by Kelly Venning
Charleston Southern University and University of South Carolina Sumter
I was born with a passion for the outdoors. My father raised his daughters to be the outdoorsmen he always dreamed of having. My sister and I grew up in nature, learning how to hunt, fish, and live off the land. There were many years growing up when all we could afford to eat was the deer we had harvested in the season prior. I believe the skills instilled in us in our early years are the reason we value nature not only as a resource but also as a place of retreat and prayer. I still love to hunt and be outdoors, but part of me misses the “good ole’ days” of simple hunting and fishing—the days before technology took over every aspect of our lives.
I grew up standing on the top of a dogbox beside my daddy watching as the dogs ran the deer out the woods just enough for us to get a shot. We drove around with the old “beep-beep” tracking boxes hanging out the window, propped between the side-mirror and the frame of the door. We talked on CB radios, and as kids, we would feel important when our daddies let us answer “10-4” on the radio. Dog driving in Greeleyville was a big part of our weekend routines from September all through January 1st, and the memories I have taken with me as a young hunter have made a lasting impact on my life.
About fifteen years later, I am just as passionate about hunting as I was then. I grew up before hunting and fishing became complicated and surrounded unnecessary technology. The new technologies used today seem to take the challenge out of hunting and fishing that has driven the passion of outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen for years. I am thankful I learned to hunt and fish without such technology, because even today, I prefer the simple way of enjoying nature and searching for fish and game. For a few deer seasons now, I periodically do walking hunts; I simply get up, grab some gear, a bottle of water, and a shotgun, and I walk the woods. Not only is this a great form of exercise, but it allows me to learn the woods I hunt and see things I would not see dog driving or sitting in a deer stand.
On one particular hunt, I decided to start on the far-right corner of the property near the road. I walked a complete circle, through the flooded trails, and across to the line of woods. After fighting briars and deep water, I decided to lean my gun on the tree and take a break. That is when I saw two young deer out the corner of my eye. My stand was not far away, so I knew they were probably the twins I had been watching all season. The deer walked past me into the cutdown I just came from and went on their way. About a week or so later, I decided to do the same thing: I grabbed my gear and headed out to the area we had been seeing signs of large bucks. As soon as I reached the area I was looking for, I could smell him. If you are an experienced hunter, you develop a strong sense of smell and can tell when an animal has been nearby. I found fresh sign and followed it into the woods. From there, I followed this buck’s scent and sign like a beagle trailing a deer through the woods for about three hours, and I finally realized I was starting to circle. While I may not have harvested the buck on that hunt, it was an incredible experience to track him and follow his path. I learned a lot on that hunt about deer and their sign, and to me that is the best and simplest way of hunting.
While these hunts were memorable, my favorite hunt came a little later in the season. On November 21, 2020, just a few days before my twentieth birthday, I set out on a morning hunt. In seasons past, I had not been much of a morning hunter, but since a morning sit earlier in the season proved successful, I had hunted much more in the morning this season than most. On that November morning, there was not much activity on my hunt except turkeys, so I decided to take a break for breakfast and a nap. After my nap, my sister arrived at the house with my nephew, ready for an evening hunt. I, too, planned to hunt that evening, but I decided last minute to keep it simple by taking a dove stool, a bottle of water, and my granddaddy’s old 12 gauge to the cutdown. I walked, unfamiliar with the layout of this area in particular, and found a spot to sit. The spot I picked did not satisfy me, so I moved about twenty feet over to the right. Sitting there, I had a clear view of a lane to my left and right as well as a lane straight in front of me. As I played with a stick and swatted mosquitoes, I imagined the perfect scenario for the hunt: if the deer would walk out coming from behind me in the woods on the left towards the cutdown, I could get a good shot and it should be easy to find. Just then, I heard noise to my right, so I looked and saw nothing. Just as I scanned my surroundings, my sights laid on a large silhouette of a deer to my left about twenty-five yards, exactly where I had just imagined one being. Naturally, at first, I could not believe it was real. Then I picked my gun up and took aim. As soon as I saw antlers, I shot. I immediately stood because I saw the deer fall when I shot, but he was not there now. That is when the ringing stopped, and I could hear him running in the woods behind me.
It all happened within less than a minute. I heard the noise, I saw him, I shot, and I called my dad. I was shaking and could barely hold the phone as I rushed my dad to get there as soon as possible because I was so excited. Tears rolled down my face, and I did not even realize it. The hunting scenario I had just imagined played out almost exactly how I imagined with the only difference being the deer was facing a different direction. As soon as my dad arrived, we turned the dogs loose, and even though there was no blood, I was sure of my shot. The dogs could smell him, but they could not figure out exactly where he was. It was about an hour later when I was on the other side of the woods when I heard my dad say, “they got him!” I cried and praised God as I ran through the woods at full speed, limbs and spider webs hitting me in the face. Once I approached my buck, I realized he was a big deer, but one side of his antlers was broken probably due to a fight with another buck. Still, I drug the deer to the truck with the biggest smile on my face and tears in my eyes.
We loaded the deer and headed to the processor. It was not an enormous, trophy buck, but I was excited and proud none-the-less. As I walked in and filled out the processing tag for the deer, I noticed a young boy grinning from ear to ear. He had just harvested a nice eight-point—his first deer ever. He proceeded to tell me his hunting story, and I enjoyed seeing the excitement on his face. After he finished, I gave him a high-five and told him my story. His father asked me if it had been my first deer, and I replied, “nope, but it was my favorite hunt. Just me, my grandfather’s ole twelve gauge, a stool, and the woods. No corn, no tree-stand, no camera.”
To this day I still cannot believe that hunt happened the way it did. It was an incredible reenactment of the same scenario I imagined, and when we found my trophy, I was beyond excited. My point is the best hunts are not when you know you are going to kill a monster buck you saw on your camera. The best hunts are when you are hunting with little technology and there is opportunity for amazing and unexpected occurrences. The best hunts are not always when you get the trophy buck, and the best fishing adventures are not always when you catch the biggest or most fish, but the best time spent outdoors is about the memories that make hunting and fishing a true passion.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.