Thursday, December 29, 2011

Late Season

     I stand in the cut cornfield, peering into the edge of the trees for any signs of life. My ears struggle against the breeze and my eyes scan back and forth. My mind tells me all clear and I make my entrance into the woods. I try to slip in undetected, but the carpet of fallen leaves makes it an impossibility as I shuffle along with all the stealthiness of a heard of rhinos. Once tethered in, I sit back with a sigh and fight off a shiver...As I glance down from up here, I can't help but think how different my late December woods looks.

     At first take, the winter woods seems almost dead. Most of the hardwoods have shaken their leaves except for a few die hards hanging on the pin oaks, rattling in the wind. There are a few birds flitting back and forth and in the distance, a squirrel is barking out his displeasure over something. Everything is dormant and gray, including the deer! It's cold and damp, mid 30's and a stiff West wind makes it feel more like 20, but the sun is shining on my cheek and mentally warms me up. From my view, I can see several hundred yards to another ridge through the now open woods. I cast my stare that direction towards a winter wheat field hoping to spot a deer craving some greens. Minus the wind, all is quiet out here in late December.

     In October, my deer woods is vibrant and full of life. The trees are just starting to be painted in every shade and hue of orange, yellow and red with still green all around. The woods are thick, trails almost invisible in the undergrowth and the scrub is downright nasty with hidden briars and multi-floral rose bushes. The squirrels are leisurely grinding away on acorns, walnuts and hickories. The constant gnawing and litter falling from high in the trees leave evidence of their meals. The songbirds are everywhere...nuthatches titmouses, sparrows and wrens of all sorts. Woodpeckers too...downy, hairy, redheaded, even a couple of the giant sized pileated types beating their heads against the hollow trees like a jackhammer. The deer are in their transition...Their coats are now shiny and sleek. The bucks' neck is muscled from his bouts against the arm sized cedars he used to peel his velvet. The does have switched from their summer orange to their fall grays and tans. The deer are regularly coming to the white oaks to eat their favorite treat as the acorns rain down. Life is good for the whitetail in October...

     November looks different from my nest up here...It's a brown month and the leaves are proof of it. There is a chill in the air and the days are short. The woods are opening up and those once hidden trails look more like cow paths through an over grazed pasture. Less daylight and a few frosty mornings have the bucks throwing caution to the wind. Love is in the air and they've forsaken meals and sparring with their cohorts in search of it! The normally wary, mature patriarchs are on the daytime prowl. The bucks are like a well trained athlete in their prime. Not by coincidence, this is a bowhunter's time too. Your best chance at catching the buck when he slips up in the name of procreation! It's good to be in my tree...But November isn't all's orange too! Bright, ugly, fluorescent orange. The woods are now under attack as firearms opens up and lead flies! Now don't get me wrong, I not against gun hunting at all, no sir! I still pack my .44mag into the woods from time to time and lifelong memories have been made toting a gun into my stand. But, I am a bowhunter, I've seen the deer, natural and undisturbed for the past 6 weeks before the stink of gun season enters the wood. A weekend of pot shots in the deer's bedroom and he has become un-natural. He has gone covert. He is underground. Nervous and nocturnal in November...

     And back to my December stand...Evening is setting in and my breath is becoming more visible. I can feel the temperature dropping as the sun sinks and night time will be crashing in soon. A few crows kaw,kaw far away. A distant crunching in the leaves gives up the doe's location, but she is yards away and won't cover the distance in time. She vanishes behind a ridge, not to be seen or heard again from up here. The breeze dies down and all is silent, save for a bird or two. Stillness...Yep, the late season woods appears dead, but I've never felt more alive.