We were hunting in the northwest "panhandle" region of our home state of Florida. Kenny Banaciski had arranged the hunt for us, at the invitation of his uncle, Jim Helm. Dad went along with me, as usual, and we had a great time. As I sat in a ground blind watching the rain during the trip, a simple phrase occurred to me to describe the hospitality we were receiving: Never better, and rarely as good. We arrived as strangers and left as friends. What visit has ever turned out better than that? None that I know of.
We arrived at Jim's place on Thursday, in the rain. Jim was still at work (he has retired more times than I can count, but you still can't keep him from working), and we were met at the front porch by his lovely wife Alice. We quickly fell into an easy, friendly conversation, and awaited developments. We didn't know if we were going to hunt that afternoon, or what. So we waited in pleasant company.
Soon enough, Doug Stiles, Jim & Alice's son-in-law, arrived, and before long Dad, Kenny, Doug, and I piled into Jim's GMC Jimmy and drove to the hunting properties. Jim's hunting place is 40 acres of mature planted slash pines known as "Three Mile Hunt Club" since it's three miles from his house, and Doug's is about 90 acres of planted pines in various stages of growth. Both pieces of land were soggy from recent rains.
We took a quick tour of each place and were soon on our way back to the house. Jim was waiting for us there, and once again we found a friendly reception. We didn't hunt that afternoon, instead watching it rain while we exchanged tales and got to know one another a little better.
Friday morning dawned wet, though strangely not as cold as it had been the day before. Kenny and I headed to Doug's place while Dad and Jim went to Three Mile to try their luck. I wound up in the Christmas Tree stand, a ground blind so named because it had been camouflaged with the chainsawed remains of a huge cedar Christmas tree from their church.
The ground blind sat on a corner, and I could see down a dim road along a powerline to the right, and down another along railroad tracks to the left. Diagonally, cut into the tall weeds of the powerline right-of-way, a startlingly green food plot bisected the 90-degree angle between the two roads. Beyond the food plot was a thick, brushy stand of young planted pine trees. To my right as I looked down the powerline towered some beautiful tall pines, again thickly foliaged. Mainly, I could see down the roads and into the food plot, and that was it.
I sat for a few hours, seeing nothing. Eventually I had to find a place in the tall pines to relieve myself - I did so and walked back out to the blind. When I looked down the powerline road upon my return, there was a deer standing in the road! I quickly stepped to the blind and rested my Savage 110 synthetic-stocked rifle on the roof and eyeballed the deer through the older Redfield Widefield 2x-7x scope. The deer fed along the dim road, unconcerned even while looking back towards the blind. At one point I thought I saw a long spike on one side, but wasn't sure. I spotted bumps on the deer's head, with bright white spots in the middle. A large buttonhead buck, I surmised.
When I reconnoitered with Kenny I learned that he had seen a couple of does from where he was hunting in Doug's ground blind. We returned to Jim's house for lunch, and learned that he and Dad had seen no deer.
That afternoon, I was back in the same blind again. The temperature had dropped not long after I got into the stand that morning, and a bone-chilling breeze had kicked up. That wind was still with us. Doug was hunting in his blind, and his son Mitch was hunting beyond the tall pines from me, in a tent blind.
After a couple hours of sitting in the rain and seeing nothing, I had just lit my portable propane heater, to try to dry out my damp britches which were chilling me. Just as I set it down on the dirt floor, I looked up to see a doe and her fawn stepping out onto the food plot, very nervously. The little fawn's flat and thickly-furred forehead showed him to be a buck, and he was even jumpier than his mother. They stepped out, but they knew something was up and kept watching the blind.
Soon, the propane heater was roasting my leg and needed to be shifted. I did so as easily as I could, but the handle moved and made a soft clunk. That was all it took - both of the deer left in a hurry, with the little buck leading his mother into the short pines and out of my life. (Continued)