For the past month or so, many of my articles have revolved around what the fall brings to our hearts and souls. You may be getting just a bit tired of the descriptions of nostalgic movies, brisk winds from the north, and the assortment of goodies and treats that so many of us associate with this wonderful time of year. Though this is an “outdoor” column, Honeycrisp apples and “Leaves” scented candles compliment the writings quite nicely. Let me assure you, I have no intention of switching gears completely, for the leaves are still clinging to the branches above and the colors are still a few weeks away from peak brilliance.
Halloween is past, but pumpkins and cornstalks still line streets and sidewalks indicating we are not yet ready to welcome Old Man Winter into our homes and lives. I will respect the wishes from a few readers, only temporarily, and go back to my roots that brought me to where I am, that being sharing real experiences in the woods. After all, I don’t want my hunting friends to think I have gone completely “millennial” and only talk about spiced lattes and pumpkin bread, so here goes.
You may recall I didn’t do so well on my first excursion of the season with stick and string. A multitude of factors, of course self-inflicted, prevented me from bringing the first venison of the year home with me. JH has been filling our freezer regularly, but there is a sense of personal satisfaction when I also contribute to stocking the shelves. So, this past Sunday, with JH napping, I made another visit to a new haunt to test my skills. I hope you enjoy the play by play.
I wasn’t nearly as late settling into my stand as I was on my first hunt. I was more relaxed and enjoyed the slow stroll into the secluded oasis. It almost felt like a reward from the trying days as of late. The brisk, northwest wind couldn’t have been more timely. See, I told you I wasn’t done with providing descriptions of fall. My approach must have been stealth-like for I didn’t blow anything out as I did last time. It is always reassuring when your ascent is undetected and not interrupted by snorts and whistles from alerted whitetails. Fleeing whitetails, as they crash through brush and vines, can mimic the sound of stampeding elephants. I despise the alarm sound from a deer and at least this time, as far as the deer knew, the coast was clear. At least I made it through the first stage of the hunt with flying colors.
I made double sure my arrow was securely “nocked” this time. If you remember, my first draw of the season resulted in my arrow falling off the string. I still can’t believe it happened, and I can’t believe I am sharing my blunder again with my readers. Maybe this reminder will keep me aware of what could repeat itself and this “haunting” may keep me from doing it all over again. Regardless, I checked it throughout the sit.
My heart rate indicated I was at peace with myself and my surroundings. I experienced a calm that I haven’t felt in quite some time. I noticed the crimson, poison ivy leaves that fluttered in the wind on serpentine vines that were coiled around numerous trees. I am pretty sure the two grey squirrels that picked me out on my last hunt, were the same two that noticed my presence once again. They switched their tails and barked at me incessantly for the next 30 minutes.
The ruckus only became louder when a red-tailed hawk sailed in from parts unknown in search of the ones announcing to the forest, my intrusion. I really expected the two bushy-tails to scamper for cover to escape the threat of sharp talons that could carry them away, but they didn’t. Instead, they scolded the hawk even more than me as the large bird sat perched, surveying the landscape. Maybe the winged predator had already partaken of Sunday dinner and was just scouting out new territory and future morsels. Either way, the hawk tired of the game and pitched off the limb to been seen elsewhere. His departing calmed the squirrels as well, and they resumed their normal activities. Alas, peace in the valley could be experienced again.
I happened to be staring into the briar thicket at the same time the doe emerged from her hiding. For once, I had the advantage of not being detected or surprised by my quarry. I stood and attached my release in one fluid motion. I got away with the first move, now if only the act of the draw would undetected. This is the hardest part about bowhunting to me. It is so difficult to come to full draw without being picked off by those sharp-eyed whitetails.
I really think these old does are more difficult to fool than those wise old bucks. I can’t fully explain why they are so sharp and keen, but these five-year-old does are as wild as the March wind. Again, another mention of wind and breeze, but that’s ok too. Now, I just needed to remain calm and patient until the window of opportunity opened. It wasn’t long before it began to play out.
This doe had a nose that resembled that of a limousine. I knew she was fully mature and smart as they come. As she moved behind a giant oak, I made my move. My anchor was solid, and the moment of truth would occur when she stepped into the opening. Nothing could go wrong now…at least I thought. I held and held, awaiting the shot. Did she get a sixth sense that something was amiss? I continued to hold. Through the brush I saw her turn around. My heart began to beat harder and sink at the same time. I could almost feel frustration set in as I thought of having to describe my failure to JH once again when I returned home. Of course, these rampant thoughts occurred at light speed as I tried to hold it together. I suppose Orion must have compassion for me, or maybe sympathy, for as she made her way back the way she came, she stopped perfectly in a small opening. I concentrated and remembered to hold low. The release was smooth as I sent the shaft towards my target.
After the shot, a million things go through the hunter’s mind. Did the chartreuse nock disappear where I thought it did? Did I mark every tree that showed the trail of the fleeing deer? Did I do everything that is required of me morally to ensure my responsibility as a hunter? I just sat there for a few minutes recalling every aspect of the hunt and prepared myself for the follow up tracking job. I knew I would need some help, so a quick text to JH telling him to ride out was sent. Darkness would fall quickly, only complicating the task at hand, but the shot looked good from my perch, so I started the endeavor by myself.
Sign of a good shot was picked up quickly. I was only about 50 yards into my search when I saw the flicker from John Hartley’s flashlight as he made his way towards me. The thicket we entered was chock full of unused briars. Vines hung thick like sausage on a smoke house wall. I was thankful for the chilly temperatures for the habitat was perfect for Mr. No-Shoulders. The trail became increasingly easier to follow and a short distance later, my first venison of the year was recovered.
It’s hard to explain the emotions of a sportsman after a successful hunt. Of course, the harvesting of game isn’t the only criteria that signifies a successful hunt, but that can be a topic for future articles. Whether experienced alone, with a friend, or in this case with my son, the end of a day in the woods and the sharing of every detail of the hunt makes for truly, long-lasting memories.
I gained full appreciation from my lack of routine exercise as JH allowed me to do most of the dragging. Over the logs, and through the creeks, to the four-wheeler I did drag. Did you pick up on the hint of the song? Thankfully, my son did help me get my prize to the top of the bluff and help me load her.
Who knows what the remainder of the season will hold for me but I won’t be “skunked” this year. So, there you have it, the first real hunting tale of the year. Please forgive me if I go back to descriptive articles about plants, soil, and life, but know I will be back with those stories from the swamp and the blind that truly define me. I hope you enjoyed this one.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.