I was on high alert, and all my senses were focused on the piney woods directly before me. My eyes darted from side to side, glancing at the sandy road in both directions. My ears strained for the slightest sound of breaking brush or the thud of hooves. My heart beat faster, and my palms sweated. Something was about to happen.
The hunt had just gotten underway, and a big pack of hounds had opened up over in the middle of the tall pine timber. When I looked to my left I was surprised to see a black pickup in the road at the next stand. I didn't know of anyone in the club that drove a black pickup, and then it hit me - it was probably the game warden.
The big pack of hounds were headed the other way, but a single dog was coming directly toward me - fast. The game warden was talking to Mister Jim at the other stand, but they were too far away for me to hear the conversation. Then the truck slowly rolled my way. As he drove up, I pointed into the woods toward the advancing hound, so the driver would know that something was coming. He waved and nodded as if he understood my gesture. I guessed that he too could now hear that high-pitched-squealy-tongued dog coming to the road.
I was in an elevated stand. The club has dozens of wooden tower stands spaced at regular intervals along straight stretches of interior club roads. The stands are there for safety concerns during dog drives. Standers can shoot down at the deer and not in a straight line toward other standers. It's a great idea, but I've not seen this anywhere else.
The game warden sat quietly in his truck, and I stood in the stand 10 feet above the road, facing the woods with my gun at the ready. We were both waiting, not speaking - just watching. The hound was close but unseen, less than a hundred yards out in the woodlands. I realized that I would have a witness if I missed, but it now seemed likely that the deer had turned away.
My suspicion was confirmed when the dog's baying seemed to turn to the right out in the pines. I focused my attention in that direction. Two other hounds came down the road, turned into the woods and joined in the chase. The next stand in that direction had been left unoccupied, and of course that is where the deer crossed. Two deer flashed across the road just beyond the stand.
"Looked like a big doe and a yearling to me," I said to the young man in the truck.
"Yea, I think you're right," was his answer.
Then he added, "that is the first deer I've ever seen on a dog drive. I'm from the Upstate, and we don't run dogs there." The hounds crossed the road, maybe 200 yards behind the fleeing deer, so I turned my attention away from the hunt.
"I'm Dan," I offered. "What's your name?"
"Tanner" was the reply.
"Well Tanner, I suppose you want to see my hunting license."
I unloaded my double-barreled shotgun and started to climb down.
"Don't climb down, just hold your license up. I only need to see that you've got one," he added.
I held the license up but couldn't resist the temptation to ask, "Can you read it from down there?"
He just chuckled and said, "Sorry I messed up your hunt."
I assured him that he had not. He asked if there were other standers down the road, and I told him there were more standers ahead and that this road would eventually return him to the highway.
When Tanner drove away I heard four shots off in the distance toward the other side of the drive. The big pack of hounds had gone in that direction at the beginning of the hunt. "Maybe they got one," I thought to myself.
Now, I realized that another dog was coming on the same course as the first hound that came straight toward me. I just assumed that it was on the same trail, and this dog was way behind the original lead dog. I didn't pay it too much attention, and I should have known better.
Just the slightest rustle in the brush directly in front of the stand caught my attention, and I looked up. A deer flashed through an opening in the trees 30 yards away, running parallel to the road. It was gone before I could react. It had followed the same course as the first deer but had come closer to my stand. The dog, a big lemon-and-white Walker, was close behind. Other hounds in the road behind me joined in the chase.
The hounds packed together, and soon had the piney woods rang with their primeval music. It was just another Saturday at the hunt club.