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.
A blustery wind hit my face as I cruised across the open fescue field making for the tree line…
Once inside the trees, I sneaked my way down into the dark holler. Snow still blanketed the shaded hillside adding a chill to the air.
Once settled in my perch, I surveyed around and took in the beauty of the December woods. My hillside rarely sees sunlight. It’s a thick tangle of Osage, wild cherry and twisted walnut trees tied together under a canopy of grapevines. The bottom of the draw is lined with massive Sycamores that reach nearly the height of the top of the hill, but for the most part, the secluded spot stays, cool, damp and dark. It’s littered with parallel deer trails crossing the hill from one end to the other. Not an easy place to hunt and the shooting lanes are tight, but it’s a good place to sit if you can be patient enough.
This afternoon’s hunt was more about “sitting” than it was hunting…Gun season is over and the smokepole fellows have taken to the woods with their muzzle loaders. I really didn’t have any expectations for my longbow, but it was good to be in the woods. It’s not often that we get to enjoy a deer hunt in the snow in our part of the country. Typically, I’m done with deer by December, but the chase for a buck has me still after it, so I’m hoping to use the snow to my advantage.
The fresh snow acts as a muffler in the woods. The noises are damped, softened a little. The wind kicking up at the top of the hill is almost non-existent down near the bottom of the drainage. Two black ribbons wind across the hillside, evidence that the deer have been using the trails since the snow of last night. The bird life is alive with songs and a group of sparrows spat over the seeds from a mashed hedge apple. A noisy blue jay has lit in a tree next to me and is doing his best to make it known that I’m not supposed to be here and warns every animal within earshot that something is amiss.
Afternoon slowly creeps into evening and the dark holler, becomes even darker. A faint crunch on the ground perks my ears.
I strain to hear it again….
There. A footstep, definitely an animal moving. Through the fading light and the thick undergrowth, I can make out movement on the ground….
“A deer?”, goes through my head.
A small patch of white and gray and the culprit finally comes into view, a huge opossum waddling along the deer trail 25 yards away. I watch as it makes it’s way along the hillside, stopping every so often to check the breeze for any foreign smells. He crosses one of my shooting lanes and I mock draw my bow and let the fella pass without harm. He side steps on down the hill and disappears into the spice bushes and pawpaws.
The snow has allowed me to sit a little longer than normal and has almost brought a glow to normally dank, dark valley I’m hunting, but the clock says it’s time to pack up and the chill has gotten to me. I lower my gear to the ground and make my way up the steep hillside, the briars snagging at my clothes and the snow crunching under my boots. I crest the top and cut across the hayfield.
Once back at my truck, I glance back and catch the last of the cold sunset. No, there wasn’t a deer seen or an arrow launched, but my soul is renewed and this hunt was a success.
– David Hewitt