by Scott Hilderbrand
“If we hurry and get the boat loaded, we can beat everyone else over to the Island and hang our deer stands first and get to the hot spot first!" shouted Mike excitedly. With that we were off--headed for a week long deer and wild hog hunting trip on Cumberland Island. Rick, Mike, David and myself had been planning this trip since last year. All of our planning would no doubt pay off and reward us with another satisfying and fun trip. Mike was the "captain" as he navigated the gutted-out ski boat up the intercostal waterway toward the Plum Orchard dock on Georgia's beautiful Cumberland Island. The boat was completely overloaded and we were sitting atop deer stands, coolers, tents, sleeping bags, and various packed items necessary for the trip.
"Why are you slowing down, Skipper?" Rick asked.
"I'm not, you moron! The outdrive just broke!"
"A three hour tour.... A three hour tour..."
"Where's the paddle and I'll start paddling?" I offered.
"In the truck...there wasn't any room."
"It'd be as handy as a shirt pocket right 'bout now, wouldn't it?"
"You couldn't paddle this overloaded pile of crap anyway!"
"Your ab of beer wouldn't let you!"
"Leave him alone, Scott. He gets PMS when you talk about his piece of crap boat!"
"While y'all are acting like your wives, how 'bout makin' sure the beer is nice and cold and pass me one. I don't see another boat and it looks like we're gonna be here a while."
As luck would have it, however, an older couple in their fishing boat passed us and we were able to flag them down. They graciously agreed to tow us to the dock. Three hours later we arrived. The last ones there. Even the ferry boat had beaten us over! One of the few residents on the island greeted us at the dock. He asked us what was wrong with the boat and we all replied instantly, "It's a piece of crap!"
"I'll sell it right now for $500.00," Mike hollered.
"I'll take it!" exclaimed Harry, the new owner.
With that, Mike sold his twenty foot ski boat for $500.00. He had also eliminated our way off the island! We picked out a campsite among the remaining ones. Everyone else had their camps set up and were out hanging deer stands. We would have to set ours in the morning, in the dark, as we raced to unpack and set up camp before dark. Since I was designated camp cook, I was setting up the kitchen and unpacking the groceries. As I emptied the last grocery bag I asked, "Hey fellows, where's the rest of the food?"
"That's it," Rick replied.
"We’re gonna die! What happened when y'all went to the store?" I asked.
"Well, Dave got the beer; Mike got a can of Ravioli and I picked up the rest. They said that we had enough because last year we had too much."
"So y'all thought that a pack of bologna, one loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, one pound of bacon, one box of oatmeal creme pies, a twelve pack of Pepsi, and five cases of beer would be enough to feed four ‘healthy’ men all week?!"
"Don't forget the ravioli."
"We’re gonna die!"
"Hey, where's the rest of the ice for the beer?" Dave asked worriedly.
"You morons didn't buy but three bags and we have just enough to keep the bologna from rottin'!" I replied.
The next morning arrived way too fast and we ate the last of the oatmeal creme pies as a quick breakfast. I hiked to the same tree that I had hunted out of last year. I had killed a buck here and shot a hog that walked up while I was field dressing the deer. The sun started inching through the sadly draping Spanish moss when that ol' familiar sound came creeping toward me. This time it wasn't an armadillo however. I eased my bow back and the arrow found its target. We had a bet who would kill the first deer and I looked down at my watch. It was 7:15 a.m. That was an easy twenty bucks, I thought. I waited until 9:00 a.m., climbed down, and started following the blood trail.
A few minutes later I was standing 10 feet from the deer. I was looking at it and it at me. Not for long though. The deer sprinted through the palmettos--never to be seen again. This was not only disheartening for the obvious reasons. It also signified the loss of an important food source for the trip. Back at camp that night we feasted mightily on a bologna sandwich. No tater chips, no mayonnaise, no mustard; just stale bread, waterlogged semi-chilled bologna, and warm beer. Dave didn't hunt during the day because he wanted to chill out in camp and drink the beer before it got hot.
For breakfast the next day we splurged and cooked eggs and bacon. Our bellies full, we headed out hunting for food. There were no trophy aspirations among us as we all had a new purpose. Food! Even Dave hunted today. At camp that night we dined to a delicious meal of ravioli and sulfur water from a well at the campsite. The third morning found us eating our last morsel of food. We filled our water bottles with the delightful smell of sulfur water and once again headed out, tired and growing impatient. There was no cheer in ‘no foodville’. I gave up early and came back to camp. To my surprise, Dave was there also.
"You gonna start on the hot beer?" I asked him.
"I got groceries on the ground, home boy!"
"Hog or deer?"
"Cut it out, ya big silly!" I said as I punched his arm. "Let's go drag 'em! I know where Mike and Rick are!"
Rick and Mike were as surprised as I was. We hiked over to the other side of the island to meet Dave. He said we could follow his flag ribbons straight to him once we were off the trail. We found his ribbons and proceeded to follow. His trail markings reminded me of the puzzle on the back of the Shoney's kids’ menu. The one where you have to help the Shoney's boy find his way to the hamburger. Circles, loops, and backtracking, but we finally found Dave deep in the swamps standing over his trophy buck. It was huge! Everybody high-fived Brother Dave. Our savior. Brother Dave had come through and put meat on our table. Dave pointed to his left and said, "The hog went that way."
"He couldn't run any more erratically than your trail getting to your deer stand!" Rick stated, amused.
We ‘morphed’ into bloodhound mode and began to track the hog through the palmettos, pines and dense undergrowth. Ol' yeller didn't have nothin' on us! We'd find him for sure. Two hours later, cut and scraped, we abandoned the search and started back to the deer to carry it back to camp. On the way I heard a rustling sound in the brush. I froze and motioned for Dave to do the same. Rick and Mike were a few hundred yards behind us. I was sure that it was the wounded hog. With our bows back at the trail head where we had left them, this was going to be a trick! We were both still frozen as six little piglets emerged. I slowly reached for my knife and Dave did the same. As they got closer to us, Dave whispered, "What do I do?"
"Get 'em when they get close!"
Dave waited until they were just a few yards from him, staring at him in amazement. Their mama must have been the one Dave shot and now they were lost and unaware of their peril. In a sudden and animal-like ‘pounce’, Dave picked up two and I started chasing the other ones! Rick, hearing the commotion, came busting through the palmetto and we ‘hemmed’ another one up. Mike was slow to react, but, as luck would have it, one ran by him and he snatched it up!
That night we entered camp with our chests bloated. Not unlike a victorious Roman legion coming to inform Caesar of our good fortunes. We were the buzz of the campsite that night. From zeroes to heroes! Let the feast begin! After that everything else seemed uneventful. Sure, we had to smuggle onto the ferry to get back, but that was nothing.