Friday, October 8, 2010

October Encounters

The forest was alive with the sounds of predawn bustle. Chipmunks and squirrels were getting an early start on a day full of collecting acorns. Heavy crunching footfalls of a single large deer moved down the trail closer and closer to my stand. Not quite pitch black, the forest interior was still too dark to make out the well camouflaged form of the deer, now only several yards from the base of my tree. The cool fall air moved very little, yet I felt the chill on the back of my neck as the air currents swirled. The deer stopped and stood still for several minutes while the darkness slowly began to recede to the west. Calmly, the deer turned and walked back up the trail leaving me with only a glimpse of its white rump in the still very dark woods.

I was a bit dejected at my misfortune, but swirling winds are a fact of life in this part of the world and I've long since learned not to get too upset about it. Besides, the deer would have passed by my location and through my shooting lanes long before it was light enough to take advantage of the opportunity. So I sat there as the sky slowly lightened above the treetops staring at the dark forest floor below.

Above the sporadic forest noise, a familiar call rose softly in the distance. Then again a bit closer. The high-pitched tremolo was unmistakable and it made me smile like a letter from an old friend. A pair of screech owls called back and forth to each other across the ravine to the east and as they moved closer, I hoped for a quick sighting of one of the shy night hunters. It was not to be, but my spirits remained high from the auditory encounter.

Finally, the darkness gave way to a cloudless sunrise and I could clearly see all the frantic activity below. A groundhog munched away on something, then gathered a mouthful of leaves and disappeared down one of its many holes. Chipmunks chased each other in wild bursts of energy and sent leaves flying in their wake. Squirrels "chalked" all around serving notice to others of their presence. One curious fox squirrel climbed a wild grapevine and stopped at my eye level less than 10 feet away. It took a few seconds to carefully look me over before letting out a couple of muffled barks around the hickory nut in its mouth. Seemingly satisfied, it descended back to the forest floor and scurried away to hide its prize.

I spent the next hour scanning the forest for unusual movement... the flick of a tail... the turn of a head... anything to give away the approach of a deer. In the thick tangle of grapevines to the west, I saw movement. Nothing I could define, but too large for a squirrel or something of that size. Slowly raising my binoculars, I trained them on the area and slowly scanned for anything out of place. It took a minute, but there she was, almost invisible behind the wall of foliage. A few minutes later the young doe worked her way to the trail that lead to my stand. With an "antlerless" tag in my pocket, the thought of some tender flavorful venison flashed into my consciousness and I took my bow from its hanger. As most trails do, this one offered the deer a choice... to take the direction that would lead under my stand and eventually to my freezer or the one that would take it harmlessly away to the relative safety of the deep forest.

I came home with a full quiver of arrows and no venison for the grille, but spirits high. It was a great morning in the field and I'll be back out there again soon.

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