Published by George D. Stout on 17 May 2008 at 10:10 am
I tugged at my collar to soften the bite of the cold fog that was rising from the moss-covered slope. Although the weather was mild, the cool November morning’s bite was evident on my bare neck as the sun began to rise along with the mist into a gray-blue heaven. The warmth of the fleece collar brought me back in focus and I once again began to peruse the horizon for the elusive whitetail.
My longbow lay across my lap as I sit with my back against a fairly large red oak tree. My blind was a cluster of scrub maple and witch hazel bushes that grow in prolific quantity around the small creek that traverses this patch of deer woods. I’m watching a well-worn deer trail that comes from the ridge top above my stand and extends to several distant farm fields. Directly across the little creek a lesser-used path intersects and joins the main trail; this obscure side road is used by several bucks that call this area their home. I don’t really expect to see decent bucks on the main trail but you never know. Pennsylvania deer are always unpredictable.
I once again drift into a semiconscious state but am quickly brought back to reality by a snapping twig across the creek. It’s a buck, probably eighteen months old and sporting a little four point rack. It is carelessly moseying along paying little attention to the surroundings, or so it seems, as it hits the main trail and heads on toward the fields a quarter mile distant. If it can make it through a season or two the little buck will surely not be so casual in its woods’ demeanor in the future. Like humans, a buck’s youth is a time of learning, however the consequences of failing are much more severe and final. I watch after the deer until it is gone from my sight. Again I’m alone with the creek and the rising mist.
As I tinker with the rawhide wrapping on my longbow’s handle I am again drawn back to the trail. Another of the woods residents has decided to pass by my vantage point near the creek. It is a red fox and it seems to be noticing the trail of the buck that passed earlier. It could be that it simply is scenting the trail to see what other critters have left their odorous molecules about, kind of an airborne menu if you will from which an alert predator may select its dinner choices. Unlike the buck, the fox notices something in the air that does not suit its tastes. As our gazes meet, reality sets in and the canine swaps ends and bolts back through the brush at breakneck speed. Again I relax and stretch my legs while the woods are still. Nothing is moving except for the water in the small creek twenty yards or so below the brush patch that hides my presence. It’s a little after seven-thirty and the sunbeams are starting to breach the horizon on the east side of the ridge. The rays of the rising sun pull at the creek bank and draw the mist toward the sky.
With a quiet zip I open up a pocket in my fleece fanny pack and withdraw my bottle of water. A quick drink as I look over my wooded realm sates my thirst for the time being. I slip the bottle back into the pack and again stretch my muscles, now tight from sitting in one position for about one and a half-hours. The air is starting to warm now and I loosen the collar that had to be tightened an hour earlier. Again, I settle in to see what happens next.
The next two hours pass quickly but uneventfully and I rise from my hiding place and gingerly get my tingling feet back in usable condition. I pick up my longbow, strap my fanny pack onto my waist and walk down to the creek. I run my fingers in the water, back and forth, just to feel the temperature and take in another sense of the area. This creek has a spring feed up the mountain so it is never deplete of water, although many years it’s sparse at best. This year Mother Nature was gracious and it carries a quantity that is sufficient for the local critters to grab a drink and quench their thirst. It also changes the deer’s habits when it has ample flow, since it keeps them from having to travel another quarter mile or so to the main creek, one of the reasons why I chose to sit here this morning.
I adjust my pack and make a right onto the path the buck followed earlier in the morning. Back-trailing through the brush I walk into a rub line that borders a small meadow. Actually, it’s kind of a staging area where the deer gather before moving on to the fields by the big creek. Perhaps the deer meet here to discuss the day’s ruminations and plan evening entertainment. More than likely they stop here to nibble and rest, to test the wind and listen to what the evening forest has to say to them before traveling on to evening supper. This is the time of the rut, however, so things can happen quickly and without much warning, so I pay particular attention to the sounds of the morning.
I walk the trail for about forty yards or so, watching for those signs of the rut; fresh rubs, newly thrown dirt from boundary scrapes….any change in the status quo of the woods. As I approach the first field next to the woods I can see a deer near the middle of the pasture. It is a buck and is hastily making its way toward my position. I quickly formulate a plan, test the wind and back off about twenty yards from the trail. Quickly removing my fanny pack, I hunker down within shooting range of the trail. All I can do now is wait and watch.
I can hear the buck as it approaches my position by the path. The whitetail is in in a bit of a hurry and ignores the red oak acorns that lay all about the leaf litter. I am hunched over onto my knees and have the longbow a quarter drawn as the buck steps into my first window. Still somewhat facing me it is too soon to attempt a shot…about ten more steps would be good. Patience may provide a broadside situation, much more desirable than quartering toward or away; anyway there is no hurry as the buck is unaware of my presence.
Time seems to stand still as the buck momentarily stops, looking back over its body toward the field. Finally it moves forward several more steps and tests the air for any prevailing scent. As it takes another step my bowstring is at my cheek and I’m frantically trying to pick a spot, both on the deer and through the seam between the scrub. Suddenly the buck stops behind some brush and the hairs rise on the back of its neck. There’s no time for a shot as the buck turns and runs back through the hazel brush in the direction of the ridge top. As quickly as it began, it was over and the woods were again silent.
I just sit there dumbfounded. There was no vagrant breeze on the back of my neck to warn the deer….no sound or movement to give away my hiding place. Apparently the old sixth sense kicked in and I just got busted. Plain and simple. My emotions at a time such as this run the gamut from exuberance to melancholy; knowing that I came so close to taking one of the most clever animals in the woods with a stick and string, yet feeling kind of a let-down that another chance has passed uneventfully. I’m sure this feeling is a natural one and is shared by many a hunter and I’m also equally sure it’s based solely on a deep respect and admiration for the quarry. When the reality of the situation becomes clear I allow myself a smile and an excuse or two; it was the buck’s day today, maybe tomorrow would be mine.
As I look around, the last traces of the morning mist have risen above the canopy and the air is clear. There are no cheering crowds nor are there any castigating jeers from other forest critters. Everything that happened here this morning was simply a rerun of happenings of the past, natural occurrences between predator and prey. It is a scene that has been played out for millenniums within the confines of nature’s wild lands. Yet the morning is still young and there is no need to hurry. The longbow is not a burden and my legs are fresh. I loosen my collar and start up the ridge.
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