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.
Peepers are singing and buds fill the tops of the sycamores along the creek. The air is thick with the smell of wild onion as the new shoots begin to pop. I criss cross the field hunting for cast antlers, stretching my legs and enjoying the spring like weather.
I unconsciously walk in zig zag pattern through the overgrown weeds. Small ovals of beaten down grass let me know I’m in the right spot – six deer beds, but no antlers. I press on, into the trees and a stand of oaks. The leaf litter scratched and picked through by marauding turkeys looking for their meal. I scuffed around the ridge hoping to find a prize. Something bleached white catches my attention. It’s the skull of a doe, partially hidden in the leaves. A few more bones are scattered around, picked clean of any meat. A quick look shows evidence of teeth marks and I can only hope the old gal was already dead before whatever unknown predator made a meal of the leg bone.
I hike to another likely spot, an old fence crossing where I’ve found sheds in the past. The woven wire is still stretched tight and high, forcing the deer to jump over. A couple of cedars form an arch around the crossing, just low enough to sometimes brush a loose antler free from a buck’s skull. The ground on both sides of the fence is beat down and muddy. The trail is well worn and rutted like an old cow path, but no antlers.
I hit a couple more locations that have yielded before. A cedar thicket on a warm, south facing hillside, a creek crossing, and a tangled pond dam covered in grapevines and walnuts, but again, no luck. I make my way towards a logged out section of the woods that’s become over grown in brambles and blackberry bushes, a perfect hiding spot for a buck to catch a nap. I push through the thorns and take a seat on a white oak stump. The skeleton of an old tree stand is just a few yards away.
I had nailed up some old 2×4’s over 20 years ago in the crotch of a large maple over looking a game trail. The old stand has since rotted away and all that remains are a couple of broken boards and some rickety steps going up the trunk. As I sit to catch my breath, I can remember nearly every hunt from that stand. A tumor ridden 8 pointer taken with an old recurve that I bought at a yard sale. A fat, healthy fork horn buck that had fallen to a homemade cedar arrow.
My son’s very first deer, a fine, slick doe taken with one shot from his lever action .357 and the smile on his face and the sense of pride at his accomplishment. I sit for a few more minutes and reminisce with a lump in my throat.
A quick glance at the time, it’s been a couple hours in the woods and I need to get on to more productive pursuits. I walk back to my truck and can’t help but think to myself how many times I’ve walked these same trails in the last 25 years…
I kick the mud off the bottom of my boots and take a look back across the field and wander how many more years will I still be walking along these same trails, chasing deer and memories.
– David Hewitt