I had just settled in for my evening ritual on stand. As the stress of the day left me, I began to get caught up in the noises of the woods. The birds chirping about and a couple of chipmunks skittering through the leaves. I started to think about past hunts and missed opportunities. The breeze blowing warm in my face and I started to get that calm, relaxed feeling. I was fixed in a trance. I leaned back in my tree seat, felt my eyes get heavy. My breathing got a little deeper and then, zzzzzzzz.....I jerked awake, startled. Not sure how long I dozed off, but based on the fact that my contact lenses had nearly welded my eyes shut, I must have been out for more than a few minutes.
As I rolled my shoulders and arched my back to breathe life back into me, I glanced to my left and there she was. An old, horse headed doe looking straight at me from less than 10 yards away! How did she sneak in on me? She was playing that head bob game that deer do, but I was sly to that trick and I froze in place. She eyed me up and down, trying to figure out just exactly what was in the tree. Her tail was flared and the hair between her shoulders bristled. The old gal was definitely on high alert. I could see her nostrils expand and contract with each breath as she tried to get a whiff of me.
We played the cat and mouse game for what seemed like forever. I remained perfectly still. My chin was tucked deep in my chest and I had my hat pulled low to my brow. Every now and then, I'd peer out from under my bill to check on her. Don't make eye contact, DON'T make eye contact with her! I kept telling myself. The game continued and my knees and shoulders started to complain at the lack of movement and circulation.
Under my breath, I kept pleading with the old hag to move, just put your head down, please! I tried to subliminally will her to move...no luck. Finally, our battle of wills looked like it was coming to an end. A squirrel became an unlikely allie and as he darted through, the doe was distracted for a moment, giving me my first chance to move my longbow into position. The bow was canted and just the slightest pressure tensed the bowstring.The doe looked back my direction and seemed a little more casual. Apparently, her run in with the squirrel had softened her mood and she seemed satisfied that the lump in the tree was nothing to fear. She put her head down to snatch a fallen acorn. As she chewed her prize, she turned just slightly to quartering away. Her ribs were exposed as I burned a hole through her with my focus and imagined where her off shoulder would be. Her hide was stretched tight over her gaunt body and as she went for another morsel, I repeated my mantra...Pick a spot, lift your bow, draw and let go...I could smell the leather of my shooting glove as I drew the string to the anchor point of my nose and cheek. Slow motion sets in, heart rate skyrocketing...I don't recall the release, but in an instant, the arrow buried itself behind her ribs. She bucked with a mule kick and I knew her race would be short.
I stood and watched her disappear into the cedars, and then all was quiet. I set for a while to gather my gear along with my thoughts and emotions. I made the decent from my perch and then the short walk to where she had last stood. I knew that there was no need to take up the trail as I looked ahead and saw her white belly not more than 50 yards away. Regardless, I followed the crimson trail she had left behind to see that the broadhead had done its job. It never ceases to amaze how lethal a sharped piece of steel launched from a bent stick can be.
I knelt down by the old roman nosed doe and ran my hand along her course hair. I was struck at the prominence of her ribs, clearly visible under her thin leather. I looked skyward and whispered a thank you above and then gave the old gal a pat on the side and thanked her for a battle well fought. I rolled the her onto her back and prepared for the ugly side of making your own meat. It was obvious that the old gal was dry and hadn't mothered in a long, long time. I went to her head and opened her jaw only to see that her teeth were nearly gone from a lifetime of grinding corn, soybeans and acorns. I'm not a wildlife biologist, but even to my untrained eye, it was clear that the matriarch wouldn't have seen another spring.
As I finished up the task at hand, I couldn't help but wonder how many seasons the old gal had seen and what experiences she's had in our woods.I was curious if we had ever crossed paths before and I was grateful to part of her world.