White-tail Deer hunting in Alabama.
When you have the opportunity to hunt white-tail deer in the huge expanse of forestry in Selma, Alabama it is difficult to say no. Even more so when you have the opportunity to blood your new rifle having travelled with it over to the USA.I used to travel to the USA once a month spending time in Houston and Louisiana building my business supplying support equipment to the oilfield industry for the gulf of Mexico region. With the American passion for hunting, it wasn’t long before I discovered our regional district manager had an annual shooting lease covering 7000 acres in Selma, Alabama. I had my first hunting trip there in December 2010 where I had used a rifle owned by the shooting lease-holder, a self-confessed redneck, who along with his friends was looking forward to meeting a stranger from England. The rifle was a lovely Ruger No.1 single-shot falling block in 7mm Rem Mag with a basic Nikon scope and no moderator – they are more tricky to obtain in the USA and are unlawful to use whilst hunting in Alabama. I had managed to cull 2 does on that trip, at 108 and 76 lbs respectively, but it was December 2011 that was going to prove to be the red-letter hunting trip.In the November, I had taken my shotgun to the USA - a bit of a dress rehearsal to see how easy (or not) it was to take a firearm to the USA and bring it back before taking my prized new .308 over for the deer hunting. I had a driven-shoot in Norfolk immediately prior to flying to the USA before returning home to Aberdeen so I decided to take it with me to shoot some sporting clays in Houston. As it turned out, the process was easy and painless. With a phone call to each airline prior to departure, an air travel approved gun case and completing paperwork at the check-in desk it was straight forward and I was met with efficiency and courtesy at every point. It did amuse me at the international check-in desk prior to my trans-Atlantic leg. As those who have travelled to the USA before will know, you receive a brief question and answer routine whilst in the check-in queue, such as where is your end destination, where are you staying, what is the purpose of you trip? I was then asked ‘Do you have anything in your luggage that resembles as gun?’ – My answer: ‘Yes - a gun!’. This was met by a brief stunned silence immediately followed by awareness and a wry smile when he saw the gun case. Yet again courtesy and efficiency was the order of the day and before I knew it I was enjoying a drink in the airline lounge.Fast-forward a month, and with the same efficient and courteous customs service, this time in the hold was my .308 Sako with Schmidt & Bender scope, and as yet unfired following its purchase a few weeks before. Buying ammunition in the USA is as easy as buying baked beans in the UK, so two days later I was sat at the rifle range in Houston having paid my $8 range fee and in front of me was a virgin rifle and a box of Winchester soft-nose rounds. Zeroing in was straight forward on the 100yd target so after a few more rounds down range, interspersed by the sound of automatic fire and a .50BMG whilst my barrel cooled, I packed up and went to my hotel room a happy man, looking forward to the 7 hour drive up to Alabama that Friday.It is reasonably common knowledge that firearm ownership is much less regulated in the USA than the UK. What I didn’t know, and was very pleasantly surprised about, was how tight they are on hunting, conservation and control of wildlife and habitat. Two weeks before my trip, I had spent a very pleasant 10 minutes on the phone with the Alabama Conservation Bureau passing over my details including passport number, UK address and email address. On giving my credit card number to cover the $121.15 for a 3-day hunting licence, she verbally read out my hunting licence number and within 15 minutes I had received it by email to print out and take with me. Conservation and wildlife control is taken very seriously, and with a nation of so many hunters, it is satisfying that you cannot simply go out and shoot what you want, when you want and with whatever you want. There are specific seasons for rifle and crossbow for example, you are limited to the number of beasts harvested and each and every deer harvested has to be catalogued including sex, weight and age.So with anticipation of a 3-day hunting weekend that would include 5-hunts – 2 dawn and 3 dusk – two of us set off in our King Ranch truck and with a stop-off for provisions along the way, we arrived at the camp shortly after lunch on the Friday. The camp is basic – effectively a collection of linked wooden huts furnished with off-cuts of old carpet, old beds with a multitude of donated bed clothes and blankets, communal washing facilities and a recreation/dining area with a 6-foot square open fire which is kept burning almost 24 hours a day with bench tables and a motley collection of armchairs. The atmosphere is truly unique, typical warm deep-south hospitality and cuisine, friendly banter over a bowl of gumbo and a beer and tall tales of hunting trips abound.The hunting here is almost exclusively high-seat, not everyone’s preferred method I’m prepared to accept, but still requires an element of field craft, animal identification, range estimation and bullet placement. It is also magical to sit still and experience the forest as it transforms from daylight to its nocturnal state as some wildlife prepares to slumber, whilst others prepare for a night-time of foraging under the relative protection of the darkness. The dawn brings the reverse, with the wonder of the dawn chorus and the sunlight streaming through the misty woodland and following the stretching shadows filling the rides as the night foragers lie-up. You never quite get used to the period immediately after dawn when it actually gets colder, when you are glad of the thermal base layers, mid-layers and down-filled over-trousers. All in camouflage of course – after all, this is America.We creep to our respective high-seats and ladders in plenty of time before dusk, having been careful to shut the truck doors gently, and get settled to see what the forest will present to us. Bottle of water here, a snack there, chamber a round, safety on – and then watch, listen and wait. Even in high seats well before dusk or dawn and above the scent line, there is no guarantee of even seeing a deer, let alone being given an opportunity for a humane shot.On this particular morning I was on a ladder in a wooded area, predominantly broad-leafed trees with some ground cover and a small creek running through about 60yds in front of me. We had arrived before dawn and had agreed to meet again at 9:30. The cull target was mature bucks and does, and in fact there was a hefty fine from the camp-boss if a spiker or young buck was taken as he wanted to encourage the youngsters to mature. I was glad of the extra layers of clothing – in Alabama in December it can be below freezing and sitting without moving is a chilling activity.At around 06:20 I saw some movement in front and to the left of me about 75yds away. Spying it through the binoculars, it was a good sized buck – just what we were looking for. It was ambling along, just grazing; it noisily splashed through the creek. There was some undergrowth and trees in its path so I looked at its likely route to check for a suitable point where I would have a safe and uninterrupted shot. It seemed a lifetime before the buck wandered into the space I had allocated for a safe shot, and it then obliged perfectly - stopping to stoop for a nibble as I aimed up his front leg and just behind, eased the safety off and squeezed the trigger. There was a very noticeable muzzle blast, but I saw the buck stumble and fall about 25 yds further forward. The forest went still again, and continued its transformation from night to day. About 20 minutes later, a young doe came wandering through, I didn’t even raise the rifle off my lap – it was not her time. She wandered to about 20 yds away, with no knowledge of my presence at all. I sat stock still, watching her – then she looked up, quizzically staring straight at me. Not convinced I was a threat she carried on alternating between grazing and looking up until she had convinced herself that everything might not be as it should and she pronked away, tail erect to carry on her morning walk about 50 yds away. Such is the nature of our sport; it is just as satisfying simply to watch the deer go about their normal routine as to actually taking the shot.At the pre-agreed time, I was met by one of the other hunters who asked if it was me who got a shot off. Yes, I said – he’s over there, pointing in the general direction. A splendid buck, 195lbs and 8-points – exactly what I, and the property owner, was after. We needed the quad bike to retrieve it, particularly as it was the other side of the creek so a rope helped us to get it back to the truck. Once back at the camp, he was weighed and logged in the record book. Cleaning the deer there is also different – rather than gralloching in the field, the beast is skinned and butchered back at the camp with the remains of the carcass disposed of together with the gralloch and the pluck.So, in summary a very satisfying way to christen a new rifle, and I’m already looking forward to this year’s annual pilgrimage to Alabama and to bring my trophy head back home. Now that may prove to be more difficult to get back into the UK than the rifle!
Attachment 21129Attachment 21130Attachment 21131Attachment 21132