As a follow up to my last post I had a blast hunting the Highland WMA in Highland County Virginia. We got there on the afternoon of April 17th and stayed through April 20th. I’ll cover the first two days in Part I with Part II covering the remainder.
After packing the car and making a couple stops I got a late start on my road trip to Highland County. I arrived at 4PM about an hour later than expected and because of the lack of cell phone reception Zac was beginning to wonder where I was. We crossed paths oddly enough at the wrong entrance to the property and made our way down to the more southern entrance. Zac and I had never met in person. We’d met by email a couple years ago through this site and I eventually invited him into the Huntography family. We’ve stayed in touch over the last couple of years but it was great to finally shake Zac’s hand and head into the woods.
The plan was to follow the Bull Pasture River southeast and find a nice drainage so we could make our way up away from the river for turkey. Hoping in the process to still have a somewhat easy walk down to the river to fish in the afternoon. Being a wildlife management area and not a hiking destination there are no real marked trails so we set off following alongside the river with too much gear on our backs and at least on my part not enough cardiovascular ability! We traversed some crazy rocks and fallen trees as we made our way down the river. We eventually hit a shear rock face and knew that it wasn’t working out. We opted to drop the packs for a bit and back track and see what our options were. We found a nice old logging road that made for a relatively unobstructed although pretty steep climb. It was our only real option at the time so we took it.
Again being out of shape, you’ll notice a recurring theme, we opted to leave the packs about a 1/4 of the way up to see if we could even find a place to camp and we did! We found a nice flat area near where two small valleys and streams came together. It made for a great campsite with water, a nice stream to fall asleep to at night and easy access to where we hoped the turkeys would be!
After getting camp set up we went on a quick scouting trip and found that up the western valley a large area had been select cut leaving the next ridge pretty much bare. The eastern ridge however was covered in a mix of hardwoods and pines with an area of thick pines that we hoped were a favorite roost for some big birds. We returned to camp made a nice fire and talked about hunting and whatever else until late. I set an alarm and we went to our tents for the night. However, we weren’t alone. As soon as we got in out tents we heard a herd of deer heading our way, snorting the whole way.
I got up around 6AM on the 18th and as I unzipped my sleeping bag the woods came alive with the herd of deer losing their minds. Apparently they had settled for the night just on the other side of the stream and the sound of my sleeping bag unzipping sent them all running. As soon as I emerged from the tent I heard the first gobble! I got Zac up and we hurried our way to the clearing. Once we made our way up we heard them again and they were close. Eventually, we spotted two gobblers strutting on top the bare ridge that had been logged. We started creeping our way up behind downed trees and then noticed a hen coming down an open logging road then right behind her two huge gobblers. They were seriously large birds. We finally got a good ways up the ridge when Zac saw a red head pop up over the ridge about 45 yards up, but just as we saw him he disappeared. He was gone before either of us could get a shot off.
As we finally made it to the top we found a wide clear road that the gobblers had been using to strut. It was covered in turkey and even bobcat tracks. All of this transpired by about 7:30 or so and we stayed on top the ridge waiting for more gobbles. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear another that day. Around 11AM we headed back to camp to try our hand at trout fishing as the river had recently been stocked.
This was really my first time fly fishing and it was a lot of fun. We had sunny skies, good temperatures but unfortunately no fish. We fished our way up the river quite a ways and it seemed that the other fishermen were having similar luck. It didn’t stop us from trying though. Without waders I took off my boots and socks and rolled up my pants and went for it. Unfortunately my clumsiness and slippery river rocks ended in me face planting right in the river. Aside from being soaked and looking like an idiot I was just fine. Thankfully I was wearing my KUIU Guide Pants and a wool shirt both of which dried amazingly fast.
At the end of the 18th we found ourselves calling the trip a success quite early. I’d never even heard of Highland County, neither of us had ever stepped foot on this property so to show up and get on birds on the first day was great and completely blew my mind. I really expected this trip to just a well armed version of backpacking, so even encountering a target was a major success. We got close to some huge gobblers, had some great weather while fishing and really just had a great day altogether. We ended the night with some Mountain House meals and another nice camp fire.
READ PART II HERE