Bad Day At Ft. Campbell

What do you do when your long-time friend and hunting partner has a bad day
in the deer woods? Do you offer encouragement and moral support…..or do you collapse
in a fit of laughter? Well, here’s what happened to two Tennessee bowhunters at Ft. Campbell last year……..

By Keith Jimmerson
Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to get our
of bed, even if it is hunting season and
you are hunting over a deer run that
looks like the Indianapolis 500. My long-time
hunting partner Don Wagner (who, in
my opinion, happens to be one of the best
hunters in the state) had one of those mornings
this past season. I have seen Don hunt whole
seasons without screwing up as much as he
did that one morning.
We were hunting the Ft. Campbell military reservation
for deer. Ft. Campbell has
plenty of deer and plenty of big bucks, but not
many of the big bucks are killed in the bow-
hunting areas. A hunter has to be drawn for
his choice of area. and we had discovered that
we got our choice only about one-third of the
time. This results in a lot of hunters hunting
areas they are not accustomed to. Also, no
pre-season scouting is allowed; scouting must
be done during hunting time. These factors
add up to a big advantage for the deer and they
are also the reason why the bowhunting areas
have more than their share of big bucks.
This year Don and I had approached hunting
Ft. Campbell from a different angle. We
applied for one of the less desirable bowhunting
areas and we got it. Our area had plenty of
deer, but it was smaller, more remote, and
was mostly pines and overgrown fields. We
spent the first two weekends learning the lay
of the land and patterning the deers’ movement.
This was made difficult by the honeysuckle vines,
which were up to 9 feet high in
places with deer trails going through them.
We quickly discovered most of the other
hunters were hunting logging roads and the
edges of this year’s clearcuts. We also discovered
that the good bucks were avoiding these
areas until after dark.

It was our second weekend of scouting
Light rain and cool temperatures ! The
weather was perfect for deer hunting.

When we found the spot we wanted to hunt. It
was an area which was extra thick in vines
with a lot of saplings growing up between the
pines. As I wedged my way through, I popped
into a clearin?g instead of honeysuckte, this
opening -had been claimed by thick, low-lying
creeper vines, leaving a relatively clear area
roughly 30 yards wide and 80 yards long. The
saplings growing in the opening were torn all
to pieces, gouged, rubbed and bent over. It
was a remote area with buck sign everywhere.

Don and I began picking and setting up spots.
Don has always hunted for the big buck and I
have always hunted for deer. I ended up at the
far end of the clearing, back in the-woods
about two trees off the edge. I had trails in
abundance and could shoot into the edge of
the clearing with ease. Don was 100 yards
away in the thickest part with buck sign all
over and an exceptionally heavy trail winding
underneath his big pine tree.

The following weekend (with expectations
high) we woke to a light rain and cooler temperatures
(mid-30s). We hurriedly ate breakfast and
talked about what a perfect day it was
for bowhunting. As we approached our area in
the dark, Don told me to cut by his stand on
my way out if I had any luck. I wished him
luck and angled off to my stand. With dawn
came the deer, but they were all too small or
slightly out of range until 8:00 a.m. when a
plump doe crossed my trail at 10 yards. By the
time I field dressed her, rigged her to my drag
sling and dragged her by (within 30 yard+)
Don’s treestand, it was near 9:00. I gave Don
the high sign as I went by and he returned it,
but he looked beat. His camouflage paint,
even at that distance, looked streaked and his
appearance was that of a man “tuckered out,”

Don scaled the tree again and again, until
he was wringing wet with sweat.

I knew a logging road lay a quarter mile
south of my position, so my deer and I headed
that way. As I came upon the logging road, I
met two of the base MP’s who double as game
wardens. After checking my permit and license,
one of the MP’s offered to help me drag
my deer to the truck; After thanking him, I
drove to the checking station, hung my deer
and fixed lunch. Around 2:00 p.m- I headed
back to the area to wait on darkness and my
hunting partner. As I approached the area, I
saw Don sprawled out with his gear fanned
out around him. Knowing Don’s tenacity, I
Figured he had gotten a deer, probably a-big

“Where’s the deer?” I yelled as I pulled
up. Don slowly straightened up, accepted the
cold drink I offered him and proceeded to tell
me his sad tale.

Oops. . .

Early that morning, after we parted to find
our spots, Don worked his way over to the big
pine tree and realized he had left his tree step
pouch off his gear belt. I was astonished to
hear this, since Don is the most meticulously
organized person I know, with a separate
compartment for all of his gear. When he
comes down from his tree at dark, he puts
every piece of gear in its particular place, the
same place every time, his rope neatly folded,
his tree stand strapped securely to his back.
This may not seem like such a feat to some of
you but to me it has always seemed like a major
accomplishment. I am always disorganized and
while I usually have everything I
need, I have to hunt for it. Anyway, after I quit
laughing over Don forgetting his steps, he
went on with his story.

Poor Don had hugged that wet pine tree
and pulled himself up toward the limbs 15 feet
above his head. Once there, he discovered
these low limbs on his pine tree were dead and
wouldn’t support his weight. After another
five feet of hugging and grunting, he reached
the limb below the spot planned for his tree
stand. Using his rope, he pulled his tree stand
up into the pine. Holding the stand with one
hand and the pine tree with the other, he
awkwardly unfolded his stand in the dark. As he
reached around the tree to pull his securing

chain into position, he heard something fall
out of his pouch and crash to the ground be-
low. He hooked the chain to the stand and
looked down. Right then he knew he would
have to make a trip down, because he saw his
flashlight shining on the ground like a warning
beacon for all the deer to see.

Luck. You can’t define it, but you know when
you have it…and when you don’t.

After securing his belt to the tree, Don
started back down the pine tree. Don now
claims climbing down a big, wet pine tree is
harder than climbing up it. He had planned to
rest once he reached the ground, but the now
pink sky urged him on. Turning off the flashlight,
he quickly took hold of the only-too-familiar
wet pine tree and started huffing his
way back up. When he reached the dead
limbs at 15 feet, he knew he had to stop for
a rest. even though time was precious.
Knowing better, he straddled the best-looking
limb to get a breather and rest his weary arms.

Just as he was about to start back up, his limb
broke and he slid down two feet before he was
able to stop. He probably would not have
stopped then if his favorite shirt had not
snagged on the limb stub and brought him to
an abrupt halt. Holding onto the tree with one
hand, he managed to jerk his shirt free of the
stub with his other. The resulting sound told
him he would have some sewing to do that
night. As Don wearily pulled himself onto his
stand, he could hear a commotion to his
right. Breathing hard, he saw a big buck right
on him. It was swinging its rack against sap-
lings in its way and grunting as it came. Even
as Don lifted his bow from its hook on the
tree, the buck was moving past his shooting
lanes. Grabbing an arrow, pulling his bow
back, Don tried to concentrate on his last lane
where the buck now was. Releasing the arrow.
Don felt satisfied with the resulting thud his
shot produced. The buck tore out of there low
to the ground and with no hesitation. Still.
Don felt good about his shot.

Shortly afterwards, Don saw me dragging
my doe and gave me the high sign, hoping
I could confirm his hit. Don once again tried
to see where his arrow should be sticking in
the ground covered with blood, but could not
locate it. Maybe it was still in the buck. When
he looked back up and realized I was gone
with my deer, he knew he would have to come
down from the tree himself to confirm his hit.
He knew if he hurried, he might get to the
truck with his deer before I left for the check-
ing station. Pushing away from the tree, Don
jumped the last eight feet, only to land in an
ankle twisting position. Moaning, he limped
over to his shooting lane. There was no blood
on the trail, only his arrow buried almost to
the nock in a rotten stump!

As Don worked on freeing his arrow, he
looked up to see a couple of six-pointers
watching his progress. Hurrying back to his
tree, Don slowly climbed once more into his
position. He settled his bruised and weary
body into a semi-comfortable seat. Working
its way toward him was a buck that was even
bigger than the one he had missed, and this
time he was ready. As the deer worked its way
closer and closer to Don’s shooting lanes, it
seemed to get more and more skittish until it
raised its nose, curled its upper lip in a sneer,
flipped its tail, and was gone. Don knew he
had worked up a sweat that morning, but this
deer was upwind of him. Just then he noticed
movement downwind of where the buck had
been. In a moment, he was able to discern that
it was an MP following the trail on which I had
taken out my deer. Don whistled the MP over.
Unhooking his stand, Don lowered his gear
from the tree and climbed down.

Apologizing for ruining his hunt, the MP
explained he had hunted this area himself and
was back-tracking to see where my deer had
been killed. Don gathered up his gear (every-
thing in its proper place), hiked out of the
woods and wearily lay down to wait for me.
As Don finished his story I tried to summon up
all the sympathy I could for my hunting partner
and good friend, but I’m afraid his
feelings were hurt by my falling to the ground
and rolling with laughter. Don’t feel too sorry
for Don, though, because he doesn’t have
many mornings like that one. He ended the
season with three bow deer kills, one of them
a huge 8-pointer that he rattled in, to go with
the 10-pointer he took the season before.
But even for such consistently successful
hunters as Don, sometimes it just doesn’t pay
to get out of bed. >>——>

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