Destination File #98

Southern Safari

By Bob DÕAngleo


 The lyrics of country singer Michael Martin MurphyÕs song ÒCarolina in the PinesÓ ran through my mind as I sat in a comfy ladder tree stand tucked in a hedgerow overlooking an expanse of longleaf pine with an understory of shrubs and foot-and-a-half tall grass:

ThereÕs no guesswork in the clockwork

Of the worldÕs heart or mine

There are nights I only feel right

With Carolina in the pines.

    I was in central North Carolina hunting with Buffalo Creek Guide Service, owned and operated by Johnnie and Debbie Dale, and enjoying the change in scenery from my normal whitetail hardwood haunts in my native state of Pennsylvania. As I sat, I had my eyes glued to the bait pile of corn and sweet potatoes, which was a different experience being that baiting is illegal in Pennsylvania.

   Working for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, it took some getting used to hunting over bait, which is a standard practice in North Carolina, as well as other states. The terrain and situation in North Carolina dictates relying on bait.

    In Pennsylvania, with about 750,000 hunters in the field on the opening day of hunting season, hunting pressure keeps deer on the move. Where my three hunting companions and I were hunting on Buffalo Creek property (with a total of only 10 hunters or so at a time on more than 7,000 acres of land), we were relying on the natural movements of the deer heading from feeding to bedding areas.

   A movement in the grass and scattered shrubs under the pines about 60 yards out in front and to my left caught my eye. I spotted a big doe picking its way through the cover from left to right. I tried to find an opening in front of the doe, but as soon as the deer would move through a slight opening, the cover would immediately swallow it up again.

   I picked another area about 20 yards in front of the deer that wasnÕt quite as thick and when it stepped into the spot, I put the crosshairs of the Leupold 2.5-8x scope on the deerÕs shoulder and squeezed off a shot from the .270 Weatherby rifle. I thought I noticed the deer stumble slightly before disappearing in the grass, shrubs and pines.

    I glanced at my watch, which read 8:35, and decided to wait for an hour or so before contacting Johnnie Dale, because we were instructed to stay on stand if we hit a deer. We could harvest two bucks and a doe on this hunt, so I figured I might still see a buck.

    At 10:30 I called Johnnie and told him I shot at a doe. He said heÕd be over with super dog, Jake, to look for the deer. Johnnie relies on his beagle that was trained to track deer hit by his hunters.

   When my host arrived he told me to point out the spot where the deer was when I had shot. I did and he said he found a spot of blood and put Jake on the trail. The dog immediately picked up scent and after five minutes and covering 50 yards (at a 90-degree angle from where I last saw the deer) Johnnie waved his orange hat and I figured he found my deer. He had, and he called one of his guides to bring a vehicle to pick it up. My bullet hit a little farther back, but exited near the opposite shoulder.

    It was the second day of our three-day hunt at Buffalo Creek. My three hunting companions, Pete Lasavage, his 87-year-young father, Al, and Tim Reider had traveled from Pennsylvania to Buffalo Creek Guide Services.

   Besides Pennsylvania, of course, Pete and I had hunted in Maryland together quite a few times, but we had talked about trying North Carolina for years.

    The previous day (Monday) our group didnÕt see many deer. The unusually warm weather (the 70-degree highs were about 20 degrees warmer than normal) had the deer holed up it seemed. Pete and I hunted on stands that hadnÕt been hunted yet during the season, so we were optimistic about seeing a good buck.

   After 11 hours on stand we each saw one doe, but no shots were taken. When we got back to the lodge that evening we learned that Al had saw one running deer and Tim hadnÕt seen a thing. Others hunting at Buffalo Creek had done well, though. Ken Beeler, another Pennsylvanian, took two bucks, a five-point and a spike, minutes apart in the morning. A hunter from Florida took a five-point and a young hunter got a doe.

    After getting back to the lodge with my deer before lunch on Tuesday afternoon, I met Tim and Al. Tim had missed a doe and Al hadnÕt seen any deer. The guides hung up my deer and skinned and quartered it for the trip home the following day.

   For the afternoon hunt I was to be taken by one of the guideÕs to a stand on a hardwood ridge near where Pete was placed on stand Tuesday morning. Tim and Al decided to hunt wild hogs in Buffalo CreekÕs managed area on Tuesday afternoon.

   We touched bases with Pete, who told of missing a small buck in the morning. He didnÕt have a good shot but gave it a try. He elected to stay on the same stand and I spent the afternoon on the hardwood ridge at a nice point with two good shooting lanes. I didnÕt see a thing, though.

   When Pete and I got back to the lodge after dark we found out that Tim had taken a 125-pound hog and Al shot two. They were a couple of happy hunters. Tim said he wasnÕt in his tree stand more than 40 minutes when he heard some hogs moving through a thicket near a swamp. A big hog darted through an opening in the thick brush without offering a shot, but Tim was ready with his .243 when a second tried to cross the opening. Al killed two with one shot not long after.

   We were excited to get back to deer hunting on Wednesday morning, because a slight cold front was predicted for the night. It was a cooler, beautiful morning, but our group failed to see any deer. Johnnie said it would probably be a good afternoon, but we had to start the long trip back to Pennsylvania.

     Buffalo Creek Guide Service offers more than 7,000 acres of varying habitat for hunters after deer and wild hogs; hunters can even hunt bears in some areas.      I saw bear tracks in one area I hunted. Johnnie Dale and his guides maintain 263 baited tree and ground stands. On my hunt I hunted in tree stands overlooking cultivated fields, pine stands interspersed with shrubs and grass, and one day in a big woods setting.

   Johnnie operates a managed area at the Sampson Camp where only eight-point bucks or larger can be harvested. I wasnÕt in the area, but Tim and Al harvested their wild hogs in the managed area, and stated that the habitat was superb.

    The lodge at the Sampson Camp is very accommodating and our group stayed at the Six Runs Cabin, which was extremely comfortable, although secluded. Johnnie got the cabin in operation in 2008, and it can house up to four hunters and is fully furnished with kitchen, satellite TV and all the comforts of home. We elected to have our meals at the Sampson Lodge.

    JohnnieÕs staff takes complete care of harvested game, from skinning, quartering and packing for the trip home. For more information on hunting with Buffalo Creek Guide Service, contact Johnnie Dale at 1476 Old Moor Road, Selma, North Carolina 27576; 1-800-868-6265. See the ad within the pages of Woods & Waters magazine.

   We had fun, hunted a new area and got a lot of laughs on our hunt at Buffalo Creek. And after all, thatÕs what hunting is all about. We all vowed to return to the land of the pines once again.