The lush food plot I was perched over glistened like an effervescent oasis, juxtaposed against a bland backdrop of leafless buck brush and murky conifers. That it was only 30 degrees punctuated the fact that even the Deep South is not immune to the Witch of Winter’s icy clutches.
It was mid-January and the Alabama whitetail rut was just heating up. I leaned back in a comfortable chair centered in an elevated box blind and smiled. This was my sixth consecutive annual venture from my home state of Minnesota to the Deep South, and I still had a hard time fathoming such a late rut. But the signs were there to remind me: fresh rubs and tended scrape lines; small bucks running helter-skelter, chins hugging the ground; nervous does dashing between curtains of heavy broom grass.
But even though the chase was on and the conditions ripe, this was the final evening of my hunt and an unpunched tag remained in my wallet. Hunting buddies Brian Lovett and Bart Landsverk were obviously disinterested in savoring the hunt. Each had tagged a decent 8-point buck the first morning and was casually adhering to the lease’s management plan by culling surplus does.
I’d heard all the usual pokes: “Maybe if you’d stay awake on stand…;” and, “You must smell real bad …;” and my personal favorite, “You’re old.” So far no one had mentioned my “Alabama Curse.”
I was hunting Whitetail Institute of North America’s lease, which provides a proving ground for their high-quality, extensive line of food plot products. It’s a whitetail wonderland, custom made to take advantage of late-season hunting, when natural food sources are somewhat depleted. But despite my persistence, I’d killed only one buck in the 6 years I’d been going down there, a weird looking bugger with a crab claw looking appendage on the end of his right antler, and that was during my first trip. I hadn’t seen a shooter since, even though the other hunters in camp had little difficulty filling their tags.
While Alabama in January is warm by Yankee standards, the crisp mornings had me reaching for my Under Armour. Typically, we’d sit in box blinds during the morning, grab a noon lunch and then head back out for the afternoon. The green fields were doe magnets and active most of the day, with rut-inspired bucks lurking nearby, reluctant to expose themselves during daylight hours.
An edgy doe darted across the back edge of the food plot and disappeared just as quickly. I leaned forward in my chair and placed a hand on my rifle. I’d been on stand a couple of hours, and other than this lone doe and another with twin fawns, it had been quiet. I relaxed a bit and glassed the grassy fields adjacent to the food plot. I’d been focusing on a thin row of trees that bordered the back edge of the fields, running between the food plot I was on and another a few hundred yards to my right. It seemed logical that this would be the preferred travel route of bucks checking the food plots for does.
I was reaching for a drink of water when I caught movement on the far side of the treeline, antlers! I eased my rifle up to get a better look through the scope, and caught only occasional glimpses of a buck as he walked perpendicular to my blind just off the far end of the food plot, 200 yards away. I followed his progress through the scope, hoping he would stop in an opening so I could get a shot. Then he was gone. I lowered the rifle and cursed under my breath.
I cursed again when a startled doe darted out onto the green field. She must have been bedded in the broom grass. My breathing quickened as the buck cut the end of the field, nose low, trailing the doe. I jerked the rifle back to my shoulder and bleated loudly. The buck pulled to a halt and raised his head. The bullet reached him before he had time to react.
I sat back, pumped my fist and let out my breath. The Alabama Curse had been lifted. As I climbed down out of my blind I smiled, and wondered if it would be another 5 years before I could pull the trigger on another Alabama buck.