Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
Gray clouds rolled in as the afternoon turned unusually warm and damp for the New Year. One last watch from my tree stand. The scent of cedar was strong in the heavy air rising from the thicket just below my spot.
A favorite place for bedding deer, my longbow and I were hoping for one more chance before season’s end.
As the time whiled away and the slight breeze rocked my stand back and forth above the ground, the winter woods was alive. Squirrels raced around, chasing one another from limb to limb, tree to tree. Blue jays squawked at each other, glowing almost neon blue against the boring back drop of dingy brown. Robins chirped and hopped through the leaf litter searching out worms and grubs for their evening meal. A sharp whistle pierced the air from a redtail hawk circling above.
I sit stone still and become part of the surroundings.
A chorus of hounds barks and off in the distance I can see a brace of beagles working the field edge for rabbits. Several hundred yards from my hide, I can see the blaze orange vests of a couple hunters calling to the dogs… “Yep, yep, yep,”… “Here, here, here”, they yelled. The hounds voices bawled and I could hear the chase was on. A hummock in the field took them from my line of sight, but the shotgun blast echoed my direction and based on the whoops and hollers from the men, I can only assume the race ended in success.
Back to the task at hand, the quiet crunch of leaves in the cedar thicket drew my attention. My heart quickened at the sound. I listened intently, waiting for another snap of a twig. Several minutes later, in the fading light of evening, there she was. A fat, fuzzy yearling stepped from her hiding place. 30 yards from the red oak I’m perched in, the youngster nibbles on the tips of a sapling, not a care in the world. A small band of geese fly over, honking and making a fuss. The little doe looks towards the sky at the commotion and then goes back to nibbling the tender branches.
She takes a few leisurely steps towards my stand and is getting dangerously close to being in range of my wooden arrow. Movement behind her reveals another young doe, probably her sister, a carbon copy of the first one. Both the deer pick their way along the muddy trail that parallels the hillside I’m on. Just a couple more steps will bring the first deer into a my shooting circle that I had cleared months earlier to ensure a clean shot. No limbs or branches, no obstructions to trip up the arrow.
She steps into my window and my bow hand tightens on the grip and I begin to raise the weapon, all the while focusing behind her shoulder. But just as quickly as my grip had tensed, I released the pressure on my hand and slowly lowered the bow back onto my lap. I make an imaginary draw and release of the bow and envision the arrow hitting home. The pair of youngsters pass by less than 10 yards from my spot, never having a clue I was there.
Today was her lucky day.
The two deer slowly disappeared in the trees and the shadows as darkness entered the woods. I lowered my gear and climbed down the side of the oak for the last time. I sneaked out of the woods, grateful to be part of the cycle and watched as the sun set behind the low hanging clouds bringing an end to my hunt and archery season.
– David Hewitt