting to wonder if the buck saw me, would he be pissed and angry enough to charge me. It was silly I know, but nonentheless it was there in my mind. I’ve made it a point since to always have plenty of ammo on hand. After all, you never can tell, you could encounter an armed deer or get into a firefight with some raccoons or such.

Eventually the deer fed away toward the other side of the low ground under some oaks on the slight rise. They were about forty yards away when I heard a little something behind me and turned around and saw Dad easing towards me about thirty yards away. I gave him the high sign trying to let him know there were deer out in front of me but we were busted and the deer ran off.

Dad had seen me draw and shoot and was coming to check on me. There would be no deer bagged that day. I would make my opinions known regarding my lack of arrow equipage, and I even got away with it because I think Dad felt a little bad about it. I think until that day he did not realize how serious and patient a hunter I had grown to be.

All in all I could not have asked for a better first hunt. It would be many, many years before I would bag a buck of the quality of that Missouri monster. Until that day dawned the memory of that buck would fire my hunting hopes.

I would get to go several times more that season and had interesting hunts every time, but never got close enough for another shot, although I saw a few smaller bucks. I would get to see one shot at one day when we encountered another hunter. We had given up for the morning and found another vehicle parked across the road from ours when we returned to our car.

A hunter came out of the woods when we were putting our gear in the trunk and he and Dad proceeded to talk. Our bows were already unstrung and in the trunk and I was just standing next to the men looking around as they talked. Off in the woods I saw movement and soon saw a deer running in our direction. I tried to get Dad’s attention but he said not to interupt. I finally said, “Dad . . . deer!” This got the men’s attention and they looked up and saw it. The buck stopped smack in the middle of the trail about twenty five yards behind the car.

The other hunter, whose bow was still strung, yanked back on the string and released an arrow. The arrow hit the dirt about ten yards shy of the deer. Likely the worst shot taken at a deer I’ve ever seen! I hope if that soldier went to Nam he practiced his markmanship first!

The next year Dad was in Vietnam for deer season and I would never get to hunt in Fort Wood again. I would get to hunt at our next posting in Texas and I’ve got a load of deer stories from there but I’ll leave them for my next blog.

Now that I’m a civilian I no longer have access to my childhood hunting grounds. I hear there is fine deer hunting to be had at many bases around the country. Here in Georgia it’s said to be really good on Forts Benning and Stewart. It would be neat to hear some hunting stories from fellow brats. I think I was really fortunate to get to hunt on those bases.

We rarely encountered other hunters and had the run of some really prime areas—much better hunting land then I’ve ever had access to since. One day somewhere in the future the land held by the military will become valued for it’s ecology as much as some of our national park and forest land I’m sure and will be a legacy for future generations to roam and hopefully hunt upon.

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