Buck Feever

At the opening of Deer hunting season each year, the Georgia Game and Fish Department hosts a special Deer hunt for twelve to fourteen year olds on Sappelo Island which lies several miles off of the Georgia coast, between Savannah and the Florida state line. The state supplies the food and the deer, which have over run this small island. Drawings are held in August and the winners get to participate in a two day hunt in early November. Randy, my youngest son, and I had applied in August 1977, but weren’t drawn.

Randy, age 12, and his Sappelo Island Deer.

Applying in August, 1978, we were notified that we had been drawn and for us to report to the Game and Fish Department, Sappelo Island Ferry by 12:00 PM, on Friday, November 11, to be ferried to the island. We were told to bring our sleeping gear, tents were OK and for Randy to be ready to hunt by 2:30 PM, of that day.

Excitement reined in our house the weeks before the hunt. Randy didn’t have a rifle so we went to Oshman’s and bought him a Remington 660 bolt action, carbine, in .243 caliber. This wouldn’t “kick” him too much and with a Weaver 3X9 scope he would be able to score a hit at over two hundred yards. We added two boxes of Remington, 100 grain, .243 bullets and the entire bill came to less than $250. We sighted it in at the River Bend Gun Club and the rifle and scope shot right on the “money”. At that time this little rifle was Remington’s “loss leader” and today, 30 years later it is a much sought after item by collectors.

The week before the big hunt on Sappelo Island, excitement continued to rein at our house. I had returned home from a quail hunt with a hair raising story of a hand to hand struggle with a wounded deer, making Randy doubly excited!

Driving to Savannah and on to the ferry landing, we were both excited. We had been told that cars weren’t allowed on the island and all transportation was mule pulled wagons. When I was a young boy, mules and wagons were the main means of transportation in rural Falls County, Texas and having made many trips in one, I was glad Randy was going to get to experience this also.

The ferry ride was a pleasing two to three mile trip across a small bay to the island. The ferry was full of excited boys and girls and equally excited Dads, at the time no Moms were allowed. We were met by the mule drawn wagons and the smell of leather harnesses and mule sweat brought back to me memories of a long ago, happy time.

Taken to our camping spots, we were told to “make camp” and report back to the check in station in thirty minutes to get our individual hunting area assignments and rules for the hunt. The tent was up in record time and we hurried to the meeting area.

We would hunt in Area 4, the fourth father/son team to be unloaded off of the first wagon. There were five wagons all told, 25 hunters in total. The Game Warden in charge told us, “Shooting time would begin at 4:00 PM and pick up would be made whenever the teams were able to get back to the roads. All hunting was to be from blinds, which each hunting party will have to build for themselves. No, absolutely no, stalking of deer. When you shoot your deer, don’t gut it but carry it out to the road and await pick up. Examination and gutting of the deer will be handled by the State. Get your guns. Don’t load up until you get in your blind. Good luck and good hunting.”

As we got off of the wagon, the kids were quiet in anticipation of the hunt. Our spot was about one-half mile square, with a creek, with only a trickle of water in the bottom, running west toward the small bay. There was a rough, wood bridge over the creek and we found plenty of Deer tracks on either side of it. About sixty yards out from the bridge we made our blind out of long marsh grass and dead limbs, and our area of opportunity for a shot was, clockwise, from 9:00 to 3:00 o’clock.

Pulling two bigger logs into our blind for seats, I pull out a Tom Clancy book, “The Hunt For Red October”, and begin to read, when Randy almost yells, “I see a Deer.” I try to give him some last minute instruction, “Aim a little high and take a deep breath and”, Bam! His .243 shatters the stillness. “Dad, I don’t know if I hit him or not, but he had horns,” Randy exclaimed through his ragged breathing.

“Let’s go find him Son.” We searched for over and hour, until dark, and no deer, no blood, it looked like a clean miss. Randy was deflated.

Waiting for the pick up, we got the last wagon and it had four deer on it, the lucky hunters telling of their accomplishments, just as hunters have since the beginning. “See any deer?” a boy asked. “Yeah, I missed one,” said Randy dejectedly. Then the young boy surprised me by saying, “Hey, don’t worry, you’ll get one tomorrow.” The deer were deposited and the biologists went to work, making quick work gutting them and getting the organs out for study.

The steaks were excellent and we went to bed with full tummies. Laying in the tent, one more time, I went over the basics of rifle shooting with Randy, finishing what I had been interrupted in saying, “Aim a little high, take a deep breath and let out half of it and your scope’s cross hairs should settle on your target and then squeeze the trigger. Don’t jerk it! You should never know when it fires. Sleepily, “OK, Dad.”

Up the next morning, we eat breakfast in the dark and get on the wagon for the trip to the hunting area. The sun is peeking over the eastern horizon as we get into our blind. Reassuring Randy, I tell him that we should have no problem getting his deer since we saw so many tracks yesterday afternoon. Back to “Red October” and Randy whispers, “Dad, I see a spike.” “Relax and breathe deep, let half of it out and squeeze gently,” I whisper abbreviated shooting orders. Bam! I jump having been concentrating on Randy’s trigger finger.

“Dad, he’s down,” comes raggedly out of Randy. I get up and get out of the blind and say, “Let’s go get him, Son.” “I’m right behind you,” Randy says, takes two steps out of the blind and falls to the ground. “Dad, I’m so nervous I can’t move.” Acute buck fever has set in. “Randy, we’ve got all day, just lay there ‘till you feel OK.” Shortly he gets up saying, “Dad, I don’t think I can breathe.” “Get to moving Son and it will go away,” I say, laughing inwardly.

Randy has shot a nice two and a half year old, spike, buck, right through the heart, perfect shot placement. Dad is proud and happy for him. We take a picture, and then, I stick my finger into the bullet hole, get some blood on it and swipe the finger across his forehead, the sign of a successful first kill! No more sulking around the camp, he can strut around and tell of his accomplishment, just as hunters have since the beginning.

Randy still uses the little .243 with the same scope and, at last count, has killed twenty-six deer with it over the years.