Dotterer doubles up on opening day
By Ford Walpole
It would be an understatement to declare that, for William Dotterer, deer hunting is a passion. Long after he hangs his guns on the rack at season’s end, he continues to observe and study wildlife. “I run cameras all year. When I set up the cameras, I am trying to figure out where the deer are coming from. I don’t like to set up where I am hunting. My camera placement is usually in between two stands, which allows two different directions to see deer. Once they are set, I don’t want to get near the cameras.
“When you use video with trail cameras, you get to see the whole picture: You get a lot of interesting information, and you see a lot of detail. You can watch the interactions between the deer, and you get to see everything that is happening. For instance, it’s fun watching the deer work a scrape, and you might also see one in the background that you may have otherwise missed,” he says.
Dotterer is among a dozen members of a club that hunts a large Lowcountry tract. They hunt food plots but do not bait with corn. “When I got up that morning, nobody else was at the club. One of my cameras showed that the neighbor’s deer hounds had been at one of my two choices that morning, so I went to the other stand.”
This past season’s cameras recorded good bucks in the area, with a particularly nice one that had not revealed itself to anyone, though Dotterer “had hunted that deer hard last year.” This year, he was sitting “in a short box blind looking downhill — down the road towards the duck pond. There’s a dike around the pond, so this is one of the few places the deer can come out,” he says.
“At 6:40 a.m., the buck came out from near the duck pond. I put the binoculars on him and said: ‘That’s a shooter!’ I was down to my last two packs of venison hamburger, so he didn’t have much of a chance. It was the first deer of the year, so I was shaking like a leaf!” he laughs. From 155 yards out, William downed the buck, which was the season’s first for Cordray’s Processing. It weighed 175-pounds and boasted a 10-point rack. Though he cannot be certain, William suspects this is likely the same aforementioned deer that had eluded him throughout last year.
Besides hunting at his club, Dotterer also spends time pursuing deer on a smaller tract on Edisto Island. Some years back at a members’ supper at the Carolina Yacht Club, William became acquainted with the landowner. Over bourbon, the two discussed deer hunting. William told the gentleman: “I really don’t care about bucks, since my wife does not like taxidermy.” (Dotterer’s laundry room is the unlikely setting of some impressive trophies.) He continues: “The first time I hunted that place on Edisto, I sat in a folding camp chair with shooting sticks. I saw 25 does the first night, and we only saw one buck all season.
“The landowner and I discussed some ideas,” Dotterer recalls. “First, we needed a farmer to plant the place, and second, we wanted to have fun and shoot some deer.” The farmer indicated that his contribution was dependent upon the men first addressing the excess number of does. The owner acquired a depredation permit, and a local family generously paid the processing bill for the venison taken from this and other nearby properties to be donated to island families in need. Gradually, after wise management and a healthy harvest of female deer, with each passing year, the property began to produce more bucks. The third year, William shot a small eight-point buck; the following year, his son Shay took a nice seven-point.
For the past two years, William’s cameras have revealed a nice ten or eleven-point. The only glimpse he got was when he instructed his friend Scott Moore to set a climber stand in the area where Dotterer opined the buck was coming out of the marsh. That day, the buck jumped from a thicket at the base of the very tree which he had determined Scott should climb.
In July, William was passively perusing pictures on his trail camera when he caught an image that made him pause, and which indeed elicited an utterance: “Whoa! It was a daylight photo of a really big buck with drop tines. I knew what I would be doing at the beginning of the season!” Thus, after an eventful morning, he headed to Edisto for an afternoon hunt.
William harvested the earlier deer with his seven mm Remington Magnum, “a taller profile gun better for hunting large stands.” Here, he switched to his .284-caliber rifle. When asked of his affinity for an archaic round, Dotterer replies: “Probably because I read too much, but it is a more compact rifle and better for hunting from that small ladder stand on a field.”
He got situated in the stand, which was overgrown, since he had determined not to trim the brush this year so as not to disturb the deer. William relays the hunt: “It was a southwest wind, and the stand faces south/southwest. I was facing the sun and getting baked by it, so I pulled my hat brim down to keep the sun out of my eyes. I spent the longest time watching a group of does and a small buck. Some deer came out and smelled me. Then, I watched a doe follow a bobcat while blowing at it.
“I looked over and saw another group of deer. I was watching a nice buck across the hedgerow just after sunset and was debating taking the shot when the other deer walked out. It was after sunset, so I was not sunlit in the stand and able to move the rifle. I didn’t have time to set my shooting sticks and just took a freehand shot with one fluid motion. It was amazing to shoot two of the biggest deer of your life on the opening day of the season!” Dotterer reflects. This Edisto 12-point with drop tines is being mounted and soon will lord over the laundry room.
William raised his boys, Shay and Philip, to share their father’s passion. When his sons were young, he began a tradition of stopping at the same store for snacks — and carrots for the horses at Cordray’s after a successful outing. The boys enjoyed the excitement of watching their father shoot a deer, and they especially loved the adventure of tracking a deer. Early on, they likewise quickly grew to appreciate the presence of a Thermacell Mosquito Repellent. Once they were old enough to shoot, though, Shay and Philip insisted on sitting in stands by themselves.
The club to which William belongs adds a sporting challenge by prohibiting still hunting for deer over bait, and the members harvest some fine bucks. Even so, they embrace a sensible approach and do not adhere to rigid trophy management regulations. “The only fine you may have to pay is for a miss — any shot that does not result in a deer coming back to the skinning shed in usable condition; everything else is gentleman’s rules. And if you shoot a pig or a coyote, you get a credit,” he says.
While Dotterer appreciates proper deer management, he points out a negative consequence of strict trophy management. “We don’t give people an opportunity to learn how to hunt: to tell what’s going on around you, to see, to track, to find out what happens when you make a bad shot Thank and so on. The more you shoot, the more you learn. The idea is to go have fun. They’re just deer; they make more of them every day!”
Dotterer offers seasoned advice to his fellow hunters: “When I get in the stand, the first thing I do is find landmarks. When my godfather Ricky Hanckel started taking me to Middleton, he had me pace out my range so I would know how far I was shooting.
“My Leica binoculars have a rangefinder. Knowing your approximate range is great; knowing the exact range is even better. A lot of tracking is figuring out where the deer was standing when you shot. Trying to get yourself within five yards is a great theory, but it doesn’t always work.” In addition, “Bob Bailey — who reloads my .284 ammo — taught me to always take an orienteering compass with you, so that you can set your angle going in after a deer; you also can be sure you are able to get back out of the woods.”
For William Dotterer, deer hunting is a complete experience. “I like the tractor time: working with the food plots, mowing the roads, and getting ready for hunting. The vantage point from a tractor also allows you to see more trails and tracks.” As for the hunt, “every trip is different. You always see something new — like when I saw the doe blowing at the bobcat. You might see an owl grab something. Last week, I heard a hummingbird in the stand, and I initially thought it was wasps. On another property on Edisto, I saw black-bellied whistling ducks coming into a brackish pond,” he says, adding: “I am just fortunate to be able to hunt with a great network of good friends!”
Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.