Along The Trail 2-28-13

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By now, you’re probably a little bored hearing about hunting shed antlers and walks in the woods – but for an avid outdoorsmen and hunters, this time of year causes us to go stir crazy!

It’s not often we get enough below freezing temperatures for ice fishing. Rabbit season has ended and we’re left with hunting coyotes as our only fix to cure our hunting need. If you’re as poor of a predator hunter as I am, my success rate at finding antlers is much better than the prospect of calling in a ‘yote.

Sunday started out like any other Sunday: church and some errands and then back to the house for a lazy afternoon. I fidgeted around on the couch and debated watching some NASCAR or college hoops, but the sun shining through the window and the near 50 degrees were too much for me to bear. I pulled on my boots, grabbed a flannel shirt and headed out the door.

I started my search for antlers on a 40-acre spot that I knew well. I’d lucked into a matching set of five point antlers a couple weeks ago and had high hopes of finding some more. After tromping around, zig-zagging and criss-crossing the piece of property, I came up empty handed – well, except for two almost new Titleist golf balls that made their way from Vineyard. I stuffed the golf balls in my pocket and took off to my next spot.

I made my way back over to the “farm” and as I pulled in, all of last week’s logs were stacked in neat piles, all sorted out by species: red oaks, white oak, some hickories and maples. I stopped to take a look at them and counted growth rings on one of the bigger reds.

The rings showed evidence of dry years and wet years and I’m guessing some of the discoloration in the wood was from worms of insects. I counted 112 rings and if memory serves me, I think trees add an additional ring for each year of life. Regardless, that’s some pretty old trees as I head back to the open woods.

Now, if you haven’t seen a freshly logged woods, it can be quite a shock!

What once was large stand of mature hardwoods now resembles the scene of a crime. Tree tops litter the forest floor and Caterpillar tracks have rutted up the ground. But, in time, the woods, wildlife and nature will correct itself and a whole new “spot” will have been created.

With that being said, it’s still a tough sight to see as I plod along searching for an antler or two…

I head to another side of the farm and follow a freshly made logging trail, slipping and sinking in the soft mud. I get to a small creek, now dammed up and holding some water at a crossing made by the bull dozer. As I step on to the new land bridge, I sink up to past my shin in the new mud and pull my foot out of my boot.

I’m stuck, balanced on one booted foot, holding the sock footed one up for as long as I can. I’m frozen in some sort of contortment that would make a yoga guru proud.

After fighting to pull my boot free, covered in chocolate-colored mud and wet from the knees down, I continue on. I come to a fence crossing that I’ve made a million times. Normally, even being vertically challenged, I cross the barbed wire with ease. I push down on the strands and throw a leg across to straddle the fence only to hear a loud rip and the crotch of my favorite blue jeans gives it up and leaves me with a gapping hole and a considerable draft!

After a few choice words, I get to a small cluster of cedars that I know the local deer like to bed in. Surely there will be a horn left behind. I scour the area, but find nothing. Just as I’m about to give up, I catch movement ahead – a big coyote trotting along, oblivious to my presence!

“Why didn’t I bring a rifle?” I think to myself as he vanishes into a thicket.

Time to head up the hill and back to the truck. I find a more suitable place to cross the little creek and make my leap. I cleared the water like an Olympic star, but as my boots hit the ground, both my legs slipped out from under me on the soupy layer of thawed soil. Down I go and I hop up and instinctively look around to see if anyone saw me fall.

I shake my head and giggle at my own silliness and side step up the slick hill. I come across the remains of a freshly eaten blue jay and wonder how he met his end. A part of me was glad to see him get his. If you’re familiar with Jays, they aren’t the friendliest of God’s flying creatures and they make life miserable for a lot of their feathered neighbors and our a constant annoyance for squirrel hunters.

I make it back to the truck and pull off my rubber boots, caked in pounds of sticky mud. Let’s see: ruined a pair of pants; blistered both heels by wearing short socks with boots that are a half size too big; stuck myself in the mud; soaked from the knees down; fallen and bruised my pride and ego – oh, and no antlers found.

But, I did see a coyote, jumped a couple of deer. Saw fox squirrels racing around on some vines, heard songbirds singing and found dozens of fresh deer tracks left behind as they used the new logging road, giving me encouragement for the upcoming season.

Oh, and even a couple golf balls! Yeah, maybe I should’ve stayed on the couch and watch cars drive in a circle making left hand turns…

Nah!