Thursday afternoon, I left work and drove out to Maryland's Eastern Shore. It was the opening day of deer season, for muzzleloader, and my friend Phil had invited me down to his camp, which he fondly refers to as "The dump". This is my first season hunting deer with a muzzleloader. With the regular deer season in Maryland being only two weeks long, opting to hunt with a muzzleloader gives you about three more weeks’ worth of deer hunting. You may recall that Phil is the one who picked my muzzleloader up for me a few weeks back; a simple but nice .50 caliber, inline rifle made by CVA. He’s been a strong supporter of my movement into the realm of black powder hunting. Needless to say, I was glad when he invited me down to his camp where more than a few big buck have been taken from his 70-acre plot of woods.
I reached the camp around 5:00pm. The camp has character; a dingy old trailer sat proudly at the end of the double-track driveway. A handmade (welded) wood stove made from an old piling, stood next to an old picnic table. Yellow well pump wiring made its way from the trailer, out to a nice gas generator tucked off to the side. A spreader hung from a yardarm that showed signs of years of use. I’d learn later, the number of deer, and the stories of their demise, that have hung from it in the past. Phil’s good friend Tommy was milling about the camp, gearing up to head out into the woods for the evening hunt. He greeted me with a warm smile and a firm handshake. I learned quickly that Tommy was “good people”. I hadn’t had a chance to get to the range to sight in my rifle but Tommy helped me laser-bore site it the quick and dirty way; turns out it was pretty much “on” already. So, I geared up, and followed Tommy’s directions back into a nice tree stand overlooking some hardwoods on the edge of a field. When the sun had set low enough that I couldn’t see my sights, I climbed down from my stand and made my way back to the trailer.
When I got back, the generator was humming and the camp was nicely lit. Christmas lights on the trailer added a certain savoir faire to the whole redneck ambiance. We all cracked open beers and sat around the fire sharing stories, jokes and having a good time. Debbie had baked one of her classic treats; a chicken pot pie, and given it to me to bring to camp, so I cut three slices, wrapped them in foil and heated them up on the wood stove. It was delicious; really hit the spot! By 10:30pm I was pretty well pickled and ready for bed. We all turned in. I opted for the couch which looked really comfortable, but lacked any type of cushioning and felt much like I’d imagine sleeping on a ladder would feel. Hard rungs pressed into my shoulders, hips and feet; still I drifted off to sleep with ease.
The next morning we were all out in our stands before dawn. Squirrels were everywhere, yet I did not see any deer. I quickly became used to the scurrying sound of squirrels in the leaves, yet perked up every time they would pounce slowly from one spot to another; a sound similar to the gate of a deer. After a few hour of watching the squirrels I pulled my .22 pistol from my game bag and loaded a round into the chamber. They were getting closer and closer to my stand and I figured and easy shot at one of them was worth taking. I ended up shooting two of them; one through the head, the other through the shoulder at about 20 yards. When I got back to camp, I cleaned them, put them in a zip-lock bag and threw them in the cooler.
After running in to town for lunch at a diner, Phil and Tommy wanted to get a little maintenance out of the way while we were at the camp. The plot of land they own is quite dense. Thicket and brush make it tough-going, but the land was logged in 2007 and the old logging roads serve as a means to hunt the whole place. Several trees had fallen and need to be cleared in order to keep the roads mowed and manageable. So, we took the chainsaw and the tractor back in to the woods and took care of business. All was going well, until a hydraulic line on the tractor blew, covering Tommy with oil. It was the supply line used to raise the bucket on the front of the tractor. A little redneck ingenuity, a rubber glove, zip-ties and some duct tape had the line patched up good enough for Tommy to high-tail it back to the camp before the bucket lowered all the way to the ground!
The rest of the day was spent cutting firewood, firing a new .308 I had just bought and generally relaxing until the evening hunt. That hunt, went much like the one in the morning; lots of squirrels but no deer. No deer that I could see, that is. I would not be surprised if deer walked past me in the dense brush. But it was still great, just to be out there. I always seem to find something neat walking through the woods, be it deer antlers, a bird nest etc. This time, I found a small wood turtle shell. Things like this just make the whole experience great for me. Though my rifle held a charge and a bullet I hadn't fired it over the last two days. Before leaving Saturday morning, I fired my muzzleloader at a target 60 yards away. It hit 1" high of the bulls-eye; good enough for me! I really enjoyed myself and the company of Phil and Tommy at the camp. Phil summed it up best when he said “We don’t always get deer down here, but we have a hell of a good time!”