January 24, 2013

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Meredith Boutwell’s run of good luck ended when Mother Nature decided to provide the absolutely worst kind of day for deer hunting during the recent Becoming an Outdoors-Woman hunt at the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area near Greensboro.

Boutwell’s good luck started when she was picked as a replacement hunter for one of the dozen ladies who were chosen through a draw to be able to hunt the former State Cattle Ranch land.

Last year, I served as guide for Jane Ellis in what turned out to be a memorable hunt on a perfect day for hunting deer.

Ellis was using a borrowed gun, but she had some range time to get used to shooting and what it takes to make an accurate shot. We talked about gun safety and then settled in for the afternoon. We watched a red-tailed hawk swoop around and about, looking for an afternoon snack.

Ellis noticed something that “looks like a dog,” which turned out to be a large coyote, also on the prowl for a meal. Although we weren’t going to shoot it, I thought the coyote would be a good subject for practice. I wanted Ellis to become comfortable looking through the scope to find the target animal. After a little adjustment, Ellis soon announced she could see the coyote and it was a “big one.”

That episode lulled me into a sense of overconfidence because I was basically a greenhorn guide. There have been very few people I’ve hunted with who needed coaching, so I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

As the afternoon turned into prime hunting time, Ellis and I scanned the field before us. She spotted movement to the left and whispered there was a deer and it had “horns,” which deer don’t really have. They have antlers, but that’s a story for another day.

What happened next was every guide’s nightmare. A beautiful, eight-point buck walked into the field and stopped to freshen a scrape by pawing the ground and rearing on its back legs to add scent to the overhanging “licking” branch.

Just to see a buck work a scrape is a treat, but this was one fine deer. My heart rate zoomed as I talked Ellis through the procedure to slowly raise the gun and put the crosshairs just behind the deer’s shoulder and squeeze the trigger.

The coyote episode had caused me to become complacent, but I quickly realized Ellis was having trouble with the eye relief on the scope.

Despite my labored breathing, Ellis wasn’t a bit panicked when she announced she couldn’t find the buck in the scope.

I tried to get her to make every move I could think of to get her sight picture improved except for the right one – turning the scope’s magnification all the way down to 3X.

By the time Ellis got the buck in the scope, he had freshened three scrapes and was walking over the hill and out of sight.

Despite being on the verge of collapse, I managed to console Ellis that she had done the right thing by not taking a shot she was not comfortable with. I was the one who really needed comfort. A wallhanger had just walked all the way down the field in front of us, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Fast forward to the 2013 hunt, and Ellis was fortunate enough to get drawn for the hunt again. She asked that I guide her again and that we sit in the same stand. I envisioned a rerun of last year, only with a totally different outcome that included loads of photos with Ellis and her trophy deer.

I asked Chris Smith with the State Lands Division, which oversees the Forever Wild property where the hunt took place, if any big deer had been taken during their youth and disabled hunts that year.

Smith said that no big deer had been taken and that he had seen a trophy buck no farther than a half-mile from our previous hunting spot.

Both Ellis and I looked forward to another chance at the big buck. Since last year’s hunt, Ellis had acquired her very own rifle and had done some hunting. She was prepared and so was I.

Then the visions of grandeur disappeared with one message received from Sylvia Payne, BOW coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Ellis had contracted “walking pneumonia” and wouldn’t be able to make the hunt.

Enter Boutwell, who was lucky enough to be on Facebook when the opening was announced. Boutwell got the coveted spot. The situation turned out to be uncannily similar to the 2012 hunt when I met the Montgomery resident. When the BOW ladies were at the range, it was discovered there was a problem with Boutwell’s scope. She ended up with a borrowed gun for the afternoon hunt.

Naturally, I wanted to avoid the anxiety of last year’s hunt, so when we entered the shooting house we talked about gun safety first. Then I reached up and turned the scope down to 4X and had Boutwell practice getting the scope to her shoulder.

“When you look through the scope, it should be a full, round picture,” I said. “If there’s any black or distortion, you haven’t got the eye relief right.” After some practice, we both felt more comfortable with the possibilities.

But all our preparation was for naught that day, although it will serve Boutwell as she continues her hunting career. Mother Nature gave us short-sleeve weather and a 15-20 mph south wind that preceded a cold front, which wouldn’t arrive until the next day.

A confessed adrenaline junkie, Boutwell managed to soak in the new experience, although there were very few breaks in the inaction. Another red-tailed hawk sailed past the stand, and one lone doe skirted the area over the ridge on her way from one thicket to another. As it turned out, that one glimpse of a deer was more than most of the other hunters had that day. The afternoon devoid of any significant action did not deter Boutwell, however.

“I loved it,” she said. “That’s the first time I hunted away from personal land and been around multiple people. I would go and sit in a double tree stand with my boyfriend, but I didn’t have a gun. The only actual hunting I’ve done is coon hunting.

“I enjoyed shooting the gun at the range and then hunting on a place that was so well-manicured and being on a place that was a true hunting set-up. That was really neat. And it was nice to be around the other women. I actually am trying to get signed up for the next BOW weekend. There’s supposed to be an opening or two, and I’m going to try to go.”

Boutwell continued her hunting season last weekend after her boyfriend’s scope was repaired, and she has no plans to stop.

“As far as hunting, there’s nothing like it,” she said. “You get to observe the wildlife; you’re out in nature. There’s nothing better.

“And the BOW hunt wasn’t sitting on somebody’s five acres. That was wide open. That was the true outdoors.”

PHOTOS: (By Billy Pope) Anna Higginbotham of Decatur, Ala., zeroes in on the target during practice at the range before the annual Becoming an Outdoors-Woman deer hunt at the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area near Greensboro. Jeannine Williams of Madison, Ala., was the only hunter fortunate enough to bag a deer during the hunt, which was held in less-than-ideal hunting weather.