I was looking forward to the weekend more than usual. I had been burning through my banked vacation time for hunting season, but it seemed there was always something that needed attending too. A return phone call, a meeting that can’t wait, some last minute email or my signature on something…so much for days off. Throw into the mix all the drama associated with the election, the gloating from the winning side, the near depression state from the losing team…it all adds up to me needing to be in the woods more than ever. To be clean from work, from politics, from media, from the everyday…to wash my mind. The only kind of cleanliness I can find among the trees.
Friday afternoon and it’s 65 degrees, Indian summer in mid-November. It was a beautiful evening for a sit in my tree…I had moved the stand into a new spot just a few hours earlier and was full of the anticipation that all hunters feel their first time in. Perched 22 feet up the white oak, I had a commanding view of the winding holler below me. A dry creek bed snaked its way from a thicket of walnut, cherry and cedars and gradually gave way to the open stand of hardwoods. Deer trails paralleled the creek and my hiding spot was within 20 yards of two well used paths worn into the hillside. A shiny new rub on a thick cedar glowed in the late afternoon sunlight and the warm breeze felt good as I breathed deep…
A quick check of my watch, 4:30, as I thought to myself “It ought to happen soon”… Minutes later and movement down the creek bed catches my eye and the unmistakable glint of sun bouncing off antler starts my heart pumping. The buck is a good one and he’s meandering my way. Not in a hurry, but on a definite route that will bring him within range. In just a couple minutes, the old boy cut the distance in half and he’s tempting fate. Less than 30 yards as I silently encourage him to come on in… But this is his woods and he knows something isn’t right. I watch as his ears rotate like radar and his nostrils flare as he takes in all the scent that the breeze can send his way. My pulse races and I can hear my heart beat in my head as I try to control my breathing. The stand off continues for several more seconds, but he’s smelled enough and he turns and walks up the hill, out of the range of my arrow… Disappointed and excited at the same time, I sit back in my seat and catch my breath. Almost…almost. Persistence is the key I remind myself.
My internal alarm goes off at 5am and I'm back at it Saturday morning and settled in my spot by 6:30. Warm and breezy again as I wait for the sun to make its appearance over the ridge. Barred owls talk up and down my little valley and something has the roosted turkeys on edge across the holler. Over my right shoulder, the darkness is losing it’s battle with daylight and the early morning sun lights up the woods.
The turkeys are now clucking and carrying on as they contemplate flying down for their morning routine. I scan the hillside around me and shake off the sleepiness that followed me out here. As I yawn and stretch my shoulders, my gaze shifts to my left and there…there he is. Impossibly quiet on this carpet of fallen, dry leaves. A fine buck, 25 yards below on one of the trails that I had hoped. He’s on a mission and walking with purpose, covering ground with each step. I look ahead and find my shooting window and as the buck steps through, time stops… “pick a spot” echoes in my head as I focus behind his front leg. The leg moves forward exposing his vitals and the string of my bow instinctively comes back to its anchor. I feel the string slip from my leather covered fingers as the arrow speeds to its mark.
That familiar hollow “thump” tells me the buck is hit hard as he kicks and runs a short distance, his tail clamped down tight. He stops and looks around for what bit him and in a matter of seconds, he wobbles and is down, finished… I feel for the tree behind me as my knees too are wobbling and find my seat. My breath is ragged as I take in what just happened and absorb the moment.
As I make my short walk to the buck, the story of the shot is left behind on the ground and I’m thankful that my arrow flew true. I owed that to the animal. I kneel by the buck and run my hand along his chocolate colored antlers and across his course winter hide. I look above and offer my thanks and feel honored, humbled and clean…