Sometimes you see something you know you'll never experience again. This is where these stories lives on beyond the campfire.
“However, only a few days before my hunt, I learned that there was flooding in the area and only about a third of the Wildlife Management Area was accessible. We studied a topographical map and spent much time and discussion about where dry land might be located.”
Barreling around a sharp curve in my Chevy pickup just before dawn with gravel flying, I slammed on the brakes and slid to a halt only inches from the water. The road dropped off the levee and disappeared into the dark flood waters of the Mississippi Delta on a bitter cold December morning. Though I had been forewarned of the impending flood, I wasn’t quite prepared for what my eyes were now beholding. Along with the rising water, my hopes of tagging a trophy buck were rapidly disappearing.
After sending off an application for a special hunt in a trophy buck Wildlife Management Area (WMA), I was elated that I had been drawn for a mid-December hunt in the Mississippi Delta. As fate would have it, I had also been to Colorado for the first time in my life during October and would have little time to scout for this late season hunt. However, most of my scouting had been done the previous fall and winter, as I spent much time studying maps and taking field trips to learn the terrain, habitat, and prime deer locations in the area.
As my five-day hunt approached just before Christmas, I knew that this would be my best chance to harvest a trophy whitetail that year. Two weeks before my hunt was to begin, I scouted an area that was chock full of buck sign. I even saw a shooter buck in the area. I was primed and set to go, or so I thought. However, only a few days before my hunt, I learned that there was flooding in the area and only about a third of the WMA was accessible. Most of the dry land was made up of grown up fields interspersed with narrow strips of timber. After a quick call to the local WMA area manager, my hopes were dashed even further, as he advised that hunting was downright poor and that the rising waters had not even crested yet.
Although the hunt was to start on a Sunday, I had planned to begin my hunt the following day on Monday. Since I didn’t know a lot about the area of the WMA that was accessible, I decided to go for broke. I would try to find some dry land in the flooded portion of the WMA.
On the night before my hunt, my good friend and former Mississippi Woods and Waters Publisher, Dan Robinson, and I studied a topographical map and spent much time and discussion about where dry land might be located. Robinson was familiar with the area, but it had been many years since he had hunted there. Although downhearted with the news of the recent flooding, I was determined to find out where dry land might be found on the area, if any was to be found. I had planned to use a day exploring the flooded area in search of a deer hotspot. Although it could have been a wild goose chase, I was willing to take the chance.
Before my hunt began, I secured a good pair of Bass Pro Shops chest waders, a compass, GPS and a small one man “buck boat” made by OtterOutdoors. The “Stealth boat” was actually designed for duck hunting, but was set up just right for my buck hunt. My trek would also employ a couple of batteries, a trolling motor, paddle, life jacket and food for the day.
Shortly after dawn, I launched my Stealth 1200 Otter boat loaded with provisions and began my trek in search of high ground and deer. After an hour and a half of battling strong winds with waves lapping at the sides of my boat I was determined to make it to the relative safety of the woods. During the trip, I encountered thousands of ducks. The recent rains and rising floodwaters had inundated the fields providing new feed for the hungry ducks. As I maneuvered through the flooded fields and timber, mallards and wood ducks surrounded me on all sides. Most of the ducks would swim to the side as I passed within thirty to forty yards of them. The sound was almost like something out of a duck preserve as thousands of mallards were sounding off, thrashing the water and feeding at the same time. Soaking in the magnificent wildlife scene, I reveled in the sights and sounds and the opportunity to experience such a wonderful moment in the outdoors. Not another soul was to be found in the area, I was alone in the outdoors. The solitude was broken only by the sound of wildlife and an occasional distant shotgun blast.
Two hours after launching the boat, my first destination was in sight, a flooded wood line bordered by a pine plantation. Once I made it into the flooded woods, the wonderful outdoors scene kept unfolding like a motion picture in front of me. All manner of ducks were swimming in front and on each side. Paddling down a flooded ATV trail required a little effort, but the stealth and quietness that it provided were just the ticket. Suddenly, the woods and water exploded in front of me, as two does burst out of the water only thirty feet from the boat. They had been resting on a small island right next to the flooded trail. I had not even noticed the dry land just inches above the water or the deer that were bedded on it. Things were starting to heat up, and I thought that maybe I had made the right decision, as there were surely some deer left in these flooded woods. Only time would tell if my plan and hard work would pay off.
Determined to slip into the area stealthily, I disembarked from the boat and started hunting with the use of my chest waders. Continuing on, I scanned the entire horizon with my binoculars ever so often before moving forward. The water was getting shallower, the closer I got to my destination. Rounding a bend, I came upon a slough with dry land on the other side. Wading into the slough, I went deeper and deeper until the water was near the top of my waders. With the water rising, I decided to backtrack the quarter mile to my boat for safety’s sake. I didn’t want to get stranded in an area three miles from civilization with no cell phone coverage. Only one person in the world knew the direction I was going, and it might be the next day before I would be missed, much less rescued!
After retrieving the Otter boat, I set out for the dry land on the other side of the slough. After going another half mile, I finally pulled my boat onto dry land. Three hours of boating along with a lot of paddling and some wading, had whetted my appetite for breakfast. While I was eating a snack and resting, the now quiet swamp erupted in a fury as three more deer crashed out of a thicket and crossed the flooded slough in front of me. This only heightened my anticipation. Things were really looking up now. Quickly finishing my snack, I headed north on the narrow island in the direction that the deer had gone. I made it only about 60 yards before I found a large buck scrape that was made earlier in the morning. It was so hot it was almost steaming, and my adrenalin was really flowing now.
The buck scrape had been made right on the tip of the island. Equipped with chest waders, I stepped off the island and started wading through waste deep water in search of more dry land and my ultimate map destination. As I searched the flooded timber with my binoculars, I tried to spot any deer that might be bedded up on dry ground, if any could be found. The further I went, the shallower the water got, making my destination all the more encouraging, as I hadn’t arrived at the high ground yet. As I had already found out, however, it only took a few inches of dry ground, to provide the perfect bedding ground and I was on full alert to find yet another dry spot. The key was to spot the deer before they spotted me, and that would not be an easy task.
Slowly scanning the flooded timber in front of me with my binoculars, I spotted something strange, “That looks like a deer rack” I thought to myself. Suddenly, two does moved in front of the rack. As the buck raised his head, I knew immediately that he was a shooter, the deer that I had been looking for. He had been trailing the does and feeding with his head down and only his rack was visible from the thicket. I spotted an opening a few yards in front of him that would give me the only chance at a clear shot. Once the buck cleared the thick brush he followed close behind the does, turning slightly in my direction. As the buck disappeared behind a large red oak tree, I raised my rifle in anticipation. Emerging from behind the tree, he came into full view in an opening approximately 80 yards out in front of me. Centering the crosshairs on the magnificent buck, I squeezed the trigger of the Browning .270 BAR and lowered the boom. The buck crashed to the ground instantly in ankle deep water, never realizing that anybody was within a mile.
The old warrior had nine basic points with a sticker that you could hang a ring on, legally making it a ten point. He sported a 20-inch spread, thick antlers and weighed in at 210 pounds.
After setting my GPS coordinates on the buck, I retrieved my “buck boat” and began the wonderful task of field dressing the buck. Field dressing a trophy buck is a part of the process that I relish and enjoy even more the older I get. Before I began however, I pulled the buck onto a patch of dry ground that was about the size and shape of a pitcher’s mound. The mound was the only dry ground to be seen as far as the eye could see and seemed to have been put there just for me.
Ultimately the high water and flooding was viewed not as a problem that would end my hunt, but as an opportunity. In this case I had overcome a great obstacle and experienced the ecstasy of harvesting my best buck ever, by changing my plans and moving forward. How sweet the taste of victory was.