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.
Time seems to just slip away.
There’s always something else to do, something more pressing, something more important. I had every intention of keeping my path to my favorite hunting spot mowed down. To keep it clean, easy to sneak into and out of my treestands. But, as I make my way through the chest high weeds along the standing corn field, I think to myself: “The best laid plans…”, all the while swatting horse flies away from my head, sweat rolling down my neck.
I wade through the Johnson grass and round a bend on what used to be a two track trail around the field. A hen turkey and her poults race out ahead of me and vanish into the corn stalks. I break free from the weeds and follow the trail into the edge of the trees.
The brambles and blackberry bushes have all but taken over the logged out woods. A far cry from what this place looked like four short years ago.
Almost park-like, this spot used to be home to massive red and white oaks, giant shagbark hickories and some huge, ancient maples. The forest floor was clean and shaded from the old canopy, a constant damp earthly smell filled the air. Deer routinely picked their way through vacuuming up fallen acorns each fall. Nothing was guaranteed, but this spot almost always produced a deer each year for me and my bow.
My how things have changed.
A few curvy ash trees still reach skyward and a handful of oaks – trunks too twisted for the loggers – still manage to produce a few nuts in autumn; but the deer sign has been scant since the trees fell and the logs hauled away. The sun now pours through and new growth has shot up everywhere.
Thick and tangled, my old haunt barely resembles the hardwoods it used to be. I walk down the path to my trail camera, hoping to find some photos of a nice buck, but not expecting much.
I pop open the camera’s case and check the photos.
About what I expected: pictures of a handful of does, a small buck, a few raccoons and a Tom turkey. I sigh with frustration, but in all honesty, it’s about what I anticipated. The old farm isn’t what it used to be as far as deer hunting is concerned.
Neighboring properties have received years and years of hunting pressure and recently, I’ve had to share my spot with a handful of other deer hunters. I’m still grateful to the landowner for allowing me access to the same location that I’ve had for nearly 25 years, but knowing that there’s others traipsing through my old grounds leaves a pit in my stomach.
The lack of white oaks have caused a change in the deer’s autumn habits and moved them to other food sources on surrounding farms.
“It is what it is”, I tell myself…
I snap the camera’s SD card back into its slot and close it up to let it do its work for another week or so. I check a couple of likely looking spots for a future tree stand sites and take a seat on one of the old stumps and sit and think.
I close my eyes and every memory from this place rushes through my mind. Every hunt, every hike. Every second of anticipation, every emotion from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. It all comes flowing into my mind.
I can see my young daughter sitting next to me in the little old cabin that we built to hunt out of. I can see my son smiling ear to ear and the excitement at taking his first buck. I lean back with a smile and picture the old woods how it used to be and lose track of time and myself.
The mosquitoes are beginning to buzz my ears as I swat them away, telling me it’s time to head back. Back to the real world and responsibility, back to the world of grown children and middle age, but I know this place will be waiting for me come October and full of new memories to be made.
- David Hewitt