Nature’s beauty worth unfilled tags

By JEFF NORTH,

Kansas was brutal. At least it was brutal until the last day of our early season black powder hunt. Of course it never fails, does it? The forecast a week ago was for highs to be in the 70s and the lows in the upper 50s. I suppose weather forecasters across the globe just flip a coin when it comes to predicting. They must have called heads on this one for it surely landed on tails. One hundred degree days with winds out of the south at twenty miles per hour are hardly ideal conditions for chasing early season whitetails. I should qualify this by saying chasing weather is ok, but far from being conducive for collecting. Alas, it is what it was and we made the best of it.

You have heard me say over and over to enjoy every sunrise and every sunset for we only have so many in our lifetime to experience. I made a pact with myself to try and spend more time in the outdoors pursuing my passion. Additionally, I keep reminding myself not to rush my luxury of time spent afield when I have these opportunities. Though carrying a McWhorter rifle up and down the Kansas ridges and valleys in scorching temperatures wasn’t ideal, I made the best of it for the trail camera pictures of giant whitetails superseded my negative thoughts of perspiration and rattlesnakes.

My first afternoon yielded the observation of several bucks but nothing that really increased my heart rate. I am always amazed how the five year olds disappear when opening day arrives. The one and two year olds walk around like kids in a park. The three and four year olds make an appearance just at dawn and dusk. Those five year olds and older make a habit of showing up after legal shooting time and they retreat to the thickets a full hour before dawn. These wise monarchs test a man’s soul to the limit. I guess that’s why we hunt ‘em though, for if it was easy we probably wouldn’t love it like we do. Though I was pouring sweat and fighting wasps on almost every sit, I did manage to have some really nice moments and was rewarded with several experiences that will go to my bank of memories.

 

One afternoon I took pictures of a really promising two-year-old as he fed in a plot I was guarding. I heard a fox squirrel barking to my left along a creek but from my vantage point I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. All of a sudden the buck I had been watching threw his head up and began walking towards me. Maybe one of the 160s I was waiting on was about to emerge from the thicket along the hickory lined creek bottom. I heard the soft crunching of leaves and my anticipation grew. What followed next still has me perplexed. A huge bobcat appeared and surveyed the field. In the meantime the young buck continued making his way towards me and the feline predator. Things were about to get interesting. The buck walked right up to the bobcat and put his nose right on the cat’s face. In fact, the bobcat sat on his haunches as the buck continued the nuzzling. In a moment the cat began walking up the woods road with the buck right by his side.

They both disappeared over the hill together. Maybe there is more harmony in the wild than we all think.

 

Each morning I would make my way in the dark to my stand. Millions of stars in the pre-dawn darkness would totally captivate my attention. The evening walks back to my truck were also without the use of artificial light. Again, the magnitude of the night skies illuminated by only twinkling stars overhead was breathtaking. I kept noticing small specks of a green glow on the soil as I made my way to and from my stands in the dark. It resembled that of a phenomenon known as “foxfire”. Foxfire is the glowing of decaying wood from the breakdown of tissue from a fungus. This bioluminescence comes from the fungi’s rhizomorphs that look like long thin strands of leather or string. I have seen foxfire in the spring turkey woods but this was different. The aqua-green glowing would fade in and out as I watched it. I pointed it out to a fellow hunter when we met back at the truck in the dark. He suspected it was the reflection of a spider’s eyes, but when we turned a light on there was no arachnid there. As soon as we turned the flashlights off, the glow would re-appear. It was all across the Kansas soils and added greatly to my experience. I will have to research this phenomenon further, but I suspect it is phosphorus in the soil. Maybe you have seen this as well in your excursions to and from your stands in the dark. If you have an idea of what this is, please drop me a note as I would like your thoughts on this as well.

I didn’t fill my Kansas muzzleloader tag on one of legendary bucks that this country is famous for. This is part of the game though. I have several other tags on my desk that will soon make the trek west. Regardless if I touch the trigger of my rifle or the release attached to my bow, hopefully I will be rewarded with experiences that will be everlasting. Sure, it is nice to bring one of those bruiser bucks home with you, but there is much more to a hunt than just collecting venison and antlers. I’ll continue to make these trips as long as I can and hopefully encounters like the buck and the bobcat and the mystery glow will always be there. I hope they are there for you as well.

Until next time, enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.

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Kindergarteners (from left) Jaycee Baker, Paylor Jordan, Lucy Hines, Hart Noblitt and Carter Haralson recently dressed for their hundredth day of school at Jackson Academy.