Any trip is better when it includes some hunting.
That’s an extra reason why I was excited by the idea of visiting my step-daughter, Shannon, and her husband, Tim, in Virginia for Thanksgiving. They live in Southampton County, an area with plenty of whitetail deer. And they can hunt right behind their house.
The trip itinerary was loaded, deer hunting, Thanksgiving with relatives and a visit to USNA, my college alma mater that I haven’t seen in 42 years. With luck we would even sneak in a quick Washington tour.
Granted the hunting would be limited to a tree stand at the west end of their 15 acre farm, but they are adjacent to a large wooded parcel owned by a paper company, so deer are present.
Our midnight arrival at Dulles International was a rough start. My shotgun remained in SF, not to arrive until the AM on Monday. The temp was below freezing and the wind was howling. It took us about an hour to reach the rental car lot.
I had forgotten about the hazards of navigating around the Washington area. The iPhone GPS was a bit confusing and on the poorly lighted highways we made one wrong turn after another. Add to that the surprise toll road and we had all the ingredients of a travel nightmare.
The 3.8 mile drive to the hotel took about an hour. At 3:30 AM we finally settled in. I nearly blew a gasket the next morning when the United Airlines luggage hotline told me they’d get my missing luggage to me, “in four to six hours.”
By about 11AM, we were finally underway to Annapolis and a quick visit to the “Yard.”
After more than 42 years, I made my return. Things do change, like the addition of a metal detector scan at the gate for all visitors. Had to return to the car to drop off my Swiss Army knife while Linda waited impatiently.
The Navy Yard at Annapolis has changed, but felt about the same as it did when I was a Mid. The gray walls of Bancroft Hall were no more inviting, but the Midshipmen were basically the same and I felt at home walking amongst them.
Even picked up a few souvenirs at the Midshipman Store before departing. Linda was more impressed with Annapolis than the Academy. It is very quaint and also very old with lots of history.
By 3:30 PM we were on 95 South (along with everybody else) heading to Southampton County. We arrived at Tim and Shannon’s about 7:30 PM on Monday.
The weather went from cold to wet. Two days of constant rain made my initial efforts to hunt a bit challenging. Since Tim and Shannon are not hunters, I needed to find some VA hunting regulations. A Tuesday trip to Walmart produced. Surprise, no license required for the landowner or immediate family in order to hunt deer on one’s own property. (I took that to include “step” parents.)
I knew in advance that I would be limited to shotgun for hunting deer. That’s the law in Virginia. I used my Beretta O/U with a slug in the upper barrel and turkey load in the lower. Not sure if the turkey loads were important, but that was my choice. Squirrels were also legal and I had several opportunities, but passed on them.
A 5 gallon bucket, purchased at “The Tractor Store” became my interim hunting seat until the tree stand could be erected. On Wednesday morning I was hunting shortly after first light. Although a bit wet, I would not have surprised me if a deer showed up, but none did.
Tim had purchased the stand from amazon.com and chose it based upon Amazon’s rating system. They purchased the Gear-guide 16 foot 2-man strand rated for up to 500 pounds. The instructions suggested that three people raise the stand. It took a couple days and two trips to town but I finally got it up against a suitable tree – by myself – on Friday.
Our Thanksgiving dinner would be traditional. Tim brined a twelve-pound bird, in preparation for the seven-hour smoking process. We sat on buckets and hunted for an hour at first light on Thanksgiving morning. The roosters were crowing, crows cawing and goats bleating. No sign of deer.
I managed to assemble the tree stand, but not hoist it. Any more hunting was put off until Friday. The turkey, dressing, gravy, salad and apple pie hit the spot. Friday morning I was back on the bucket. Morning temps were in the 20′s, but I had plenty of clothing.
Linda and I took morning walks each day and met a few of the local hunters along the way. We even spotted a few interesting tracks.
In the photo above, the cornfield, pivot and thick woods show the reasons why whitetail deer are doing well in Southampton County. A variety of deer foods, water to create habitat and escape cover are essential.
It was nice to see the flycatchers, cardinals, king-birds, red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks that were present. The crows were loud. No deer again on Friday. After another trip to Lowe’s, I finally finished the assembly and hoisting of the stand.
On Saturday, Tim and I climbed the ladder and sat patiently. Still no deer. An interesting twist in Virginia deer hunting is the use of hounds. We heard dogs many times while hunting, but we didn’t see any until Saturday.
The technique, turn the hounds loose at one location and let them sniff their way through the thick briars to put any bedded deer in motion. Most of the dogs were beagles, but I also spotted a couple odd looking mutts.
I’d spoken with several local hunters that Linda and I met on the roadsides while walking. Several of them were cruising roads searching for their dogs. The dogs were fitted with radio collars and the dog handlers used hand- held and truck-mounted receivers to keep track of the dog’s location. It appeared that the dogs tended to stay out all or at least most of the day.
The hunters were on stand and waiting for the disturbed deer to pass by. We saw the results as occasionally a truck would pass by with a deer in the bed. We got word of some nice bucks being taken.
On Saturday afternoon a pair of beagles walked under my tree stand and headed towards Tim and Shannon’s chickens. As they closed in on the free-ranging chickens I feared that something bad was about to happen.
After failing to catch the beagles and deter a dog-chicken conflict, I elected to look for somebody more familiar with the problem. When one of the neighbors volunteered to help, we managed to pull a chicken out of the mouth of a beagle. We’re not sure if the chicken survived, but we did find the beagle owner.
The day ended at sunset and another beagle under our stand. The last one caused no trouble. An interesting law in Virginia closes hunting on Sunday, so Saturday was the last chance to hunt before we left.
Sunday was spent relaxing and visiting Williamsburg. I celebrated the hunt by ordering a game pot pie at a Colonial Inn. The meats included venison, rabbit and duck. It was excellent, in fact, I’m planning to look for the recipe.
Monday we drove back to DC and managed to visit the Washington Monument and others - something Linda had never done.
The trip didn’t produce a whitetail, but it did lay the groundwork or a future opportunity.
I wouldn’t claim to be an expert after a five-day visit, but my impression after a few days of hunting was positive. In Southampton County, populations of deer, turkey and other game are enhanced by the summer rains and crops that include corn and soy beans. From the hunter’s prospective (in clear contrast to California, where game is spread out) habitat in this Eastern states has potential to hold game at densities that enhance hunting on small parcels. In addition, land prices appear to be moderate, making ownership potentially affordable for hunters.