The morning after our swamp walk in the dark, I awoke to crisp air and the rustling of fallen leaves. I rolled to my side, blinking bleary-eyed to see if anyone else was a-stir. The Colonel, of course. Standing not far away in the brisk air, peering right to left with a look of mildly disinterested concern on his face. Seeing my movement, he smiled and whispered that we were not alone. The Colonel has a perfectly Southern voice, you must note. Civilized and dignified, genteel even in pronouncing a curse. “About fifty yards to my left,” he said, “is a fellow with a shotgun. About sixty yards to my right I can see two more of them. Blaze orange hats. I can see ’em right now. Just there. I believe we’re camped in the middle of a deer run.”
A deer run. A massive, fairly organized deer hunt with radio-collared dogs and gun-racked trucks whose drivers wave radio aerials in attempts to pick up the location of their hounds. An article about it, featuring “Bobby Joe” and the two dogs “T-Bone Junior” and “Boy” — you cannot make that up — is here.
Sure enough, almost as soon as the Colonel made the announcement that we were in the middle of it a radio-collared and dog with the number “427” spray-painted on its flank came sniffing through our campsite, vainly looking for deer among our rucksacks and sleeping bags.
“A deer comes bounding through here and we’re liable to get shot,” the Colonel said, chuckling. “These fellows will likely unload at just about anything that twitches, and we’re right in the line of fire. I might need to get down low like you all.”
Of course he did no such thing. And eventually we all got up to join him in the killing zone, packing up our camp much to the glaring disapproval of the blaze-orange-wearing locals.
A couple more intrepid swamp adventurers were planning to meet us for the day, and on arrival they voiced some concern about the number of loaded guns in the area: there were surrounded, apparently, by rednecks with ammo to spare.
No matter, we thought. We’ll just head directly into the brush. Perhaps we’ll be in danger for the first couple hundred yards, but beyond that we’ll be in it too thick, and shotguns don’t have good mortal range.
Just as we were making our final preparations, the game warden pulled up. Told of our plans, he gently informed us that while he couldn’t stop us from going in, we’d be insane to do so. The deer run was scheduled to last all day, and it was focused on a single parcel of land: the one our route wandered around in. He seemed moderately surprised that we hadn’t been shot yet. “We’ve had three major hunting incidents this season,” the officer drawled. “One fella was killed last week. I ain’t gonna say they’s all crazy, mind, but a lotta these guys’ll just as soon shoot as look.”
Indeed. Change of plans, then. We decided to move our entire operation about a mile away, quickly locating a suitable looking route through a parcel not currently scheduled for deer slaughter.
Of the day’s hike there is not a great deal to report. It was less dense than what we’d been through during the night, and it was sure a lot easier to navigate under the light of day. Nobody fell, and we didn’t get lost.
I couldn’t take a whole lot of pictures. We were either moving or in stuff to thick to get much of an angle at what was going on. I did manage a few, though.
This first picture, for instance, is Col. Rembert directing our point man — the indefatigable North Carolinian David “Hounddog” Hamilton, who’s holding a really cool tanto-style machete — toward his next target destination.
We’re following a compass line, remember, so it really is a process of cutting a path to a point, taking a sighting to another, and then cutting yet another path. This second shot is taken in a nicely open area, where I was able to crash through to stand perpendicular to our path.
For the most part, though, things looked a lot like this last picture, which I took by holding the camera over my head.
Previous expeditions have included the fording of waters up to your chin, with a few near-drownings, but there’s been a drought in the area, and it’s pretty darn late in the year, so the “swamp” was dry. I didn’t complain. Getting home, I found my damage limited to a ruined pair of pants (the knee was so badly torn up I had it held together with duct-tape by the end), one broken buckle on my backpack (the Colonel stepped on it as we were first unloading; this, too, was subsequently held together with duct tape), numerous cuts and scrapes on my extremities, a fair amount of bruising up and down my shins, one attached tick in my thigh (thumbs crossed for no Lyme disease!), two embedded thorn tips that I had to dig out of my legs, and a whole bunch of sore muscles.
All in all, a successful trip, I’d say. And thoughts are already turning toward the next one: perhaps in the spring. That way, as the Colonel noted, there’ll be plenty of water and mud and, hopefully, a few less hunters.