Published by archerchick on 11 Dec 2011 at 12:29 am
To Kiss An Eagle ~ By Glenn Helgeland
This mental picture keeps recurring and recurring, like the beacon
from a lighthouse in the dark, flashing through my mind and burning the
image of the perfect deer hunt deeper, burning deeper into my brain with each
The picture is of old stone fences, crumbled but still evident, plodding
up the side of a hill. Of hardwood ridges, with timber clean and straight
rising from the soil of an abandoned field within the borders of the
fence and the ridge. Of thick oak brush and laurel rimming the field, like
a ruff on a fur coat, Of an old apple orchard standing resolute and
untended near the lower side of this sloping field, still giving of itself in autumn
fruit. And of a deer trail winding down from the ridge, emerging wraith like
through the oak and laurel and then lining out for the upper side of the
I will be waiting there, on stand in a hardwood, or behind the old stone
fence—depending on the direction of the wind that
particular day. All but the far side of the orchard will be within
good bow range. As I wait on a cool, crisp late autumn day the sun shines
hard and brilliant. I am sleepy as I wait, and ghostlike images with antlers
and short, cautious steps filter in and out of whatever vision I possess
at the moment.
Then the wind picks up, blowing along the ridge and through the apple
orchard toward me. The temperature drops to around 27 degrees F. and a
light snow begins to spit, angling into my stand and causing me to pull my
neck firmly into my down vest.
The spitting snow on the leaves conceals the buck’s hoof sounds
against leaves, so when I first notice him emerging from the ruff of
brush it is as if he is in a silent movie. I watch him pause once, read
the signs and decide they all are favorable, and steps completely into
the open and walks straight to the orchard, intent on the frosted, fallen
goodness lying red on the ground beneath each tree.
He drops his head and I hear the crunch of an apple.
His body is fully outlined. He turns his neck and head to reach for
another apple on the side opposite me. I begin to draw . . .
It is still only a dream for me, but last fall, in the abandoned, hidden fields
and ridges of north central Pennsylvania, as forgotten apple trees beckoned with
gnarled arms, I lived the beginnings of that dream.
It was in October, before a hard frost. Weeds were still standing, apples
and leaves were beginning to fall. I hunted with Sherwood Schoch and a
group of his friends out of Schoch’s Dutch Heart camp. The Dutch Heart
bunch know how to hunt deer. Stands in the morning, small drives during mid-day, stands in the evening. There are deer; on my second day at camp, 13 guys saw 15 bucks, 83 does, four unknowns, and got 14 shots. All misses. Well, now . . .
The area is typical Pennsylvania mountains, with winding roads, tortuous .
fields, timbered ridge sides, thick-brushed creek bottoms, some swamps,
necks of brush running seemingly at random, plenty of large timber tracts
. . . and apple orchards. Everywhere, apple orchards. Or so it seems.
Three deer had, at various times, hung from the buck pole before my
arrival. One buck had made the mistake of emerging from some brush and stop·
ping in front of a red-leafed hazel brush bush only ten yards from a Dutch Heart
Buddy Nugent, Peterburg, Va., and Robert “Pokey” Schoch, Sherwood’s
brother, were walking down a gravel road back to their truck after
an unsuccessful drive through a pine thicket, not talking because the
sound of the human voice can spook deer quickly sometimes, when they
spotted a button buck feeding under an apple tree. They saw it half a
second before it noticed any movement, so they froze. The buck
looked at them a bit, then resumed feeding. Buddy used a couple of branches
to frame his shot at the animal’s neck, the only part of the body clear, and broke its
Al Roberts, Lexington, Ky., had located an abandoned field halfway up a
ridge side that was rimmed with scattered mature pines, half a dozen
apple trees and patches of thick brush and small pines. He was waiting in one
of the pines the morning after his scouting trip and at 7:10 a.m. put an
arrow through the liver of a six-pointer that came out to feed on apples.
He trailed it 600 yards, drop by drop, and his persistence paid off.
Discussing the proper entry to tree stand areas with him later, Roberts said,
“Don’t still hunt in tree stand areas. Do your general still hunting, your poking
around and stalking in other areas. ]ust ease in and ease out of your stand area.
I’ve had most of my success early. I believe deer feed later in the morning
than most people believe. I try to remain on stand until ll a.m. if I know the area
and/or like it. Deer may bed down some, but it will still be cool and they’ll
get up now and then to feed a little more. Patience . . . patience . . . patience.
When I leave a stand, I still hunt away from it. Most people just walk out,
but that scatters the deer.” Then we talked aiming from a tree stand, and
Pokey Schoch offered this thought: “If you’re reasonably high up, aim on
the bottom line of the deer’s body; if you’re at medium height, aim at its feet; and when you have to aim between your own feet, you’re too high.”
“That’s the stand Sherwood put me on,” Larry Rekart, West Springfield, Mass., said. “I was so high I could count the geese flying below me.” I hunted from Boberts’ stand
a couple of evenings later. Maybe the thermal currents alarmed them, maybe something else, but the three does I saw were nervous, except for the fawn which ate
apples near the stand for 15 minutes.
RAIN MAKES QUIET STALKING
Our mid-day drives churned up several deer, but they had the habit of
either doubling back out of range. or doubling back past guys who already
had their deer so were carrying sticks of unstrung wood, or sneaking out the side
When it rained, and that was fairly often, we basically abandoned the
and used ground blinds. Schock prefers this method. “The trees are wet and
slippery,” he says, “and when it’s wet you can more easily stalk a deer that
won’t come close enough to your stand.
You’re simply more mobile on the ground; and since it’s quiet and
deer aren’t as alert when it’s raining or mixing, you stand a good
chance of stirring up some action.”
One misty morning we scattered around the edges of some alfalfa fields and waited and watched. Nothing. Apparently we got antsy about the same time . . . just a while before we were to return to camp for breakfast. And because of this, Don Stuart, Ludlow, Mass., and I learned a couple of things.
For instance: Don’t put two people on the same field, because if one decides to
move he can louse up something for the other guy. Don and I didn’t know we were on
opposite sides of the same field, for we had taken different paths to reach our
stands, his on the low side of the field bordering a wooded draw and mine on
the high side near a neck of brush and small trees.
About 9 a.m. I got tired of seeing nothing but crows flying around so I wandered back up on the ridge behind me, along the ridge to check out a couple of buck rubs, then down off the ridge along a deer trail that led around the end of the field. The
wind was blowing from the field toward me, so I circled a hundred yards or so from the
field and came up to its low edge, on the same side where Don sat but at the opposite end.
A good-sized doe was busily munching in the field so I backed out of sight,
changed my angle of approach and crawled into position under a big cedar
tree on the field edge. Its overhanging branches offered plenty of bow room
and I was completely in the shadows against the trunk. The doe was feeding steadily toward me, but still out of range. Suddenly it looked toward the other end of the field, flagged once and hustled back into the timber.
When I went over the slight rise in the field upon which it had fed, I met Don.
He had seen the same doe and decided to see how close he could get by
walking directly, at it. He had no idea I was anywhere in the vicinity,
and since he was to leave the field soon, decided it was worth a try. He
was able to get within about 55 yards, but his arrow went low. So we learned something.
That evening Bob Condon, Palmer, Mass., sneaked to within 40 yards of a
button buck. The buck jumped the string, but his arrow cut the femoral
artery and angled up into the spine, breaking it. The deer was dead in
Since there were guys in camp from all over the Northeast, we talked hunting styles quite a bit, what deer did and didn’t eat. Apples are a favorite throughout that area of the U.S., but not in the same way. Sherwood noted that Pennsylvania deer in
his area seem to prefer yellow and yellow-green apples best, then reds, then green, unripe ones. Bite-size apples get eaten first. Sherwood tasted various apples and found the ones deer preferred were slightly sour.
Steve Witkiewicz, jr., Feeding Hills, Mass., and Larry Bekart ‘ mentioned
that in the areas of Vermont they usually hunt, the deer don’t go after apples until
later in the season, especially after a hard frost which turns windfall apples
mushy. Until then, and then too, it helps if you step on the apples and crush them,
the bow hunters noted.
The third day of hunting, again in a light mist, we were trailing a
deer along the side of a ridge, with trackers scattered along the ridge
side. A nice buck, looked to be a six- or eight-pointer, flashed along
the ridge right at me, saw the trackers, stopped and looked at them, then
looked behind him. I zipped an arrow right past his neck and he decided
maybe he ought to circle back in the brush and go around instead of between us. Which he promptly did.
“The main reason that’s the best you’ve been able to do, while all the rest
of the guys seem to be getting shots, is that you haven’t kissed the eagle,” Sher-
“What sort of humiliation is that?”, I asked. “Nothing tricky. just a legend. An
Indian hermit used to live on the end of a ridge a few miles from here. He carved an eagle with outstretched wings . . . not life-size, but a couple of inches tall . . . in
a big chunk of granite not far from his cabin. The cabin- is gone now, but the
eagle sure isn’t. Over the years, the hunters who knew about it sort of made
it their thing that you’d have good luck by smooching that stone eagle. It’s
worth a try,” he said.
There were no weird grins hidden behind camouflaged sleeves on anyone in
the group, so I said I’d try most anything once and we went up on the ridge,
brushed some leaves off that eagle and I planted one on it.
It doesn’t work worth a damn. In fact, we didn’t get much hunting
done the next morning because most of the guys had to head home.
That afternoon, Sherwood and I went to an abandoned farmstead with the
ubiquitous apple trees and each perched in maples next to different
apple trees. It was windy and cold. It began to get windier and colder. My
maple tree was swaying like the mainmast of an ocean schooner and I began
to entertain serious thoughts of seasickness. (Yes, you can get seasick a
long way from water, especially three·fourths of the way up a limber tree.) This is another good reason to use a safety rope and tie yourself into the tree.
About 4 p.m. the geese quit flying. Then I noticed that nothing was moving, except me and the tree and every leaf in sight. Within ten minutes a black curtain came over the ridge and turned everything a silvery gray in the premature twilight. That was the meanest looking cloud I’ve seen anywhere east of a bad prairie storm, and that’s when
I decided it most definitely was time to bail out. So did Schoch, because we met at the
“Seen any eagles lately?” “Nope. And no deer, geese or anything else, either. That’s a mean weather front.” So the dream of that perfect hunt lives on, back there
among the mountain laurel and the ridges. And the apple orchards so full
of tracks they sometimes look like cows fed there. Under one of those
trees, someday, will stand my buck. It appears, though, he won’t come easy.
Nothing great ever does.
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