Along The Trail 12-25-14

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Editor’s Note: This is a column written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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The year is grinding to a halt, deer season is winding down.

After weeks of gun hunting and blaze orange, I expect what few deer are at the “farm” will be scarce, but I’m in need of some time in the woods.

Time a way from work, time away from hectic schedules…

I slog through the muddy field, the ground half frozen, half thawed. I pause at the edge of the tree line and take a deep breath. The air is pungent, the smell of decaying leaves, damp soil, mingled with the aroma of the cedar trees.

I kick the mud off my boots and sneak into the woods.

I unconsciously count my steps: …7, …8, …9, …10 – and then stop, scan and listen for a deer. My steps are light and the cold, damp air makes my approach to my hiding spot stealthy. A few minutes later and I’m hoisting my gear up the tree. I settle back against the hickory and an audible sigh leaves me.

It’s good to be here. I can almost feel my heart rate slow.

The chill feels right for this time of the year.

“It’s nearly Christmas and it should be cold” goes through my mind. My secret spot is surrounded by a cluster of cedars, their green boughs adding to the festive feeling of the holiday season. A cluster of wild vines and some red berries, dogwoods maybe, are scattered throughout, one almost forming a natural wreath.

I sit and watch and wait. The deer are invisible, but I’m kept company by two noisy chipmunks. One digging seeds from the leafy floor, the other stealing from the first one’s cache. The offender is caught and the chase is on. The two little striped rodents chase each other up and down logs, across downed limbs and through the leaves. Barking and chattering, popping and whistling until they settle down only to start the show over again every few minutes.

A black-capped chickadee has decided I’m not a threat and lights on a twig a few feet from my face. Constantly moving, her head pivots always checking, always looking. As common of a bird that there is, but strikingly beautiful from three feet away. Without a warning, she takes flight and is gone.

“Snap.”

A twig breaks.

The bare woods has turned gray with dusk, my vision is limited. Night is rushing in. A shadowy, dark shape emerges from a clump of brush. 25 yards away, the shape of a deer.

My heart begins to race, my pulse ticks up. My right shoulder automatically puts tension on the Osage bow’s string. The deer silently follows the same trail that I did. It puts its nose to the ground for a moment. Its head jerks up as the animal tests the air. I’m certain that my scent is still hanging heavy in the chilly, fog.

The deer waits for a moment, my left arm in place, the arrow waiting to fly.

The deer takes a few more cautious steps, the light growing more and more dim with each minute that passes. Finally, it sneaks into my shooting lane that I had trimmed months before. Less than 15 yards, a chip shot with the longbow. But wait – two dark swirls on the deer’s head save him this day.

A nubbin’, a button buck.

Arguably the dumbest deer in the woods. The yearling male has been kicked out by his matriarchal mother and is now on his own. The little fella has made it through the gauntlet of gun season and to end his young life to fill my freezer just didn’t seem right. My bow arm relaxes, the broad head tipped arrow is at rest. The yearling continues on his path, browsing as he goes.

It’s time for me to go as well.

I follow the trail back out, slip and slide my way across the field in the cold dark of a December evening. I’m damp and chilled to the bone, and no venison to show for my trouble, but heart feels warm, my mind renewed and my hunt was a success.

– David Hewitt