A group of men gathered, stirring a pot of collard greens and burning down coals for a barbecue. It was November 28 and they were winding up the second of a three-day hunt. While the men were hardcore hunters, they were not hunting. Instead, they awaited the return of six women who were out hunting for Whitetails.
The Roost, a restored 1915 farmhouse that is headquarters for Lumber River Outdoors Hunting Club, was the location. The event was the Women in The Wild Whitetail Hunt.
Destinee Pyles, a 15-year-old homeschooler from Wilmington, was hunting with her father, Steve Pyles, a 61-year-old disabled veteran. It was her first deer hunt.
“I have fished since I was four,” she said. “I told Dad I wanted to go hunting for years but Mom would not let me go. After they divorced, I moved here from Tennessee to live with my father. He stopped hunting 20 years ago, but joined this club and began hunting again.”
“I joined in 2014 after participating in a Wounded Warriors turkey hunt,” Steve Pyle said. “I did not get a deer last year and came opening day this season and did not see anything. This time, I am hunting with Destinee.”
Friday was a mentoring day, with instructors teaching newcomers how to hunt from stands, giving instruction on firing rifles during a sighting-in session, then hunting with them in the evening. On Saturday, the women hunted with mentors in the morning, returned to The Roost for meals and fellowship and hunted again that afternoon. On Sunday, they would hunt deer on their own, most of them for the first time.
On Friday, Destinee saw a 3-point buck, but could not get a shot. On Saturday afternoon, she and her father dozed in their stand. When they awoke, a doe was underneath them, but ran away when it heard them move.
The hunt was conceived by Ricky Ward, 41, a timber manager and partner in Lumber River Outdoors from Fair Bluff, and Judy Gardner, 54, of Lillington, a longtime hunter with ties to the Quality Deer Management Association. Gardner brought up the idea during one of the club’s deer camps that was open to anyone two weeks before.
“We are a family-oriented club,” Ward said. “We host many different types of hunts and our deer hunts accomplish several goals. The first is having fun. We get people who otherwise might not have had a chance to hunt together with others of similar backgrounds and experience levels. It also helps our landowners, who want the deer population brought into balance. We concentrate on shooting antlerless deer, which reduces crop depredation and we have seen weights and conditions of bucks and does increase after only two seasons of increased antlerless deer harvest.”
Gardner had shot a doe and tracked it that eventing, but lost its trail. She was nervous about recovering it, but would search again the next morning.
“We have six lady hunters today,” Gardner said. “They got two deer, I hope to find mine tomorrow and one of the hunters missed a shot. That is pretty good hunting for any group.”
Autumn Cabaniss, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom from Cameron, had recently moved from Alaska. She brought some moose meat chunks to make moose-kabobs, skewering the venison with peppers and onions and marinating them in Italian dressing. She had hunted doves and quail before, but never hunted by herself.
“Hunting is a male-dominated sport,” Cabaniss said. “My husband shot the moose. He found this hunt on the Lumber River Outdoors facebook page. Now, here I am, hunting, while he is looking after our sons, who are three and five years old. I saw three deer this evening, but could not tell whether they were bucks or does so I did not shoot. I saw a doe this morning, but she came out of the brush and ran back in too fast.”
Camille Warner, a 67-year-old medical consultant from Raleigh, was wearing a ghillie suit made of die-cut camouflage fabric.
“I call it my silly suit,” Warner said. “I imagine I’m wearing a camouflage evening gown.”
Warner took a buck during a hunt a month before, but not during this hunt. Her goal was collecting venison as a healthier eating alternative to domestic meats.
Karen Baskin, a 54-year-old civil servant at Cherry Point, wanted to try deer hunting for health reasons. She found information about the hunt at an archery shop in New Bern.
“I decided that I wanted to eat healthier food,” she said. “I missed a deer today and saw two this morning while I was walking to the stand.”
In a telephone conversation after the three-hunt was over, Gardner said Baskin took a six-pointer on Sunday and that she tracked down her doe Sunday morning. All told, the six women took four deer and missed one. Warner did not bag a deer.
“I asked if you don’t get one, is it still called ‘hunting?’” Warner said during a telephone interview following the hunt. “Judy and the guys laughed and said that’s the way it happens most of the time.”
For more information about upcoming hunts, visit www.lumberriveroutdoors.com or call Ricky Ward, 910-641-7303.