Autumn seems to have been a long time coming this year, but fall has finally made its appearance dressed in her best.
In the past few days, the maples have caught fire in crimson, orange and yellow. Poplars that haven’t shed their leaves are doing their level best to compete for best in show with vivid, day glow yellows. The floor of the woods is littered with fallen leaves and the cool mornings add to the autumn flavor.
I love this time of year, not only for the opportunity to hunt and hopefully take a deer, but just to be among the trees during the most scenic of seasons.
The sights and smell of the autumn woods breathes life back into me each time I step through the tree line. It’s hard to describe, but I can almost feel a physical change. I breath deep, my chest rises and falls as I absorb the smell of the woods. The breeze rattles the leaves, a few drifting down to the ground. Squirrels race, gathering food for the coming cold, skittering through the dead leaves and hopping from one limb to another. My pulse slows and my heart rate drops a tick or two as the woods works its magic and I feel a sense of peace and relaxation that I can find nowhere else.
Once in my stand, the woods settle again and my presence becomes part of the landscape. Songbirds go about their way, chirping and singing. A woodpecker beats against the trunk of dead ash, echoing across the holler. Crows call to one another…
Leaves rustle behind my spot and my hand tenses the bow string, but it’s only a gray squirrel collecting an acorn. The little rodent jumps on a rotten log and commences to chewing his prize making short work of the nut with his sharp incisors. Squirrel isn’t on the schedule today and I enjoy watching the little fellow.
A couple hours into my watch has passed and I’ve seen a handful of deer, but none close enough to venture a shot or even get my heart pounding, but I’m still grateful to be here. A quick check of the time, an hour left before I have to leave this sanctuary and go back to reality. The sound of nails digging into tree bark catches my attention. Straight in front of me, I spy a critter on the side of a massive cherry tree. Chocolate brown, almost black, the slinky form of a mink shows himself. In all my years of hunting and being in the woods, I have never seen a mink climb straight up a tree trunk, but there he was. As confident a climber as the squirrel he had his eye on. The old mink intended to make a meal of the bushy tail! But, Mr. Squirrel was having none of it and leaped to another tree and made his escape.
The discouraged mink turned and snaked his way back down the side of the cherry trunk, from at least 25 feet up. Once the old boy hit the ground, he continued to hunt, but every squirrel in the woods was aware of him as they all barked and screamed their warnings to each other. A squirrel meal was going to off the menu for the mink this morning.
I shared my condolences with my fellow hunter, for I too have had plenty of hunts that have ended without a meal being made.
I packed up my hunting gear and slipped out of the woods. I never had a chance at a deer this morning and came home empty handed, but seeing the mink and his failed hunt just reminded me of the real reason I do this…it’s not the meat or the antlers, it’s the fact that I get to be witness to a show that’s better than anything on television and occasionally, I get to play a part in that show.
– David Hewitt