Burnt Pine Plantation – Bring on the Whitetails!

Burnt Pine Sign

My address for the next three nights will be Burnt Pine Plantation near Newborn, Georgia. Brian Mask, General Manager for over a decade at Burnt Pine, and everyone of his wonderful staff have already made me feel like family — a well-fed member of the family!

Front of Lodge

I’ll be sharing many more experiences from this beautiful property, but if you want to hunt whitetails, turkeys, Mourning doves or any upland game – in a comfortable, beautiful and friendly atmosphere – you need to head out to Burnt Pine.

By the way, I’m not greedy about the type of whitetail I want to harvest – one like either of these will suffice…

Two Deer Mounts

Treestand Affection – A Miracle Happens

Young Buck

The low point of my thoughts coincided with 1) an elevated wind strength and 2) the appearance of the young buck. On previous hunts, I had only brought does back to our house at Elmdale. This had been fine with my Mom and Dad because, to quote my Father, “They eat better.”  However, I really wanted to accomplish what my older brother had. I wanted to take a buck. I wanted to be able to feel the bone-like antlers and to keep them as a trophy. I never expected to be able to shoot a deer like the one my Dad had hanging in the back room of our house. My Dad’s deer had been taken the year before. It possessed a beautiful seven-point rack complete with the graceful antlers characteristic of the Texas Hill Country. The rack carried by the deer in front of me was not that size.

In fact, “my” buck carried only a forkhorn on one side and a short spike on the other. My Dad pressed his arm against me as a signal to raise my rifle. The buck had his nose in one of the bushes that made up a hedge in front of the stand. As he nibbled unconcernedly at some of the remaining fresh growth, I placed the crosshairs of my .243 Winchester behind his shoulder. Just then the West Texas equivalent to a gentle breeze hit like a sledgehammer. My sights swung wildly past the tail of the deer. I swiveled my scope back to the aiming point for a lung shot just as the wind let up and the tree righted itself. The unbending of the tree caused my gun sight to pivot past the shoulder, neck and then jaw of my intended target. “Oh, Hell!”, I would have thought, if I had been allowed to swear. Again I corrected and again the wind hit. Again and again, I watched my crosshairs skim from one end of the deer to the other. I knew I was running out of time.

At last, the buck tired of the browse 20 yards in front of our hide and started meandering down the well-worn deer trail. For the final time I pulled my gun from the rear end of the buck to his shoulder. As the gust began to subside, I tried to keep the gun sights from sliding forward while simultaneously squeezing the trigger. At the report and kick of my gun, the buck disappeared from my view. I had hardly brought my gun down from its slight recoil induced elevation when my Dad began congratulating me on a great shot. He said, “You must have hit him in the spine to drop him so quickly”. I couldn’t believe my skill, but then what should I have expected from one of the greatest eight-year-old deer hunters in the country?  My brother would never hear the end of this exploit. I had not only collected my first buck, but I had done so under the most trying of conditions. I had placed the shot almost exactly where I was aiming, in spite of the gale-force wind. As I stepped down from the bottom rung of the ladder, I was already imagining and savoring the sight of the neat hole, a bit higher than intended maybe, but still just behind the shoulder. In fact, I was staring at the exact spot where my bullet must have hit as I drew near the buck. I was puzzled as I slowly knelt by the deer’s side. Where was the wound?  My Dad’s voice cut through my musings, “Michael, where were you aiming?”  “Just behind his shoulder”, was my reply. “Hmm, well you hit him in the head.”  My eyes slid up the buck’s neck to his head and it was then that I saw the evidence of the .243’s work. No wonder he had dropped like a rock.

To say that my brother was unmerciful, is the understatement of the past century. He glibly pointed out that I had only missed my target area by about three feet and from a distance of 20 yards. He also correctly surmised that I might just as easily have shot my buck in the butt. I think my response was that I would rather shoot him in the butt. I really didn’t mind the ribbing too much. I think my Dad summed it up pretty well when he said “Son, you will never lose the enjoyment of taking your first buck”. He was right. The memory of that gusty morning is as sweet 53 years later as it was the moment I carefully stepped from the last rung of my first treestand.

Taking the Vortex Fury® HD 5000 for a Test Drive

I have upcoming hunts for whitetail deer as well as a Tactical Course at the Government Training Institute (a.k.a. GTI). For each of these outings I will need to know the range of targets. For the whitetail hunts I will be using two different Doug Turnbull rifles. These rifles are not only spectacularly beautiful, they are also very accurate. However, they are only equipped with iron sights. This means that, before taking any shots, I really must know the distance from my blind to my next series of venison meals.

2-1892-cropped-and-indian-blanket

For the GTI training, I will be required to hit targets out to 900 yards. Of course, I will NOT be using the Turnbull Restoration firearms for the Tactical Training. Instead, I have been provided a pair of Kerry and Carol O’Day’s MG Arms‘ incredibly-accurate rifles designed for longrange work; the two rifles are chambered to .300 Winchester Magnum and 7mm 08. Once again, I will need to possess the tools to measure yardage. In this case, the yardage will be extreme. I will thus need to know exact distances in order to make the necessary adjustments to the Swarovski riflescopes that Kerry and Carol are mounting on their two rifles.

Full Rifle on Wood Best.jpg

With my upcoming hunts and GTI training in mind, and being as uninformed as possible concerning rangefinders, I started my research into various products. That research led me to Vortex Optics. Included in the Vortex lineup are riflescopes, Red Dots, spotting scopes, binoculars and, most importantly for my current needs, some of the highest-rated rangefinders available on today’s market.

I am always amazed at the generosity shown when a random freelancer calls and asks for a product to use for a review. Such generosity was forthcoming from Mark Boardman (Director of Marketing) and Sawyer Briel (Marketing Communications Manager) at Vortex. Through discussions with Mark and Sawyer, it was decided that I should be sent the Vortex Fury® HD 5000 model – a combination binocular-rangefinder with the capability to range deer-sized targets at distances of 5-1600 yards.

Fury HD 5000

So, I am now well-equipped with the excellent Vortex Optics to head into the Northeast Georgia whitetail woods, and then on to GTI and targets out to 900 yards!

Rifle, Harness Without Cabela's and Fury

Keep checking back, because I’ll be providing links to a number of reviews and hunting articles that highlight the Vortex Fury® HD 5000.

Treestand Affection – Settling In

Old Treestand

Though NOT the treestand from the Author’s childhood hunt, this reflects the architecture of his first ‘Aerie’ (15 Photos That Display the Mystery Behind Old Treestands)

As we rolled to a stop, my Dad carefully opened the door on his 1963 Chevy pickup. I slid across the smooth vinyl seat, under the steering wheel, and stepped through his door and into the darkness of the Texas Hill Country. My excitement this morning reflected three facts. First, I was hunting. Second, I was hunting Whitetail deer. Third, my Dad was taking me into a treestand for the very first time. I felt a thrill as I pondered this new adventure. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would come to love treestands.

There are a number of reasons for my feelings of affection for treestands. First and foremost, I love to hunt by ambush. And there is no better way to ambush than from above. It is often said that people who hunt well from stands have more patience than those who use stalking to pursue game. I don’t think this is correct. I am a poor still-hunter because it drives me crazy to walk slowly and stop often. In other words, I don’t possess the specific type of patience necessary for this form of hunting. Yet, I can sit relatively still in a treestand for 14 hours. I love to wait for and watch animals, both quarry and non-quarry. There is something incredibly fulfilling about overcoming the sharp senses of a wild animal so that they browse or bed almost under my stand. It takes skill and patience to be able to move like a wraith through the wild and thus sneak up on game. It takes the same qualities to discern where, when and why game have passed through an area, choose the ideal ambush point, and then wait for long hours.

On this particular December morning in Texas, I did not realize it, but this would begin my career as a stand hunter. I would sometimes use ground blinds, but I would always prefer an aerie. In retrospect, I suppose this morning’s effort could have put me off hunting from trees for life. That it actually wetted my desire to climb into trees again and again is a good indication of my inborn preference for this type of hunt. I cannot actually remember how tall the tree was that housed our stand. The fact that it was located near San Saba, Texas means that it was unlikely to be much over nine feet from earth, given the short stature of what passes for trees there. However, my eight-year old eyes turned it into a battlement that hovered at least three stories above the ground.

As we settled into the stand, I realized that there was one major problem that might become very evident if I had a chance to shoot at a deer. You see, if God had intended for hunters to sit in treestands in West Texas, He would have made the place a bit less windy. My Dad and I eased into the two folding chairs placed in the stand just as the tree shuddered from a fresh northerly gust. My panicked thought was something like “How am I going to hit anything the size of a deer’s lungs while swinging back-and-forth?”  Unfortunately, I had a while to ponder this as we waited for shooting light. As the horizon lightened ever so slowly, I became more and more concerned. I was not the greatest marksman anyway, but the thought of trying to score from the equivalent of a flight simulator that is programmed for “severe thunderstorm”, had me shaking. I could visualize having to explain to my older brother how I had once again missed a deer from short range. I shuddered, but this time not because of the air movement.

Next Week: Treestand Affection – A Miracle Happens

Freezing for Fun, The Reward

2) The Author and the results of another outing in the Texas Panhandle

Author (Far left) and Robert Baker (Far right) with two of his Golden Retrievers, flank two other students in front of that day’s game

Even with our self-imposed selectivity, there were so many birds we were able to focus on ducks that would drop on the ground around our blind rather than in the water. As the thud of falling bodies increased in frequency, Sonja dashed in joyful abandon between the downed birds and her master. We were rarely able to fully reload our guns before starting to pick out the next target. In fact, after the first volley my Browning A5 20-gauge never contained more than 2 shells. Through the din of shotgun blasts and duck sounds, I made out Wes’ voice coming from slightly behind and to my left. He was repeating over and over, “It’s carnage, it’s carnage”. It was only then that I realized he had never raised his gun. He seemed mesmerized by the rain of ducks falling from the bird-peppered sky. For a moment I was concerned he was being upset by the activities around him. However, when I turned in his direction I saw his characteristic grin and realized he was enjoying the demonstration of shotgun skill put on by at least Rodney and Robert. We began to slow down our firing as we approached the limit, determined by the points per duck system then in place in Texas. We became even more careful to select only the drakes of our two chosen species.

As we were about to reach the conclusion of our shoot, they appeared. Their coming was as sudden as the rays of the sun that had just topped the fringe of clouds hugging the horizon. There were six of them and they were coming in not more than 30 feet off the lake surface. Black heads and necks extended, their honking was drowned by the incessant calls of the ducks. As the first Canada goose was reaching a 45o angle to where we stood, Rodney’s gun went off. No goose fell. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Robert wrestling with the slide on his pump shotgun. It was only then that I threw my 20 gauge to my shoulder and clicked off my safety. As the second goose began to glide over, I pulled my gun past its beak and slapped the trigger. Its wings folded and it fell as I snapped my second shot at a trailing bird. I don’t know how it is possible to miss such a large object at that range, but I managed. My second target flailed at the air and sailed over my head as I pulled the trigger again, but this time on an empty chamber.

I slowly lowered my gun and watched the retreating silhouettes of the geese. I looked at Robert and he grinned while explaining he had jammed his gun trying to reload when he saw the geese. I always harbored a suspicion that he knew he was watching my first attempt at a goose and decided to let me have a turn. Whatever the truth, Sonja bounced up to Robert with a mouth full of goose. She seemed delighted with the opportunity to retrieve something that took so much of her strength to carry. I breathed in the scene, as I inhaled the lung-burning, knife-edged air. The ice crusted edge of the playa lake, the brilliant blue sky, the neatly plowed fields surrounding the water, the telephone poles with lines that seemed to stretch to the horizon, and the still circling ducks all looked as if they would be there forever. I can’t think of a moment in which I felt more alive or more at peace.

As we each picked up a load of birds, I reached for the Canada goose. I stroked the feathers and stretched the wings to look at the coloration on my first, and to this day, only goose. It is said you can never go home. I think that is incorrect. I believe some experiences produce memories too good to fade. This morning would last. This memory was permanent. This memory was worth the act of taking such a magnificent animal.

1) Wes, Rodney, the Author, Goose, Ducks and Sonja.jpg

Wes Brown, a [very] young author, Rodney Honeycutt and Sonja holding the author’s prize

South Fork Dogs!

My recent article in the TruthAboutGuns.com – describing the ‘driven’ Pheasant shoot at South Fork Hunting Preserve – highlighted a few of the wonderful dogs we encountered. Because of space limitations for my article, I could not include many of the beautiful canines that were present. So, I thought it would be appropriate to provide a montage of some of the other ‘companions’ Frances photographed. Thank you again to Jacob and Colby and all the owners and handlers who gave us the chance to get to know their wonderful hunting dogs – or soon-to-be-hunting-dogs!

A Custom Quality Double Gun and a Continental Hunt Amateur

Dan Zimmerman, Editor of TheTruthAboutGuns.com, was kind enough to quickly edit and schedule the article about Saturday’s Continental Pheasant hunt at South Fork Hunting Preserve. The story recounting the combination of the Verney-Carron Azur SD Eloge Grade 20 Gauge Shotgun, South Fork property, our four-legged companions and my far-from-perfect shooting – all captured in the wonderful photographs by Frances – can be found here!

Shotgun and Pheasant