Between The Solar Panels And The Pine Trees
"Out There Outdoors" With Clae Mathis
If you drive west through Taylor County, then you have probably seen it. It doesn’t look like much, but there is a piece of land sitting there in the middle of all the new solar panels that means more to me than any other piece of ground on this planet. The deer hunting that I have been able to do there in my life is a big part of that, but it is certainly not the only thing that makes me love it. This property has held some of my fondest but also some of the toughest memories that often play on repeat in my mind. It is hard to put it into words, but this property almost has human characteristics like an old friend would have.
The history of the property itself goes back a long way in our family. The house that sits at the front of the property right off of the road is the one that my mama and her siblings were raised in. She has described vivid memories for me of that place my entire life. She describes working in the pecan orchard as a child. The term “Pecan Headache” was a staple for me growing up. It refers to a headache that you conveniently get when you don’t feel like working. She describes sitting up and listening to thunderstorms, as she still loves to do to this day. One particular memory she has is sitting in the dark living room and seeing electricity shooting from one outlet across the room to the other when lightning would strike. Lightning has always been a marvel to behold on that property. My uncle has always been very enamored with history just like I am, and he has preserved a large amount of items and articles from the old property. Newspaper articles and pictures of prized chickens, tree planting and old time farm living have been shared amongst generations of our family for years.
My childhood is full of memories on the property, as well. My grandmother that we affectionately called “Ma” was the cornerstone of the family on my mama’s side without a doubt. She was always known to come pick up my cousin and me to take us to “Bill’s Dollar” on a whim at any time. Every Easter, the whole family would gather for an Easter egg hunt and lunch together. Every Christmas morning was spent at our own homes first but quickly moved to her and Granddaddy’s house for a huge family gathering. Gatherings were always special during those times. When the cornerstone of a family is still alive, that family seems to gather much more often. When “Ma” passed away Dec. 3, 1997, the family slowly gathered together less and less, but that is the natural order of things in life it seems. She was actually buried right there on the property for a short time. Some issues arose, and she was moved to her home church later, but it is a special memory to remember the graveside service being right there on the property.
I was blessed to live on the property myself for a few years. When I was 19 years old and struggling with what direction I wanted to take in life, I got a single-wide trailer and put it on the property near the old home place. I loved every minute of living out there. My wife and I got married after I had lived there for about 6 months. Realistically, I knew that was not going to be a place we could raise a family and all the things that come with that, but my heart definitely broke a little the day we “moved to town.” Sadly, a few months after we moved into our house, one of those huge lightning storms I mentioned before came through and struck the trailer itself. If we had still been living there, it most likely would have had a bad ending, as the lightning hit right outside the bedroom window. When the lightning struck, the trailer caught on fire. Someone notified us on a Facebook message, and we rushed out there to basically watch it burn. The local fire department did an incredible job to make sure that we didn’t lose the things that we had left in there. The insurance adjuster that met with me in the days following actually stated that 168 cloud to ground lightning bolts had struck in the vicinity of that trailer that night.
The hunting part of this property has also meant the world to me. When I was a child, this was the place that I learned everything a boy learns from his daddy about guns and hunting. I learned hunting safety the hard way once. The first time I was supposed to shoot a shotgun, a small single-shot 20 gauge, my daddy put it in my arms and told me not to take it off safety or shoot it until he got in position to make sure that it didn’t kick me out of the back of his truck. Simultaneously, I flipped the safety with my finger on the trigger and fired the gun. The iron sights hit me in the left side of my upper lip. A few stitches later and I was all fixed up. Somehow this is a fond memory for me even though it didn’t necessarily end well for me.
My earliest hunting memories are from this property, as well. My daddy built a large tower stand in our backyard. He would take me hunting, and most of the time I spent there was asleep at his feet in the floor of it. One afternoon, I went hunting with him, but I asked him if I could stay in the truck while he hunted. He could see the truck from his stand, so it wasn’t a big deal at all. The 90s were a different world for sure. Anyway, he was a high-school principal and in the backseat of his truck, he had a lot of things that he needed and used for his job. That day he had met with someone about how to recognize gang activity in students. The binders were full of things about gangs, including many pictures of crimes and things of that nature. He had two poster boards there that were there to use in a demonstration with some teachers the following day. As a young 8- to 10-year-ld kid, I had gotten pretty scared of all of the things I had seen in the binders. I grabbed one of the markers and wrote “I’m” on one of the posters and “scared” on the other. I held them up so that he could see them from his binoculars from the stand. I didn’t want to holler or run to him because it would mess up his hunt, but I needed him to know I was scared and if he saw fit to get down early that would be great. I killed a button buck sitting in the stand with my daddy and first cousin once, and the following week missed four times trying to shoot a doe out of the same stand. Fast forward couple of years, and I killed the first deer that I had ever killed by myself out of that same stand. It was early, and if I knew what I knew now, it would have been a great day to kill a buck.
I never did kill a buck when I was younger. I spent my high-school years playing baseball and football. Every moment was devoted to these two things and lifting weights. I only hunted every now and then during those years. I went on to play college and one year of professional baseball. When I got home from playing, I needed something to fill that competitive itch that sports had given me. Sure, my profession of coaching does a good job of that, but I needed something that let me be the one competing again. I tried golf immediately, and although I loved and still love to play golf especially with my daddy, it just wasn’t the thing I was looking for to help me stay competitive. That same fall, after finishing my playing career, I decided that I wanted to try to kill my first big buck. I spent that whole year chasing. I once was sitting out on that property and had one of the neighbors who had put a climber about 20 yards from the property line shoot four times at a buck. I never saw the buck because when he started shooting, I hit the deck. I walked over to talk to him, and he was embarrassed, but said the buck took off right toward where I had been sitting. That property is now entirely solar panels, thank goodness for that. I wound up killing a buck on another property and two more in Texas before that year ended. The obsession was definitely alive and well.
In 2009, while I was living in the single-wide trailer alone, the property was completely cut in preparation for solar panels. My family had entered into a lease with a solar company, and the plan was that they would put the panels out immediately like they did on neighboring properties. Well, time went on, and they never did. I decided in 2012 that I would begin to put some cameras out and put in some work to try to hunt the property again. I put cameras out and had three pretty nice bucks. I hunted hard for one and was able to take him during November. That story is one for itself, but he was the first for me in what would become a long line of nice, mature bucks taken off of a single property.
Fast forward a few years again. It appeared that the solar panels would finally be happening. The one section of the property that had some cedars left on it would be cut , and now that side of the property looked like a wasteland. The original part that was cut was once some old beautiful pine trees that had some small volunteer pines that had thickened up enough to become a bedding area. I decided in 2017 to really try to make this property the best it could with what we had been left with. I decided we would plant one food plot and put up one feeder with corn or protein in it depending on the time of year. What I found very quickly is that times had changed. All of the neighboring properties had basically taken on the same lease, but they already had solar panels on them. This was the first cell camera we ever had, and my phone began lighting up immediately when we put the feed out. Deer were hungry and looking for somewhere to eat. It was strange that so many of them were skinny. I had some bucks that I had known from a couple of years before but didn’t expect to ever see any of them again. The first really nice buck that showed up that year was a buck that I had had on camera from a couple of years ago. He had really grown. He has since been named “The OG” because he is the one that truly started what is happening on this property currently. He is the one that fulfilled all of the prayers and hard work that we had put in basically starting from scratch on this property. There are certain areas we leave alone, and there is only one spot on the whole 93 acres that we feed them. If someone throws a candy bar in the wrong spot on the property, I will hunt it down and pick it up and throw it away to make sure that all the deer that are eating on this property get in front of my camera. Every year I have a pretty strong idea of the entire deer herd that comes through.
“The OG” really did kick off something special. Since taking him Oct. 25, 2017, I have really been blessed with an unbelievable ride on this property. In the years 2017-2022, I have been able to fill every single buck tag in Georgia. That’s 12 nice, mature bucks. Of that 12, nine have been on this property. My son has also taken four, and my wife has taken two in the last two years. That’s 18 bucks since 2017. They just keep showing up. When one mature buck goes down, another seems to take his place. I think the solar panels and the lack of competition in the area have definitely helped. All of these bucks will have their own story written out in the months to come. It has been very rewarding to have a specific process with specific strategies and tactics work and be proven year in and year out.Hunting has a unique ability to produce some of the most incredible stories that a family can have together. I love athletics, but in this world that we live in, I truly don’t think that there is anything better to teach a child to do. As a husband and father, I love every minute that I get to spend with my family in the outdoors. It is special to think that my children will one day be teaching their children the same things I am teaching them.
Sadly, there could be an end to the run with this property for us. There may well come a day that the solar company decides they are ready to put solar panels on the property. I am terrified of that day, and I pray that they never decide to go through with it. If it ever does happen, the only solace that I can truly take is that the ground may change and never look the same, but all of the memories will remain. These memories can never be taken from any of us. Memories that have now seemed to repeat. My mama has now taken her turn to be affectionately called “Ma” by my two boys. Her house has become the meeting site for our family Christmas gatherings that have in recent years begun to grow into what we remember them being all those years ago. I have now taken bucks off of the property just like my daddy did. My sons even sleep at my feet in a big box stand just like I slept at my daddy’s feet all those years ago.
The truth is that there is nothing magical about this property. It is just a simple piece of ground whose memories will always hold a special place in all of our family’s hearts. When one really sits back and thinks about it all, it becomes obvious that it’s the people that the property has brought together all of these years that make up these special memories. The people and a few deer here and there.
Clae Mathis is a new blogger for GON.com. Clae is a full-time teacher and high school baseball coach with an absolute obsession with whitetail deer hunting. His outings often include his wife Taylor and two sons, Charlie and Cal. Clae loves the Lord and his family first, but deer hunting falls in right after those. Clae’s YouTube Channel is mostly devoted to deer hunting in Taylor County, but it also contains other types of hunting. Every single hunt he and his family go on is well documented on the channel, Out There Outdoors.