Our Cohutta WMA trip turned out to be a lot of fun, and as always, a learning experience.  I overpacked, as usual, which worked out well for Danny, since he underpacked in terms of cold weather clothing.

See, I checked Wunderground, Intellicast etc. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for the weekends weather forecast, using the closest town, Ellijay, GA, as the location.  The weather reports all said “70’s during the day, 45-50 at night, SUNNY. No chance of rain.” So I left my light weight, easy to pack, easy to wear GoreTex jacket hanging here in Austell, GA, rather than take up that much more space in my pack.  I still took a set of rain pants and a poncho, because I’m paranoid, but they’re the type you would wear when NOT hunting, very loud, easy to snag and tear on brambles, etc.

Heh. Take a look at my bowcase from this morning, Sunday October 7th, to the right. Looks a wee bit like rain, doesn’t it?

We didn’t leave Sophar Ranch in Powder Springs, GA until just before sunset, Danny is engaged to one of the owners and had a lot of the usual farm-related odd jobs to complete before we could hit the road.  Given that there was a pro-sports game in Atlanta Friday night, we used back roads until we could get up onto 575 near Canton, GA and run up to Ellijay. From there we could get into Cohutta WMA and sign in.

By the time we got signed in at the Ranger’s station and drove the narrow, gravel roads winding up the mountain to the first camp site, it was 11:05 PM when we started setting up camp.  The wind was slightly gusty, and there were five or six other camps already set up, including one filled with apparently college age people about ninety yards away.  They were having a good time, playing guitar, shouting, drinking, setting off fireworks.  Until 3am. *sigh*  I hope they all had hangovers.

5:30am my Android beeped an odd, sad beep and died.  I learned that when an Android has no signal, it apparently starts every app it can to try to FIND a signal. Which drains the battery in about six hours.  I also learned that the cell phone charger in my truck had died it’s final death and would no longer stay connected to my Android.  The wind was miserably gusty, tearing around the mountain top like a six month old Pit Bull with a new tennis ball to play with, and having only been asleep for about two hours due to the College Party next door, we stayed in our sleeping bags until daylight.

We had set up fast the night before, I had woke up at 4am Friday morning, and Danny had gotten up at 5am, so we were very tired, and could really care less about tent placement other than ‘relatively flat.’  We were sleeping on, oh, six zillion acorns.  Now over the years, I’ve come up with a decent idea or two, and one of my ideas involved what to use as a sleeping mat and floor in my tent.  I use two 6’x3′ weight room rubberized mats for a floor cover, and those interlocking square foam blocks that various auto-parts and hardware stores sell for a workroom floor covering as sleeping pads. They work quite well, I could only feel the biggest of the acorns.

So, now we’re up, and despite thinking about this well in advance and deciding ‘oatmeal and apples with coffee for breakfast,’ Danny had brought eggs, bacon, bread, cheese, etc. and was determined to cook.  Normally, I’m the camp cook everywhere I go,  so I was happy to let him cook.  We had scrambled eggs, bacon and bread with nicely perked Kona coffee.  I could get used to that when camping, especially on a cold morning. And it was cold, particularly with the wind and damp.

Once we ate, we decided to poke around in the woods near the camp, there was a fairly large trail just behind where we set up our tent, and deer tracks, even though the tracks looked to be a week or more old.  We ran into trail tape immediately, and before long, more trail tape.  We found at least four different sets of trail tape on the hillside within a hundred yards of the camp.

In the photograph of the tent above, just above the peak, is where the deer trail started. Less than fifty yards behind it, we found a tree that had multiple sets of tree stand scars in the bark, as though somebody had used a climber four or five times in that tree.  We found at least six trees that had been used for climbing stands on that hill.

We also found the answer to one of those ‘everybody asks, but nobody ever answers’ questions: Yes, the bear does his business in the woods.

So, it is black bear archery season, as well as hog and whitetail deer archery season, the scat was a good sign. In fact, we found a LOT of bear scat, all over the hill and following the creek.  The entire oak and pine wood was covered in bear sign, yet no scratched trees or other signs of a boar, and some of the scat was quite small, leading us to believe that most of the sign was from a sow.

We covered over a mile according to my GPS, which doesn’t sound like much until you factor in that not a single step of it was flat or easy.  We circled down, found the hiking trail, followed it for a ways checking for more deer or hog sign, didn’t find any, and circled back, following the hiking trail the rest of the way back to the camp site.

The trial head had an interesting sign for somebody in my admittedly less-than-stellar physical condition to read; “Strenuous hike.”  Heh, they should try hiking half of that trail after hiking the mountainside without using any trail for a few hours. Danny, being in much better shape and nearly a decade younger than myself, wasn’t having any trouble at all, which is both good for my motivation to get back in shape, and feeds my ‘if he can do it, I can do it, though probably at a slower pace, with more sweating and swearing’ vindictiveness.

After looking over the hillsides near the camp, we decided to drive down and look at a few of the ‘wildlife openings’ listed on the WMA map.  I found a comment in another state’s outdoor forums that the wildlife openings in Mississippi are used as food plots. That may be the case in some of the openings in Georgia, but the two we scouted were an oddly matted plant of some kind in one case, and freshly plowed with some sort of sprouts in the other.  The first, matted plants plot had a few trails, but nothing fresh, no scat, no tracks, no buck rubs or any sign that it was regularly used.  The photo on the left shows Danny, who decided to show just how matted the plants were by pulling up a section, laying down, and covering up everything but his head.

The second wildlife opening was much larger, and recently plowed except for some bramble patches left as cover across the rolling field, there were fairly fresh deer tracks in that plot, but not many, and the tracks weren’t very big.  Again, no buck rubs, no other sign, not even scat.

We got back in the truck and rolled all the way down the mountains until we got to the edge of the management area, looking for someplace else that would catch our attention in terms of hunting opportunity. We didn’t find much, and it was time we went back to the camp and into the woods for the afternoon.  At this point, the temperature had been dropping all day, and Danny mentioned that he hadn’t brought a heavier jacket, so I loaned him one of mine and a stocking cap.

The evening was very uneventful, Danny and I loaded up our packs with what we would need for the evening, shouldered our treestands and headed into the woods. I set up in a tree overlooking the creek near where we found the most bear scat, Danny set up a few hundred yards away, near a major trail.  I hardly ever get into a treestand without my smartphone or my Kindle, and usually I have both. My smartphone was dead, and like an idiot, I forgot to put my Kindle in my backpack.  So, I was left with just staring into the woods waiting for one of the three species that were in season to amble on by within range.  I’m OK with that, no big deal, this is hunting, I’ve done it for years, just because I don’t have anything to read doesn’t mean game over, it just means three hours turns into thirty.  (This is what happens when you’re hyperactive and end up in a treestand.)  I didn’t have any bear or hog scent with me, but I did have a vanilla Buck Bomb, so I sprayed the area in the photo to the left with about half a can.  The wind started to pick up as the night wore on, and the mist rolled in bringing rain squalls.

When I couldn’t see enough detail to shoot even if the biggest buck in the woods stood broadside with a bullseye painted on his vitals, I worked my way down and reset my stand for carrying.  The mist had thickened up to the point where my headlamp only really showed me mist and the nearest tree in my way, when Danny worked his way down to where I was loosing a life-and-death battle with a large patch of brambles that was trying to steal my treestand and helped me get back to camp.  He had already run his stand back up the hill, and had found a better way to get back, so we worked our way through the trees uphill for half a mile. The mist was VERY thick, almost impossible to see through, and the rain was coming down harder than ever, so we put our stands against the oak tree we’d camped under, tossed gear that needed to stay as dry as possible into the truck and climbed into the tent.

A few baloney and cheese sandwiches, a bottle of water, and two Ibuprofen later, we hit the sack.  Normally, I sleep three to five hours per night. I have nerve damage in my lower left leg, I had surgery a few years ago to implant a stimulator that mitigates some of the pain, but not all of it, and this prevents me from sleeping much. I slept from 9pm until 1am, and then a bad headache woke me up long enough to relieve myself outside, take more aspirin, drink some more water and walk for a bit.  Once the headache started to fade, I went back to sleep until morning. This is the first time I’ve gotten more than seven hours of sleep in a night in five years.

Sunday morning the rain was sporadic, the mist was still heavy and the wind was still whipping around.  That didn’t prevent Danny from cooking up a mess of bacon, eggs, and Ro-Tell along with another pot of Kona coffee.  I put my eggs and bacon over top of a slice of bread with cheese on top of the bread and on top of the eggs.  I also made a mental note to add hot sauce, salt and pepper to my ‘goin’ camping’ kit.  I might order one of those six-sauce samplers to throw into the tote.

We didn’t have plan for the day, Danny had a conversation with one of the other hunters set up in the camping area, a local who was up for the whole week, and had found out that this whole mountainside had been crawling with bowhunters for most of September.  Based on that chat, we decided to head up to the top of Grassy Mountain and look for bear sign where Danny had found a den some years ago.  We broke camp and reset the truck so that we could put our treestands in the back seat rather than the bed of the truck, leading to my next must-have item for these trips in the future – either a cap for my truck or a lockable hard tonneau cover.

The gate was closed at the bottom of the road leading up to Grassy Mountain was locked, which Danny had expected, so we hoofed our way up the winding gravel road, keeping an eye open for trails crossing the road.

This was a fairly deceptive hike for me, it was nice, open gravel road, but it was fairly steep, and never seemed to end on the way up to the top.  We spotted several wide trails crossing the road, and found some bear tracks, but no scat at all, and no deer tracks at all.  There were acorns all over the road, but these were from pin oaks, not white oaks, and nothing had bothered to eat many of the small nuts.  We found more trail tape off of both sides of the road, probably one trail marked every two hundred yards or so, almost all the way to the top of the mountain, but the best trails we found had no trail tape, which neither of us could explain.

At the top of the mountain, we ran into a very nice family of five or six (I couldn’t keep track of the chipmunks from this clan, the two smallest were dressed alike, they may have been twins.  Danny wanted to drop off of the top and check the bear dens he had seen a few years ago, and I wanted to shoot some photographs of the ranger tower and view, so Danny left most of his gear with me and set off to scout the hill.

Grassy Mountain is topped by a ranger tower, which was closed when we reached the top. Danny said he’d never seen the tower with a ranger in it over all of the years he’d been coming to Cohutta, and today was no different.  Regardless of the status of the tower platform, I could still get to the landing between the sets of stairs and take some photographs from there.

It’s a good thing the wind had calmed down, and I don’t suffer from vertigo. Oh, wait, the wind hadn’t calmed down, and I DO suffer from vertigo.  I have a video that I’ll work on and post on FaceBook sometime this week, it’s about ten seconds long, a beautiful panoramic shot of the mists and clouds with mountains just visible in the distance, with the sound of a bowhunter having a minor anxiety heart attack in the background.

It was a precious moment in time, particularly since the stairs weren’t all that tightly built, I weigh over three hundred pounds, and the railings were constructed so that every sixteen inches or so anyone with a tight grip on the railing would run their knuckles over the ends of the bolts holding the railing on.  Fun times, for a given value of ‘fun.’

The Death Trap

View from the Death Trap

I survived that sphincter-clenching experience, and for those of you who don’t suffer from vertigo, this is how mine seems to work: I love flying, helicopters, jets, prop aircraft, I don’t care, I love ’em all.  I don’t have a problem with treestands.  I hate looking out of the windows in a tall building, or looking off the edge of mountains. I am not frightened of it, but I lose my balance almost every time. If it wasn’t for the fence at the top of Stone Mountain, I would have fallen off a few years ago, and it doesn’t matter if I LOOK or not, as long as I know it’s there, I get vertigo.

Anyway, I managed to take a few photographs, one video with the sound of sheer terror in the background, and get back to Mother Earth again without embarrassing myself further.  I parked my carcass on a bench at the edge of the woods and wondered where the heck Danny had ended up.  Visions of Danny being chased by a black bear kept me amused until Danny finally climbed back to the top and made his way over to to the bench.   The den was still being used from what he could tell, he had stopped looking when he found a very dry, large, round spot under an overhang.  The spot, he said, was surrounded by damp leaves from the mist, leading him to believe that a bear had been bedded there very recently.  Also, he found VERY fresh scat, and suddenly, the idea to leave his bow with me had seemed somewhat foolish.

We had a quick snack (cherry pop-tarts to the rescue) and discussed where to go next, since other than hunting off of a nearly-sheer cliff, we hadn’t found any sign fresh enough to get either of us excited.

We worked our way down the mountain back to the truck, along the way, the mist rolled back in, heavier than before.  The wind picked up, and this time it actually felt cold enough to bring sleet if the rain started again.  We kept moving steadily downhill back to the truck, where we put our gear away and decided to try to find someplace in the bottom to hunt. Danny knows a few people just outside of the WMA, but we had to get somewhere with cell service before we could actually call and ask for permission to hunt.

After making our way out of the WMA, we tried to get in touch with the people Danny knows, without success. We drove to the property to see if the owners were there, again without success.  Finally, we made the decision to head for home, it was 2pm already, we hadn’t found anyplace where we had a decent chance of seeing game let alone getting a shot off, and the cold front seems to have pushed most of the game off of the top food plots to the bottom land.

We did what any sensible, semi-transplanted Georgia boys (I’m from Ohio. Shhh! It’s a secret.) do in uncertain times. We found a BBQ restaurant and got some pulled pork and garlic bread.

It was good too!

We will be back to Cohutta, though maybe not this year, what we learned was to get to the mountain early, not late in the season.

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