Tag Archives: whitetail hunting

FIRST LIGHT

First light

At first light I returned to where we had last seen blood. A sparkling sheen of frost on the fields, thin ice on standing water, and my breath hanging lazily in the air made the stillness feel full and close like a heavy flannel. I hoped that morning would show us that Cam’s buck had simply laid down last night and the small roaming sweeps of our flashlights had simply missed spotting him. Cam was at school. I walked with my thoughts.

After two hours I had to resign myself to the fact that he wasn’t going to give himself up. But as disappointed as I was that this is the turn events took, I have to move past last night’s speculation. Whether other hunters claimed him, or he simply ran far further than we thought conceivable, that animal walked into Cam’s life yesterday afternoon and gave him the gift of firsthand awe, wonder, and appreciation.

Listening to him describe the deer and the moment, reliving each sense, was poetry. His color and muscled stature. The almost wide-eyed look and breathless jitters of being in rut. How unreal the sheer size of his antlers looked when he turned his head. Leaves crunching under another, smaller buck’s hooves. The warm light of sunset. At 14 he is in possession of an awareness, calmness, and understanding of the natural world around him that I didn’t truly come to until I was an adult, in spite of growing up fishing and hunting with my dad. Cam takes nothing for granted. He accepts that things happen for a reason, broadens his perspective, and moves forward with gratitude. Life’s lessons are for learning, not lamenting.

I know that too soon his life will take him far and wide as he settles into his place and purpose. As a parent, this is my hope. But right now his journey is just beginning. And I’m fortunate enough to be able to share this stretch of it with him.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods

WHEN THE SNOW FLIES

My last-minute run to the woods to fill my tag with a big buck was not thought out particularly well. I dressed warm, threw my pack, blaze-orange hoodie, hunting vest and shotgun into the idling truck. The tank read half. The windshield was frost-free. In spite of a couple good snow storms in the last week, the roads were generally clear and the three-speed straight-six did its best against a ridiculous W/NW gale.

Now, of trucks and deer hunting, there are a couple well-known rules that should be noted once the snow flies:
1. Make sure you’ve got weight in the bed of your truck. As long as I can remember my dad having a truck this has been a seasonal ritual. Putting sandbags in the back. It’s the one thing that separates you from all the yahoos whose trucks are buried in drifts, ditches or the rear-end of some unsuspecting Prius. Unless that one thing is beer, in which case sandbags won’t make them a dang bit of difference.
2. When a front is moving in and the wind and snow go horizontal, it’s best to grab a beer and watch the game. For all intents and purposes, that’s what the deer are doing.

Of course when it comes to rules, well-known doesn’t mean always-followed. Take my present situation for example.

My lack of forethought pertaining to rule #1 struck me as I pulled a u-turn to park the truck on the side of the road where we walk into our woods from: I’ve got zero weight in the bed of the truck. I pulled onto the shoulder, getting as close as possible to its edge without sliding over, in order to allow enough room for the fly-wing of the County’s plow truck to leave my mirror attached.

If I get stuck, I told myself, standing in the squall, I’ll cross that bridge when I’m done hunting– effectively dismissing rule #2 as well. This is how the male hunting-mind works. It’s a complex and inexplicable animal.

I suited up, locked the truck and started the 1/4-mile hike across a wide-open field to the woods.

Once in the woods, I spotted a half-dozen new rubs, but no fresh tracks. I was confident that this would be my afternoon. I settled into the stand, hung my gun on its hook and lit my pipe. The wind blew snow in whirls and clouds through the hardwoods around me. I was warm enough from the hike in to leave my gloves in my pocket for a while. Life was good.

Twenty minutes passed. No longer warm from the hike in, I put my pipe away and fished my gloves from my pocket. To my right, a big doe walked out from behind a thicket of trees, picking her way toward me. A doe was not on the docket for today’s hunt, but I grabbed my gun from its hook in case my buck was sniffing around.

She stood facing my direction at 40 yards. If I moved, she’d bust me and the jig would be up. I sat like a rock. Every direction she looked or turned her ears toward, I followed with my eyes. Five minutes later, she lied down right where she was standing. No buck. Just a bed comfortable enough to ride out the storm, complete with a view of a blaze orange testament to what happens when you don’t follow the rules. Shit.

So there I sat. Wind and snow. Dropping temps. More wind and snow. Nose running like a track-star. After two hours, she continued to lie there chewing her cud, body almost snowed-over. Snowed-over as well, and right about the time I started talking to the squirrels in neighboring trees, I decided I needed to stand up. Success. Daylight gave out twenty minutes later and she busted me climbing down out of the tree. I could sort of feel my fingers and toes again as I traipsed out of the woods to the field, a fading gray and drifting tundra.

In the end, the truck didn’t get stuck. That’s not to say I didn’t come uncomfortably close, mind you. I pulled slowly from the shoulder to the road. Fishtails dictated that 35 mph was all the truck would allow. Slow and steady. Which was fine by me. I had nothing to prove that I suppose hadn’t already. Besides, the game wasn’t starting for another hour and twenty minutes…and the beer wasn’t going anywhere either.

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Filed under In the woods