Indiana 101 ends as I make my way across the big river and Markland Dam for my weekly jaunt south for an afternoon of deer hunting.
I peel off the interstate and wheel on the Kentucky 35 and roll through Owenton and further past Hesler until I finally turn onto that now familiar dead-end road.
I start my walk back in as the layer of snow crunches under my boots. The logging road is littered with footprints of all sorts: turkey tracks, ‘coon prints, squirrels and rabbits have left their marks too. Deer of course have criss-crossed their way through the snow. The does have left behind their heart shaped foot prints and the bucks with their deeply splayed hooves and impressions from their dew claws. I find myself wanting to follow the trails and see where they lead, but time is short and I need to get to my stand for the evening.
I kick the snow and ice from my stand’s platform and settle in for a cold afternoon’s sit.
I survey my surroundings and the world looks like a winter wonderland, covered in six-inches of downy snow. The cedar trees laid heavy with the wet snow that has frozen and thawed and frozen again, moaning under the added weight. A pin oak that refuses to give up its leaves shakes in the wind, sending clumps of frozen snow to the ground. The breeze has a sting to it as I tuck my chin into my chest and jam my hands a little further into my pockets.
The next two hours pass slowly as the wind continues its chill. Not much life in the woods this evening. It’s quiet and deep out here tonight.
My hiding spot is over a steep hill covered in cedars. My stand is hidden in some forgotten bottom along a no-name creek. My secret spot seems almost magical in the snow, all but the loudest noise blocked out by the buffer of trees and the remoteness of location. A few songbirds flit from tree to tree, but everything else seems to have vanished. I continually scan the woods and creek bottom for anything horizontal in this vertical world of trees.
The days are short this time of year and shooting light is fading fast as dusk has crept in. I strain to see anything, to hear something. Finally, a faint crunch of snow to my right. I focus all my attention that direction.
There it is – a patch of brown that is distinctly animal, that tell-tale horizontal line of a deer’s back. The deer lifts its head and I’m surprised to see he’s a nice buck. Not huge, but mature. A perfect, late-December representation of a Kentucky Whitetail. He cuts the distance leisurely and I can feel my heart pound
He’s coming in and I can feel my fingers tense on the bowstring as my breathing and stress increases.
Just two more steps and he’ll clear the cedars blocking my view and my arrow’s path.
But, something’s wrong.
This old boy has been pressured from a long hunting season and he’s rut weary and worn. His sixth sense is warning him of danger. It’s become a battle of wills, a standoff. Daylight is racing away and cold, aching knees are reminding me of my age.
“Just two steps”, I whisper under my breath.
I shift my weight off my throbbing knees and as I do, the cold, frozen tree stand pops and the buck has heard enough. He does an about face and stiff legged walks back the direction he came from constantly checking his back trail. He’s lived to see another day.
“A few more feet and he would have been meat”, I say out loud to no one.
I climb down and start the long hike out under the clear, cold night sky. I make my way up the hill and wiggle warmth back into my toes and hands as my breath puffs like a locomotive around my head. My footsteps sound out a rhythm in the crunching snow as my boots kick along the trail. I crest the top and look over my shoulder into the deep, snowy bottom and nod a good bye to Kentucky and 2012 and look forward to what 2013 has in store.