There’s nothing like an early morning hunt.
Stepping into the woods under the cover of darkness, every footfall echoes through the forest with the swishy-thrashy sound of wading through knee-high dried weeds and the sharp snap of twigs underfoot. It’s not until you’re settled in position that you realize you weren’t the only creature out there.
Your eyes work at trying to make out the cause of all the noise, but it’s just too dark… So you close your eyes and listen.
The more you sit, it seems someone has cranked up the volume on a set of headphones you’re wearing. As the sounds ebb and flow like an early morning tide, your mind conjures all kinds of critters that could be nearby. Bear, bobcat, coyote, deer, opossum, porcupine, skunk, raccoon. The loudest noises make the fine hairs on the nape of your neck stand up as you wonder at the safety of your position.
“Relax,” I tell myself. “You’re inside a wooden shack with a loaded gun!”
As my breathing slows and I relax back into the rickety, old office chair, the forest noises play like a lullaby… soothing and peaceful. Jolting myself from the Sandman’s grasp, I start thinking about anything to keep from falling asleep.
I sniff the air in the shack and wonder at why I can’t smell a thing. You would think that your sense of smell would be at its peak just like hearing, but on a cold morning, the air is too crisp and clean to carry any odor at all.
At 6am, the only smell that registers is the acrid tang of burning propane from the mister buddy heater, the black coffee from my thermos when I take a sip, and the sour stench of hunting clothes that have, until now, sat undisturbed in a box for too many years.
It’s not until the shack warms up that I can smell the musty, old wood of the shack mingled with a trace of a beef jerky and whiff of cigar smoke from the night before. Pew!
As I sit in wait of any large shadows appearing in the field, I think of my dad when morning’s first light glints off the stainless-steel barrel of his hunting rifle leaning in the corner. Loaded and ready, it awaits the moment when a six point or better stands in view.
“Come on dad, call them in,” I whisper silently.
Thinking back to the evening of opening day, I grumble at the lack of light left to determine if the deer standing 75 yards away as a buck or doe. Having had the crosshairs on its chest the whole time, I merely waited for a glimpse of 3 points or better on one side of its head to take the shot.
It had to be at least 10 minutes I watched, but the darkness won the day so I had to let it go.
Dad always stressed the importance of being sure of a shot because you can’t take it back. Even though its size and white markings on its face backed the notion it was a buck, it still wasn’t a good enough determination to take the shot.
Since I had to work the next morning, my brother asked if he could sit in my blind. Even though I figured that same deer would find its way through again, I agreed.
Had I missed my chance?
As fate would play out, my brother harvested a 7-point buck while sitting in my chair at first light the next day.
Who knows if it was the same deer I saw or not, so I persisted in the hunt.
Tenacious by nature, I have taken steps to hunt every day since November 15th. With the first few days showing action, it has been quite irritating to see a lot of nothing ever since! Where did they all go, the moon? After seeing the 7-point, a spike, and a couple of does, there hasn’t been anything since!
You would think having put the time in that you would be rewarded with another chance at a buck, but it’s never the way hunting goes.
I wonder how it is that my brothers always seem to have more luck. And after one insists I should be seeing SOMETHING, I wonder, “Am I missing something playing out right before my eyes?”
As the dull light of dawn slowly crawls across the field, the only noises now are the birds as they flit around the trees calling out, “It’s morning! Wake up! It’s morning!”
It sure seemed as if there were a lot more noises in the woods when I couldn’t see anything, but I console myself with knowing that it sometimes takes forever to see what’s been making all the racket. So I continue scanning the forest, looking for moving shadows, and identify deer shapes that magically morph into bushes and trees as the morning light increases.
“Just one more time I’d like a chance at a big buck,” I plead. “Come on... I’m ready.”
8:45am - It’s prime time to see a big buck.
I sit as patiently as my impatient self can sit, waiting for a buck. Texting with my brother who is the woods on the other side of the county, we share word of sightings. Zilch for both of us except the buck he discovered waiting in his parking spot at 6:00am.
Suddenly an evil hissing noise fills my ears.
“What the hell is that?!” I wonder.
Frantically, I search the field. Nothing.
I rip off my hat and listen.
Okay it’s not outside.
My head swivels around the interior of the shack looking for a snake, but it seems a little hard to believe a snake would have found its way inside the shack.
Maybe the propane tank is running out, I think, but that doesn’t usually make a hissing sound. It’s more like the sound of a June bug trying to get through a window screen... its wings fluttering and buzzing against the nylon.
“What the hell!” I grumble. This noise seems so loud, it would surely scare a big buck away. Even the birds are silenced now, so this hissing needs to stop ASAP!
Though the noise seemed to last forever, it had only taken a few seconds to realize the old office chair I sat in is sinking lower, and lower, and lower.
“Fantastic!” I grumble as the stupid chair hisses angrily like it has a flat tire… The hydraulics blew out on the damn thing because of the cold. Already sitting on two cushions to boost me high enough to shoot out the window, now I can’t see over the sill.
Luckily there’s another crappy office chair in the coop, so I switch them out... and continue to wait.
“Come on, Gully, gully, gully!”
I use the fish call hoping it brings something in. Anything to look at would be nice.
It’s almost time to go in already! I don’t want to get skunked again, but I suppose that’s why they call it hunting.
Suddenly, I have to pee again, but it’s only an hour from quitting time. I’m hoping to last till 10:00, but I don’t know if I can. I shouldn’t have drunk all that coffee, I guess.
Dad always said it’s when you’re peeing that the deer come in. Maybe I should try it and see if it works.
Nah… it’s too much work. I’ll have to hold it.
It’s 9:27am and the sudden shriek of a bald eagle flying due north has me wondering what it sees.
At 9:35, a crow flies over the treetops, caw cawing as he scans the ground below. Circling back, he lands in a tree near the clearing where the bucks always pop out from behind the trees. Maybe it will bring me some luck.
“Come on,” I grumble, watching. My chances at seeing my buck slowly ticks away from me.
My brother texts again, insisting I will see something at 9:45am. I hope he’s right, and even though I’m doubtful now, I wait... listening for the crunch of leaves and twigs snapping under heavy hooves.
My mind conjures the white tail version of Bullwinkle as I wait.
“Man, wouldn’t that be something to see one of those big boys out here,” I dream.
“Would I get buck fever all over again like I did when I shot my first buck?” I wonder. It has been so many years (5 or 6 at least) since I last shot one that it wouldn’t be a surprise.
9:48am... still nothing.
My husband plans to give me till 10:00am to come pick me up.
“Shit!” It looks like I’m going to get skunked again.
4 minutes left... “Come on... please?!”
By 10:00am the forest comes alive with chickadees and nuthatch... busily flitting around the forest collecting their breakfast.
The sun shines beautifully across the golden field and I feel at peace as the cool air clears my mind.
No matter that my big buck never showed. I feel lucky to be alive and in nature.
Maybe luck will shine on me another day.
Thanks so much for reading!
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