Let’s see. Where did I leave off in Part 1?
Ah yes. Swamp, at night, world’s largest dragonfly, and no head lamp.
It’s instances like this that having a back-up something is vital. There are a few items that I -always- carry an extra of: Knives, signaling device, ammo, and…Flashlights. You never know what’s going to happen. You could easily lose your hunting bag, break a knife, whatever. You name it, it could probably happen. The last thing I EVER expected was to be attacked by a giant insect and slap my face so hard that I’d break my head lamp.
So I scrounged around in the dark for a few minutes and finally found my spare flashlight. I (hesitantly) turned it on and was relieved when no dragonfly came to attack it. I found the pieces of my headlamp relatively quickly. Most of the lamp had fallen down into a stump hole. Good news was that I didn’t actually -break- the lamp, I just knocked the latch off the back and sent the batteries flying. I reassembled the light, strapped it on my head, and kept walking north. The Jeep -had- to be close by.
I walked/tripped/stumbled north for another half mile before I reached a thick wall of palmettos. Knowing that if I kept going north, I’d eventually hit a road that connected to where I parked, I just plowed through the bushes. Finally, after what seemed like a good 45 minutes of walking, I reached a road. Lucky for me, it was a road I had mistakenly driven down earlier that day and I found my Jeep tracks. I followed them the 1/4 mile back to the Jeep, and finally left the woods.
A few days later, I found myself back in the same swamp, pulling down my trail camera, and looking for a new tree to hang my stand. I was unhappy with the spot I hunted before, and it wasn’t long before I found a suitable tree that bordered the southwest corner of the swamp. I did, however, encounter a problem that I hadn’t had before. Most of the trees in the swamp have extremely wide bases. This means that every time I begin to latch my climber to the tree, I have to scope out almost all the cable to get it to fit. Then, once I’m only a few feet off the ground, the tree narrows and becomes a normal sized tree again.
This wasn’t a big problem with the top portion of the climber since I can adjust it while I ascend the tree. The big problem was the bottom part. I’m not sure how many of you have ever tried to adjust the bottom portion of a climber while 20 ft up a tree, but it’s nearly impossible. I was forced to sit down on the top part, lift my knees to my chest, reach down, unlatch the cable, scope out one section, then lock it back. It was extremely awkward, but I finally managed it and was able to climb to a decent height. I then snapped a few pictures of the new location. It borders a big 1/2 square mile palmetto thicket.
I’d been up my tree for about an hour when I heard some bushes moving to my left. I let out a bleat call, and waited. Suddenly, I saw movement. A person’s head popped up from out of the bushes, and started climbing a tree about 80 yards to my left.
Ugh, I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe I’d been walked in on. ALL the way back in this swamp.
I whistled to the guy and he gave an apologetic wave, climbed back down his stand, and disappeared into the swamp. I still had about two hours of light left, so I decided to wait and see if I still might get lucky. At one point, I heard what had to be a deer crashing through the palmettos in front of me. The sound got closer, and closer, and closer. Close enough, in fact, that I stood up, and got ready to make a shot. JUST before the animal came out of the palmettos in front of me, it stopped, turned around, and crashed through the bushes in another direction. I never saw the deer come out.
Just before dark, I heard some more crashing and looked to see a head light way off in the swamp. Immediately, I saw a doe come running up to my stand. She bounced to within about 30 yards and stopped to look over her shoulder behind my tree. I -could- have shot at her, but it was too dark and I didn’t want to risk not hitting her right. So I let her walk.
I started to climb down the tree and the head light came closer and closer to my stand. By the time I was almost at the bottom, the person had made it to my tree. It was another hunter and he apologized for walking in on my hunt. He explained that it was actually his father who’d tried to climb the tree nearby and we talked for a few minutes. He told me of an easier way through the swamp by walking along the edge of the nearby lake. I had no doubt that he knew what he was talking about (after all, someone else had managed to get all the way back here), but he was trying to tell me the lake was in a different direction than it really was. I thanked him for his advice, and went about trying to get out of the swamp.
This is where I made my mistake. Rather than walk the 150 yards to the east, THEN walk due north. I walked due north from my stand. I walked, and walked, and walked……..and walked. I walked for at least 45 minutes, heading due north, before I reached the edge of the swamp. Nothing looked familiar. Palmetto thickets weren’t where I thought they’d be, and the only path I could find -out- of the swamp, went due west (the wrong direction).
I decided to just plow through possibly the thickest batch of palmettos I could find. It took a good 15 minutes to move about 50 yards. FINALLY, I emerged onto a motorcycle trail. I figured I’d come out WAY to the east of my Jeep, so I started walking west. The trail twisted and turned, emerged out into a big open area, then ran due north. I followed the little trail for about 1/2 mile before, much to my dismay, it disappeared.
Right about that same time, I heard a sound that I REALLY didn’t want to hear: My cell phone dying. I flipped it open to see the little battery symbol flashing on empty. I figured someone needed to know that I was at least out of my tree safe, but still looking for the Jeep. The phone had enough battery for a few, short calls.
My girlfriend was less than amused to hear that I was hopelessly lost. I told her I’d call when I made it to the Jeep, and that I was turning off the phone in case I needed to make an emergency call later.
The next step was to retrace my steps. I followed the motorcycle trail all the way back to where I came out of the swamp and then kept following it to the east. It continued on for another 1/2 mile and finally came out onto a road. I realized immediately where I was (thank God). I came out almost 3/4 miles to the north of where I’d parked my Jeep.
As I walked south to where I’d parked, guess who I ran into?
Oh yeah, the guys who walked in on me. They’d driven down the road to check to see if I’d made it out, which was nice I suppose, but embarrassing beyond all belief. Because I didn’t begin walking north from where I usually do, I wound up paralleling the road by about 100 yards to the west. I probably passed my Jeep at one point within those 100 yards.
The whole situation was certainly a learning experience, but one I hope to never have to learn again. The one good thing about the trip, was that I had my trail camera…and it had 15 pictures on it!!
I raced home, loaded up the pictures, and was bitterly disappointed.
Some days you just can’t catch a break, and this was certainly one of those days. Every one of my pictures was of those other hunters.
I didn’t make it back out to Lochloosa WMA to hunt the swamp for two weeks after this. School loaded me down, and I just never got a chance to hunt. Finally, this past Thursday, I had finished all my school work, and had an afternoon off.
I drove out to Lochloosa as quickly as possible and parked in a new spot along the edge of the lake. From there, I was able to follow a path easily that paralleled the lake. This path was infinitely easier to walk down than any path I’d come up with in the middle of the swamp. Luckily for me, I took my time and watched where I was stepping. Remember the Tuesday Terror from a few weeks back?
Pygmy Rattlesnake. Right in the middle of the path.
Not even 200 yards farther down the path, I spooked a full grown Bald Eagle that had been perched in a cypress tree above me. It’s easy to forget how big those birds are, but it’s always awesome to see one. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of it.
Once I finally made it to the back of the swamp, I found a little rub line and decided to hang the stand. Now this is where the hunt began to get -really- weird….I started to actually see deer!
Stay tuned for part three! It’s easily the best yet.