Angola Bay — If not for big game, such as black bears and white-tailed deer, its unlikely anyone would ever visit Angola Bay. However, this was October 13, opening day of the states eastern region deer season, and the sand and gravel roads were so busy that dust hung thick in the air.
A trio of pickup trucks gathered at a road marked by a wooden sign that said Wildcat X. They had collected their dogs following a morning hunt. Now, they were preparing to release them again.
Im hunting with my Plott hounds, said Joe Howard, a 48-year-old state employee from Garner. Their names are Ruff, Tiff and Holmes. My father has always hunted bears in here with Plotts. One of the dogs wouldnt stay with a bear, so we use him for deer. Plotts are usually used for hunting bears, but I like them so much I also use them for deer.
Strapped to the side of his pickup bed beside the dog kennel was a bicycle. Howard said a gated road that ran straight across the backs of the rectangular blocks of former timberland they were hunting from the rest of Angola Bay, was otherwise inaccessible.
I use the bicycle to check for deer tracks or catch dogs behind the locked gates, he said. If the dogs get back there, it can take a long time to get them home.
Howards dogs wore radio-tracking collars. A GPS receiver helped him map the exact position of each hound. He said it was different when he was a child and Angola Bay was not a game land, but a private hunting club that leased the land from a paper company.
There were more deer back then, so tracks were easier to find, he said. I like to walk the dogs down the road, looking for fresh tracks. If the scent is hot enough, they take the track and follow the deer into the bay.
While few hunters remained at noon, Howard said the game land was packed full of hunters and hounds at daybreak.
The entrance road looked like an interstate highway, he said. There were hunters and hounds everywhere. I know of three deer killed this morning and one was in front of my dogs. The hunters have gone out to clean their deer, but most of them will (be) back for an afternoon hunt.
William Jordan, 55, a roofing contractor from Topsail Beach, said he had been hunting deer for 40 years. He has killed about 130 white-tailed deer and also hunted mule deer when he lived in Nevada.
Ive been hunting with Joe for 16 or 17 years, when Angola Bay was leased by Moccasin Creek Hunting Club, he said. Its easier to hunt with dogs now than it was then because of the tracking collars. A tracking collar costs $200 and a receiver costs $450. Its cheaper to buy the collars than it was to buy all the gas we used to burn looking for lost deer dogs.
Greg Martin, a marine construction worker from Surf City, completed the trio. He had not been hunting as long as the others.
Ive been hunting deer for two years, with William, Joe and his dogs, Martin, 35, said. I was a still a hunter for 14 years before I began hunting with dogs. I dont shoot very many deer, but I see lots of them.
Howard led the convoy along the road, which had potholes big enough to swallow several pickups down to the axles in black water that belied their depths. Jordans pickup bumper held an electric winch, just in case someones truck got stuck.
Stopping his pickup, Howard opened the kennel and released his hounds. He walked along the road behind his Plotts, stopping here and there to examine deer tracks for freshness in the event the dogs might have missed checking the scent. Suddenly, they veered off the edge of the road, swallowed completely into the maze of greenery. Only their barks and lines on a GPS receiver proved that they still existed.
You couldnt hunt in here without dogs, he said. But I wouldnt be anywhere else today. Its opening day. If you are a deer hunter, you have to be out here.