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.
The dew fell heavy over night, soaking me as I sneaked through the standing rows of corn under the starlight…I follow my path, packed and worn from an untold number of trips over the years across the field. I unknowing count the steps along the way until I make it to the dark edge of the woods. The dampness makes my approach to my treestand quiet and I’m almost shocked at how silent my footfalls are as I slip through the trees.
Once I’m up and in my stand, I wait for the sun to break through the darkness. It starts as streaks of an orange glow, creeping over the horizon, eating up the dark sky with each minute. A pair of barred owls hoot their goodbyes to one another for the morning as the sun finally makes its appearance. The new day brings the woods to life and I lean back in my front row seat and take it all in…
The trees are alive with the sounds of robins chirping and chipmunks popping. A nuthatch lites on a tree trunk next to me and scurries up and down the bark. The small bird hangs upside down like they often do, looking at me inquisitively trying to figure out exactly what I am. A mob of blue jays cry out and scattered themselves up and down the holler below my hiding spot. A rustle of leaves to my left. A gray squirrel looking for his morning meal foraging through the leaf litter. I quickly grab an old arrow from my quiver and nock it on the bowstring. Even though I’m a deer hunter, I still can’t resist the opportunity to take a bushy tail when one of them gets close enough. The hyper, little rodent pauses for a moment and the wooden arrow streaks his way…A narrow miss! The squirrel jumps onto the base of an old hickory tree and barks out a warning for all of his brethren…I snap a deer arrow back onto the bow and wait with a grin.
More noise to my right as the corn stalks rattle. “That has to be a deer”, I think to myself. I crane my neck to watch the cornfield, anticipating the deer’s emergence only to see four raccoons exit the field after a night of pillaging the corn. The evidence of their depredation is evident along the edges of the field. The first five rows belong to the ‘coons. Deer are always labeled as the violators by most farmers, but it’s the masked bandits that are the real corn thieves. Coons do more damage in one night to crop fields than deer do all season. The foursome waddle their way over the hill and out of sight to sleep off their nights dinner.
The rest of the morning passes by quickly and not a deer was seen, but I was never bored, never disappointed. A redtail hawk flew ever higher circles above me riding the thermals, screeching its call. Two fox squirrels kept me entertained and alert with their antics, chasing one another up and down tree trunks and racing along the forest floor. Chipmunks crammed their cheeks with nuts and seeds, loading up for the cold weather ahead and a bright male cardinal kept me company, his vivid red like fire against the green backdrop of the leaves.
Maybe no venison was made this morning, but this hunt was still a success by my standard. I feel sorry for all the other bowhunters out there that measure their success only when blood is drawn and by inches of antler. They are missing out on the real reasons to be in the woods…