I spent the past week at Deer Camp, expecting to learn a lot about deer hunting.
But I also learned a lot about people - and how people hunt in places far away from the swamps and cornfields of middle Georgia.
There were nine of us, united for five chilly days in a cabin at the edge of the swamp. There were breakfasts of bacon and grits, after-dinner cigars and discussions of politics. Some bad jokes, too.
One of the fellows in our group was an accomplished outdoorsman from Alaska, where they have a lot more than whitetails to shoot at - and where getting lost in the woods means much more than being late for dinner.
It was Rick's first trip South to stalk the wary whitetail, a creature I regard as one of the continent's most challenging. Rick, who has hunted everything from caribou to bear, was justifiably excited.
The first morning, we prepared to leave camp well before daylight. Rick uncased his rifle, a .300 Winchester Magnum, and produced a box of cartridges like none I'd ever seen.
The package had little pictures of rhinos, elephants, lions and other large creatures decorating the wrapping. "Safari Grade," the label boasted.
"What kind of ammo you got there?" I asked.
"Bear loads," Rick replied apologetically. "Actually, these are the smallest things I have."
I took my new friend to a ladder stand on the edge of a swamp. He was impressed that you could drive almost to the same place you intend to hunt.
"Can't do that in Alaska," he said. "Not often, anyway."
The timber had been thinned a year earlier, and broad, treeless openings were punctuated by broomstraw and low briars. Deer trails snaked everywhere and fresh sign was abundant, despite rain the day before.
"Climb up here," I said. "You'll see deer."
Rick climbed the ladder and I handed him his gun and his knapsack - a cumbersome, rather heavy knapsack. I wished him well and I left.
That morning, sitting in my own deer stand a few miles away, I wondered what it would be like to hunt the Alaskan wilderness. And I wondered what Rick kept in that knapsack.
Despite a full moon, and a December wind that kicked up before the sun topped the trees, the deer moved well that day. Just after daylight, I heard Rick's .300 speak out.
And I knew he had taken his first whitetail.
Later, as we retrieved and prepared his deer for the cooler, I asked about his heavy knapsack. And he showed me his gear.
Back home, he said, the trip to hunting grounds was by floatplane or boat. Blacktail deer were hunted from the water. Or the hunting grounds involved miles of hiking after being dropped off on remote lakes or marshes.
Inside his pack was survival gear, everything from food and water to a global positioning system unit.
"Yeah, the GPS almost didn't know where it was when I turned it on down here in Georgia," Rick laughed.
Also in the pack was a blinking strobe - so aircraft could get a fix on his position if he were lost, or injured and unable to reach his rendezvous point.
I told Rick about our alligators and cottonmouths. And he related tales of belligerent bears that interrupt fishing trips, and of stubborn moose that sometimes get annoyed and chase cars - just for fun.
Alaska has mountain goat and salmon and trout. Here in Georgia, we have wild boar and the distinction of the world-record largemouth - even if it was way back in 1932.
It is always a pleasure to introduce someone to our state. Maybe next year I'll go to Alaska.
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.
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