The afternoon was uncharacteristically calm, given the atmospheric conditions. The temperature was a tepid 74 degrees. The wind was calm, the sky was clear and the sun was close to nodding off. Oct. 15 was the perfect autumn afternoon, and opening day of the regular firearms season in North Carolina’s eastern deer region, yet no one was shooting.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, flooded roadways had made it difficult for many hunters to get around. Some were without electric power to run their freezers. So, why would they want to pack away venison? Others were busy attending to hurricane-induced chores such as taking plywood from windows and cutting downed trees. For those who could not drive flood-damaged vehicles or leave their flooded homes, deer hunting was the furthest thing from their minds.
However, two hunters who did find a way to make it into the woods on opening day were Nicky Grubbs and his friend, Kaelyn Bildsten. About six p.m., two shots finally shattered the silence.
“That was Nicky shooting,” said Bildsten, 24, a pharmaceutical sales representative who lives in Wilmington. “I was in another stand about 200 yards from him and watching three black bears – a mother and her two cubs – when he shot. I jumped when he fired the first time. About 30 seconds later, after I had calmed down, he fired again and it startled me again.”
It was Bildsten’s first North Carolina deer hunt. She was born and raised in Ohio, where she began hunting deer a few years ago.
“I was 18 when I started hunting with my dad,” she said. “We started out hunting pheasants, but I got a deer when I was 22. It was a big buck and I shot it with a shotgun loaded with buckshot. Our firearms season was only five days long and you can’t use a centerfire rifle in Ohio like you can in North Carolina.”
Grubbs, 67, who also lives in Wilmington, was in the home health care business until he retired. When he met Bildsten about a year ago and found out she enjoyed deer hunting, he invited her along. What he did not bargain for was the flooding in Pender County on opening day.
“It normally takes 35 to 45 minutes to drive from my home to my hunting area,” Grubbs said. “Today, it took about twice that long and the drive was twice as far. We had to figure out which roads were passable because so many are flooded. We still had to drive through a few inches of water on one stretch of road. But we made it OK.”
Grubbs said that normally the club where they were hunting, Shelter Creek Plantation, would have had 12 to 20 members and guests hunting on opening day. However, the floodwaters had just begun to recede and many of them probably did not know they could access the property by driving.
“Two days ago, you couldn’t have made it without a boat,” he said. “But it was opening day and I was determined to go hunting if there was any way possible.”
Grubbs began deer hunting about 30 years ago when he purchased his hunting property. Before that, he was primarily a waterfowl hunter.
“I hunt deer mostly for the peace and quiet,” he said. “I needed the relaxation to help me unwind. Running my business was so intense.”
Grubbs had taken an adult doe and a yearling doe that he said was probably her fawn. He had planted rye in a field and been putting out corn on the ground for several weeks to attract deer.
After he took the two deer with a Browning A-Bolt rifle in 7mm Remington Magnum caliber, he used a line to tie their rear feet to the headrest of a rear seat in his SUV. The heads and shoulders of the two deer were hanging out the back.
“I forgot the receiver hitch carrier I normally use,” he said. “With the hurricane preparation and having to clean up afterward, I haven’t had as much time to prepare for opening day as I normally do.”
Once the hunters had the deer skinned, cleaned and placed on ice, they prepared to head home. They were hoping the water had receded even more.
“In a few days, if it doesn’t rain, a lot of people will be hunting again,” Grubbs said. “The only shots I heard on this opening day came from my rifle and that was very strange. I will probably remember that for the rest of my life.”