Breaking the Jinx

I'm firmly convinced that destiny plays a big part in the outcome of a hunt. How else do you explain the strange things that happen when we're afield? Case in point is a series of deer hunts I made in Alabama starting in the mid-'70s. Regardless of what I did or how hard I hunted, I was never able to get a buck. Obviously, I was jinxed. A black cloud swirled over my head, and I couldn't shake it.

The first hunt was on a plantation that had plenty of deer. I was with a group of hunting writers, and a number of bucks were taken, but none by me. What made it worse was the fact that pals who were in stands on either side of me took deer. The only animals I saw were a bunch of does and some button bucks. Of course, I figured this was merely the luck of the hunt. I had no clue I was embarking on a series of failures that would persist for almost three decades.

FROSTBITE IN DIXIE

One of the most memorable hunts (and one that I'd like to forget) was at Westervelt Lodge, a famous hunting outfitter in the South. If my memory serves me correctly, it was my fourth Alabama hunt, and I was told that the jinx would surely be broken at this venerable place. The area is well known for plenty of fine deer, but at this point I wasn't trophy hunting. Any old whitetail buck would do.

I was accompanied by two writer buddies, John Phillips and Nick Sisley. Both had hunted Westervelt many times and had never gone home emptyhanded. They assured me I'd tag a buck in less than two days.

I should have realized that perhaps this would be the exception to the rule when a brisk wind accompanied a fast-moving cold front on the first day of the hunt. It was unseasonably cold, and no one saw a decent buck. By the next morning the storm had worsened, the wind had grown to gale force and the temperature had plummeted to the teens. Forecasters said the wind chill was below zero, and that travel was not advised.

Not inclined to wait it out, John, Nick and I thought it would be interesting to sit in the stands for a while. The guides, who were assigned to take us to our blinds, would have none of it; they strongly suggested we watch the football game, since it was Super Bowl Sunday. I'm a rabid football fan, but we had several hours to hunt before the game started. We whined and pouted to the point where the guides gave in and took us to our stands.

Now, as a person who was born and raised in the North, and having worked in the woods as a forester all my adult life, I used to think I was reasonably prepared for whatever Mother Nature could dish out. Unfortunately, I had left my winter clothes back at home. After all, I was hunting in the Deep South, where late January weather should have been hospitable. Why would I need heavy winter clothing?

When I got to my stand--a raised blind in the middle of a food plot--I smiled feebly at the guide as he waved goodbye. Alone, I quickly discovered that the searing wind stung like fire and I couldn't keep my face exposed to look out into the field. I found small comfort lying on the floor of the blind in the fetal position, getting up every five minutes or so to see if any retarded deer had decided to enter the opening. The stand had no windows, just cutouts that allowed the wind to whip about freely. There was virtually no shelter.

My eyes were watering so much I could barely see, but at one point I made out a deer standing at the edge of the field. My binocular revealed it to be a nice buck, but he was gone in a flash, obviously not interested in feeding. Shortly afterward I saw four does enter the field from the woods. As soon as the full force of the wind hit them, they immediately retreated and vanished into the brush.

The next movement in the field was a vehicle, as my guide drove up and insisted that the hunt was over for the day. It was not a question, but a statement. I was happy to oblige, but I knew that yet another Alabama hunt was doomed to failure.

THE KEVLAR BUCK

Several more hunts over the years continued the string of bad luck, and I started to think there was no end to the jinx. I hunted with people who guaranteed I would score, even tried a couple of hunts on my own in public areas. Whatever I did, the deer always won.

Last year I was invited to hunt deer with Monroe Payne, who owns a parcel of land that holds a good supply of whitetails. Monroe was sure I'd finally break the jinx, but I had no confidence.

The first evening in the stand was drawing to a close when I watched a doe and a modest eight-point buck stroll into the meadow. I was absolutely astounded. Here, finally, after more years than I cared to count, was my Alabama deer. I found a good rest, directed the cross-hairs to a point just behind the shoulder, and squeezed the trigger. Meat on the table, I thought. Backstraps on the grill. But wait. The buck stood there after the shot and looked at me. There was no reaction indicating a hit. The deer added insult to injury by taking a last bite of grass before heading to the woods.

I reflected on that unbelievable miss later in the evening as I was called to the stand in a kangaroo court presided over by Monroe and several of his cronies. I was found guilty, and the tail of my favorite shirt was cut away.

I had one more day to hunt. That afternoon, I watched as six does fed in the field. Then, to my delight, I saw a buck march out toward them. He had a spike on one side and four points on the other. Monroe said that was a common genetic trait, and that I should shoot such a buck if I saw one. Here he was, and indeed I was willing to shoot it. Which I did. And it was good. I smiled all the way to the deer, and all the 2,000 miles on the drive back home.

For information about Jim Zumbo's books, go to jimzumbo.com.

For more on hunting, go to outdoorlife.com/hunting

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Tall-racked bucks in Alabama may be as plentiful as fleas on a hound, but theyeluded Zumbo's crosshairs for decades.