MAPLE HILL — Three hunters hid from the midday sun beneath a tall-roofed equipment shed. There was a slight breeze rustling the dog kennels in the hunting club yard, making pulling back the string on a compound bow seem like childs play.
Jerry Simmons Jr., 40, a computer programmer from Wilmington, was checking the sights of his compound bow for the final time. It was opening day, and he was headed for his ladder stand.
Its good to go, he said as he pulled a dozen arrows from the center of a foam target. Then he pulled on his camouflaged clothing and drove off for the woods.
Jerry Simmons Sr., 64, a retriever and pointing dog trainer from Rocky Point, drove away in a different direction as did their friend, Ryan McInnis, a 38-year-old underwater video production manager from Wilmington. Simmons Sr. drove along a gravel road, then turned onto a hunting trail riddled with ruts. He was driving a new ATV, which soon had mud on its fenders.
Stopping several hundred yards from the elevated stand where he had been placing corn and feed pellets for months, he pulled his backpack and crossbow from the ATV. Then he began spraying a scent neutralizer on his boots.
You do everything you can to keep the deer from seeing or smelling you, he said. If a deer gets downwind and gets a whiff of you, hes going to go the other way.
The time was 3:30p.m. The men had been planning for this hunt since the end of last deer season in January. For them, as well as for every other archery hunter across the state, the long countdown to dusk on opening day had begun.
After dark, one by one, their vehicles headlights bounced into view as they approached the shed. The skinning rack and winch were ready and the walk-in cooler was waiting to be turned on.
I arrived at my stand and the deer got my wind, Simmons Sr. said. I could hear them blowing back in the bay. But I also heard a couple of bucks grunting and I was hoping they would come out into the open. They never did.
Simmons Jr. had seen two does. They had come out of the impossibly dense cover of the pocosin he was hunting.
I saw two does at 4:30, he said. They hung around for 20 minutes before moving away. I have seen several nice bucks on my game camera. After I got such a nice 8-pointer last year, I decided to wait to see if one of the bucks would show.
McInnis was the newest member of the hunting party. He also failed to arrow a deer.
I heard what I thought were deer, he said. If you hear a splash in the water, you wonder if it was a frog jumping or a deer walking. This early in the season, its hard to tell. Later in the season you have more experience so you can be more certain of what you are hearing.
McInnis has been a spear fisherman for years but only a bow hunter of deer for three years.
When you are spear fishing, you are moving around, trying to spot fish, he said. But when you are deer hunting, you wait for the deer to come to you. It takes a lot of discipline to wait them out.
Simmons Sr. nodded in agreement. However, he said there always seems to be something to stave off boredom.
I had two big gobblers trot up and start eating my corn, he said. Then five crows flew down and started eating it, too. At least now I know where all my corn has been going.