Slugging It Out On The Potomac

In high school and college, I was in the woods of eastern North Carolina as much as possible, hunting whitetail deer.

Sitting alone at the base of a longleaf pine as the sun came up, or stalking between cypress knees and oaks in a swamp near the Tar River outside of Greenville was a source of great joy for me. It didn’t matter if I bagged anything or not. To simply be in the wild, in nature, mattered every bit as much as harvesting deer for the freezer.

It was good for the soul.

Then life got complicated, and other things became priorities in my life. I went to grad school, met a wonderful woman, got a job, got married, had kids, and somehow eighteen years slipped by in a flash. I didn’t even realize how long it had been since I’d been in the woods until Trent Marsh of Hawke Sport Optics asked if I would be interested in going on a deer hunt in Maryland.

I jumped at the chance.

The hunt was guided by Rob Fryer, who manages wildlife herds on numerous properties in Maryland. The properties we were hunting had dense deer populations, and were desperately in need of culling.

My colleague Katie Pavlich of would be the featured hunter, and to was to be filmed by Chris Hermans of Deer & Deer Hunting. This was to be a slug-gun hunt, and we were using shotguns topped with the Hawke Sport Optics Endurance 3-9×40 slug gun scope. The Endurance 3-9×40 has a bullet-drop compensation (BDC) reticle that is calibrated for shots out to 200 yards.

The Hawke Sport Optics Endurance 3-9×40 scope features the Slug Gun SR Reticle, calibrated for slug shots out to 200 yards.

Katie and I were both using 12-gauge Mossberg 500s, and our guide Rob was using his 20-gauge H&R Ultra Slug Hunter.

The property we hunted on the first day was an island on the eastern shore of the Potomac River, accessible only by walking through a marsh from a nearby residential neighborhood.

Hawke Sports Optics Pro Staff’s Rob Freyer guides Katie Pavlich, Chris Hermans, and I to our deer stands on an island on the east bank of the Potomac River. (Photo by Bob Owens)

The walk in was at low tide (the lower Potomac is a tidal river), and we could see plenty of deer tracks both in the sand on the shore and through the marsh itself. The upper end of the island was a pine thicket, while the middle and lower part of the Island was a mix of oak forest and dense underbush that was perfect for hunting with slug guns.

Rob dropped Katie and cameraman Chris at a stand surrounded by dense underbrush near several intersecting game trails, and then took me to a stand several hundred yards away, near the middle of the southern end of the island.

The view from my tree stand on the island during our whitetail deer hunt with Hawke Sport Optics.

I’d forgotten how much at peace I felt in the woods, and the sounds and smells of the oak forest so close to the river reminded me of a simpler time. I wasn’t on the stand more than 20 minutes when I saw my first deer deer of the trip, when a does and fawn materialized out of woods near the marsh about 60 yards to the east of me. They slowly but surely kept picking their way through the brush, coming in my direction.

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You could hear other deer in the thicket behind them, and for the briefest of moments, I caught just the glimpse of the tall rack of a nice buck. I brought the Hawke Endurance 3-9×40 scope to my eye and caught the right side of the rack in the crosshairs for just a moment through the brush, but the buck never came out.

Meanwhile, the doe and fawn showed no fear at all and got close… very close.

A whitetail fawn walked directly under the tree stand of Bearing Arms editor Bob Owens in a December, 2014 hunt sponsored by Hawke Sport Optics.

After a little while, our guide Rob texted me from his ground blind north of my stand to let me know that another group of deer was moving in my direction, and would be coming up behind me. I stood very slowly… a neat trick when you’re try to keep from spooking deer that were literally under my feet.

I waited and waited, and the doe and the fawn wandered back the way they came. The herd that Rob saw never came my way, and instead of cutting through the trail in the thicket between us, followed the far edge of the thicket to bed down in the marsh.

A couple of hours later we called it a morning without anyone seeing a deer worth shooting. Hey, you can’t win them all. editor Katie Pavlich and guide Rob Freyer. An Arizona native, Katie doesn’t like the cold.

That evening we moved to different locations, hoping to save the island for first light the following day.

For the afternoon hunt, Rob put me in a ladder stand in an overgrown hedgerow with a pasture behind me and a farm field that had been left fallow for the year in front of me. It was roughly 100 yards to the far treeline, and the field stretched several hundred yards on either side of me. If I deer walked out in front of me, it would be a great test of the Endurance 3-9-40 scope’s Slug Gun SR Reticle.

The view from the hedgerow ladderstand during the afternoon hunt during my first day hunting with Hawke Sport Optics in Maryland.

As the evening faded to dusk, my only company had been a gaggle of annoying brown birds searching through the leaves below may stand for food. Suddenly, I caught a flash of movement in the distance to my right out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head, and could just make out the shape of a deer against grass almost the exact same shade as her body. If I hadn’t seen the movement, I could have looked right at this deer and not have had a clue it was there.

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I pulled the Hawke Sport Optics Endurance 3-9×40 up to my eye, and could see the doe much better as the scope gathered the light in. She was a good sized doe—I’d guesstimate 140 lbs.—but she was a good 175 yards away, and I couldn’t get a clean shot through the branches to the trees to my right. I didn’t want risk a shot at that distance, when clipping a branch waving 20 yards a way and wounding the deer instead of making a clean kill. I kept my scope on her for another five minutes hoping that she’d move to a spot where I had a clear field of view, but it never came to pass.

I missed the next morning hunt with a nasty stomach bug… and man, was my timing horrible. Trent and Rob both doubled up with a button buck and doe each. Both of Trent’s deer dropped where they fell in a small patch of woods near the front of the property we’d hunted the day before. Rob doubled up in the pines on the upper end of the island.

Our guide, Hawke Sport Optics Pro Staff’s Rob Freyer, doubled up with his single shot 20-gauge in a small clearing in the pines on the upper end of the island.

While Trent and Rob were busy doubling up, Katie and Chris saw a nice buck from their ground blind. Katie went to take the shot, but had some sort of malfunction with her weapon, and it didn’t fire. Katie and Chris didn’t think that the deer saw then, and opted to remain in the stand to see if the buck might come back mid-morning.

I was feeling better, so Rob and Trent came to pick me up. Katie and Chris came out of the woods once we returned, and Katie and Chris described to me what happened when she tried to pull the trigger and the gun didn’t go off. We then went to go collect Rob’s deer from the island, and brought them back from the island to the truck in a rather interesting way.

The Potomac was at high tide, so it was easier to drag the deer back through the water than it was to drag them through the rough river debris, shells, roots, and marsh grass.

The roots of the varying grasses in the marsh and various pieces of driftwood made it difficult to bring deer shot on the island back through the marsh, so we floated them up the river, since it was high tide and the bank was cut such that there was 2-3 feet of water just 1-2 feet offshore.

We then took the four deer to a farm where Rob typically cleans them, and I took a look at Katie’s shotgun.

One of the Hawke Sport Optic Endurance 3-9×40 slug gun scope equipped Mossberg 500s that we hunted with in Maryland.

The slide release on a Mossberg 500 shotgun is just behind the trigger guard on the left side of the weapon. You can see it directly below the serial number panel in the photo above. While that placement keeps it out of the way in most conditions, it is possible that a shooter can hit the slide release when shouldering the shotgun, especially when wearing thick winter gloves.

I loaded a slug into Katie’s shotgun and fired a round into a ditchbank, proving that the gun was in working order. I then loaded a second round, pressed the slide release, and retracted the slide perhaps 1/4″ inch. It didn’t go bang. While hardly a scientific test, we went with the theory that the slide release must have been hit, putting the shotgun out of battery so that it wouldn’t fire. We were all frustrated, and none of us more than Katie.

Rob and Trent were very nice, and not only guided the hunt, but made sure that we went home with plenty of venison. Ever the optimist, I’d brought two coolers on the trip, including an old beat-up 35-quart cooler that was almost unrecognizable, and a heavy-duty cooler, the 50-quart Brute Box. Rob and Trent filled them up with backstraps, tenderloins, hams, and shoulders, and we went back out for the afternoon hunt.

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Katie gives you some idea of how the scale of the rugged 50-quart cooler from Brute. It is easily the best cooler I’ve ever owned, keeping the meat chilled for a week on just one 20 lbs bag of ice until I was ready to butcher the venison.

Since Trent and Rob had so much luck in the morning, we we feeling very confident about the afternoon hunt. Rob took me back to my stand in the oaks on the lower end of the island, and Katie and Chris went back to the stand they were at on the first day, closer to the river.

Once again, I wasn’t on my stand but half an hour when I picked up another deer coming out of the thicket on the same trail as the doe and fawn did the first day. The doe wasn’t that large, but we were there to help manage a large herd and bring down their numbers so that they wouldn’t starve over the winter. When she closed to within 20 yards, I looked through the reticle, slipped off the safety, and dropped the doe in her tracks. It was still very early, and I had hopes of doubling up as Trent and Rob had already done that day, but it wasn’t in the cards. I wasn’t bored, however.

Not more than 20 minutes after the doe went down, a raccoon appeared and steadily made his way over to the doe. He circled her numerous times, sniffing, but never touched her. He’d waddle away, and then come back, and then waddle away and come back again. Finally, he wandered over to the base of my tree and looked up.

This raccoon was my entertainment for roughly an hour.

I waved.

He glanced at me as if seeing a human 20 feet up a tree was the most normal thing in his world. Several hundred yards away in their tree, Chris and Katie was being entertained by another raccoon at the same time. I saw three more deer, including a yearling, and what I think was the same mother and fawn as the day before, but didn’t take a shot. I was impressed at how well the Hawke Sport Optics Endurance scope gathered the light. When combined with the illuminated aiming points in the Slug Gun SR reticle, I’d estimate that the optic extended our practical hunting time over un-scoped shotguns by ten minutes in the morning and another ten minutes in the evening.

Hawke Sport Optics Endurance Slug Gun SR Reticle

I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to head up for another Potomac hunt with the Hawke Sport Optics team this upcoming fall, but I am very impressed with the performance of the Hawke Sport Optics Endurance 3-9×40 scope that helped us harvest five deer on this trip, and the 50-quart Brute Box that kept the venison cold until I was ready to butcher it.

It was great to be back in the woods with friends new and old, and nice to have solid gear that I could depend upon.