It felt like a homecoming in the woods

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There was no hint of dawn in the eastern sky. Just darkness as I drove south into Clarendon County. But the morning was near.

I parked just outside my brother Matt's yard and walked silently to the small sign-in box posted near the woods. I needed to use my flashlight to see well enough to sign out a stand. I had not hunted deer on this land in years, and it would feel like a homecoming.

The stand was close - just down a faint woodland path. As I climbed into the double-ladder stand, I could see an orange glow on the eastern horizon. I removed my backpack and placed it on the seat beside me, then pulled my gun up from the ground below, by the small camo cord tied to the frame of the stand.

The woods before me were still dark and quiet. An owl hooted very near - behind me in the hardwood canopy. The drone of traffic on a nearby highway was soft and steady. My eyes were becoming more tuned to the dark, and the sky was slowly getting lighter at the same time. Individual trees were taking shape.

The morning air was cool and pleasant. There were no mosquitoes. My seat was comfortable, and daylight was coming. I could see down an open lane to my right front and down a shorter lane to my left. But I needed my binoculars to see any detail.

There was no noticeable breeze, so I took a small plastic squeeze bottle from my pack and puffed a small cloud of powder to my front and watched as it drifted slowly to the left. This was good because it showed me that there was a cross wind from east to west. The woods and my shooting lanes were to the north. Only a south or southeast wind would be bad here, and we rarely get winds from the south and southeast.

Looking over my shoulder I could see Matt's house and my truck. Civilization! To my front, I could only see the green woodland. Wilderness! If I didn't look behind me, only the sound of traffic demanded reality.

The deer don't care about the houses or the traffic. These woods are their world - and mine. I've owned this land for years. I've hunted the ducks when we have wet years and walked the woods when they were dry. It's not a big place, but it is mine.

A soft crackle in the leaves caught my attention. It was a squirrel in a nearby tree. Other sounds were sneaking into my consciousness as the morning unfolded. Soft whistles and tweets from songbirds, distant caws from crows and roosters greeting the day.

Of course I was hoping for a buck to come slipping through the big timber. There is a soybean field to the east, and I could just see the edges of the field at about 30 yards. A waterhole lies about 40 yards to the west, but I couldn't see the small pond from my elevated position because of the wild grapevines and thicker understory in that direction.

There are plenty of deer in these woods. My son Clayton and I had put up a couple of new stands and did some scouting before the season. Matt, Clayton and I had moved this stand closer to the main body of the woods and cleared a new shooting lane.

We are excited about hunting these new stands on our own land. For more than a dozen years, we have been leasing timber company land in Sumter and Clarendon counties to still hunt. We've killed some nice bucks on those lands, but timber company land is dominated by pine plantations and offers a limited amount of diversity.

These woods that I love are dominated by a variety of hardwoods. Gums and maples, oaks and cypress, ash and magnolia. The eastern side is a heavily timbered pocosin that floods almost every winter. There are a few pines along the field edges and on the northwest side. A large thicket lies to the west on some cut-over land. We have trail camera pictures of deer, turkey and a potpourri of wildlife.

I've hunted deer, duck and turkeys all over this state and made hunting trips to Arkansas, Texas and a bunch of other locales, but this is different.

I didn't see a deer on the morning hunt, but I felt a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. I was home again.