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.
I walk under the light of the Hunter’s moon towards my stand. I weave my way through the shadowy woods, stepping lightly as I go. The dry rustle of leaves and the pounding of hooves startles me with a jump as an unseen deer races off through the under brush.
A few minutes later and I’m tethered into the tree. The moonlight gives an eerie, blue glow to everything below. The spice bushes and yellowed pawpaw’s almost fluoresce under the pale light. My eyes adjust and soon I can make out shapes and forms in the pre-dawn light. A telltale crunching of leaves along the trail signals an animals movement. A quiet growl followed by a louder snarl and two ‘coons waddle past my spot. They noisily make their way up the trail and eventually out of earshot.
An unusually warm breeze blows in from the South and the leaves rain down from the trees adding to the spooky feel of the woods this morning.
Nearly 70 degrees, far too warm for this late in October, but if I’m to arrow a doe, I can’t do it from the comfort of my soft bed. I count the minutes and slowly pass the time waiting for the sun to make its arrival.
A crack of orange and pink on the horizon. The blue cast of the moon light begins to give way to nondescript grays as the woodlot transitions from night to day. A screech owl calls close by and the hair on the back of my neck raises to attention. The owl screams out a few more times and then all is quiet except for the noise of the falling leaves through the tree branches.
It won’t be long now, shooting light is just minutes away.
The shadows will soon give way to a bright morning as the sun creeps higher with each second that passes. A nuthatch lands on a limb next to me and hops around, turning his head from side to side trying to make me out.
I can’t help but grin at the little bird not two feet from me. He inches closer and closer until he finally is convinced I’m not part of his world and flits off the branch and into the air.
A steady cadence of foot steps grabs my attention.
The unmistakable sound of a deer walking through the woods. I focus towards the sound and make out patches of white hair as the deer cruises through. I can see its a large doe, exactly the kind of deer I want to take, but there still isn’t enough light to justify my shot. She passes by close, 15 yards or less. She pauses to relieve herself and I instantly recognize the old gal.
“Bob tail” has graced my trail camera several times this season, but this is the first time I’ve seen the deer in person. I’m not sure how it came to be, but the old doe had somehow lost most of her white flag of a tail and was left with just a small nub. I wrestle with taking the shot, but it’s still too dark in the shade of the trees and I can’t pick a spot, so the deer makes her way deeper into the woods and disappears through the honeysuckle.
My pulse relaxed after the encounter, I lean back against the old maple and wait for the new day.
– David Hewitt