Memorable hunting trip includes being saddled with a most unusual partner
Ed Zieralski, San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
December 7, 2002
BUCHANNON, W. Va. – As a hunting partner, she was definitely unique.
A strong, tireless walker, she had great ears that heard things before I saw them and eyes that alerted me to wild turkeys before I heard them.
I told her straight out that I was married, and that this relationship really couldn't go any further than our walk and stalk for white-tailed deer.
That didn't stop her from chewing on my backpack, whacking me from behind and blocking my path, and, on more than one occasion, nearly knocking me over the bank and into a dark and dank West Virginia hollow.
My hunting partner on my last day of hunting here, you see, was Fancy, a frisky 4-year-old farm filly who looked at me as her new best friend.
At first I thought she would be a great decoy as we walked, and I hunted. The deer would see Fancy and figure the big filly was out for her daily stroll. Like Jeremiah Johnson, I'd peak around the side of the horse and bag a 10-point buck.
But that was before Fancy quit walking and began harassing me like a card-carrying member of PETA. That's when I realized she was in cahoots with the deer. I was on Animal Farm. It was a conspiracy of Orwellian proportions.
I tried everything to shake Fancy. I gave her most of the food in my backpack, which was a huge sacrifice for a big man who needs lots of fuel.
That only drew us closer.
I mentioned Bob Baffert's name. After all, she was a quarter horse, and I thought the mere mention of racing's top trainer might send her trotting off. Pure folly. She reared back and seemed to laugh.
Ah yes, Mr. Ed and Fancy. What a fate, I thought.
Finally, I discovered the farmer's pond, which was encircled by a barbed wire fence. I unlatched the gate, went in and locked myself in.
Fancy circled for a while, hung out and grazed grass that stuck through the new-fallen snow. Finally, the filly gave up and bounded up the hill for the barn.
And suddenly, I was alone on a 100-acre West Virginia farm owned by Lynn and Sheryl Marteney. Their son, Jarrod, is a partner with Shon Butler in Four Seasons Adventures, a new guide service that offers a wide array of hunts and fishing.
As I walked, I noticed the quilt of fallen, musky leaves I treaded over the previous day now had a soft blanket of white. Hunting conditions couldn't have been more perfect, I thought. Deer that were invisible the day before in cover now had lost their camouflage against the white backdrop.
I'd spent the previous day on the Stonewall Jackson Lake State Wildlife Area, public land, where I opened the deer season with the rest of West Virginia, half of Pennsylvania and some of Virginia and Maryland.
West Virginia opened its season a week early this year on purpose in order to draw those hunters in to take care of the state's overpopulation of deer. They also coerced a Californian, who was asked often, "What the heck are you doing here?"
It was part of a trip I arranged during a summer conference sponsored by the Outdoor Writers Association of America. The offer of hunting white-tailed deer and staying at the new Stonewall Resort was too good to pass up.
As I arrived on Sunday afternoon, a 10-point buck and doe grazed near one of the fairways of the resort's new golf course. An 8-point buck and more does stood on a bluff above them.
When they ran off, their long tails swept behind them, and I noted how graceful the whitetails are, how magnificent they are with those tails flopping behind them.
I thought: Mule deer, they're hard rockers, heavy metal-types ready to rumble over chaparral, boulders, desert washes and steep draws. But whitetails, they're Mozart, a ballet on hooves as they finesse their way through thick cover. I love them both, but there's something magical about the whitetail. Plus the woods, the smells of the woods, anyway, took me back to my youth in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
I hunted hard for three days, but never again saw a live buck. I did see a dead 6-pointer that a 66-year old grandfather dragged out from two miles deep in the 18,000-acre Stonewall Jackson Lake Wildlife Management Area.
On my first morning after sitting for a few hours tucked away in some rocks, I heard turkeys behind me. Curious, I slid over the ridge to get a look, and as I did, a shot rang out below me and to the left.
Turned out the old-timer I spotted as soon as I took my position shortly before dawn had fired the shot.
He told me later that he was a former coal miner, living now with black lung disease. He said he shot a small spike and thought about leaving it. But then he eyeballed me, seemed to think twice about what he said, and offered:
"My boys will be 'round later to help me drag it out," he said, lumbering up the mountain past me.
I stayed until nearly dark. The old coal miner never came back.
For information about hunting West Virginia, call (304) 558-2771 or visit http://www.wvhunt.com. Stonewall Resort may be reached at (304) 269-7400 or http://www.stonewallresort.com. And Four Seasons Adventures is at (304) 472-0300 or http://www.fourseasonsadventures.com.
Jeff "Jesse" James - Owner of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors
You can always tell who's in 2nd place by who's whining and crying the most. - Old hockey coach.
Dum spiramus tuebimur
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