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By this time of the year I have a lot of people ask me why I spend so much time outdoors. I suppose if you looked at it from their point of view (whatever that may be), it might seem odd indeed to have spent pretty much every spare moment from the end of last August (remember the early bear-hunting season?) till just last week (the waning hours of the late muzzleloader deer hunt) traipsing around in the woods allegedly in search of game.
Some people think it's due to laziness (good guess), an anti-social nature (another good guess), some bizarre urge to look under rocks and logs for small, squirmy things (more good guesses) or that I'm just “woods crazy,” which is perhaps the closest correct answer for those who don't understand.
I've had a couple of people flat out tell me I don't even go into the woods, but just pretend to go while stopping off somewhere for beer, poker or some other diversion. Sad to say, those who know me well and those who have gone with me can attest that, yes, I do spend all that time in the woods and, in fact, sometimes don't come out at all for days on end.
For example, on a recent hunting trip I was to meet up with some fellow outdoor writers for a blackpowder hunt that would take us deep in the mountains of southern Ohio and probably keep us roughing it (minimalist style) for three or four days. I had spent the summer walking five miles per day in anticipation of this trip and was in pretty fair shape by the time we got out of the truck, loaded up and headed for the high ground. Our goal was to reach the top of the first peak by noon, but Companion No. 1 didn't get halfway there before turning back with sore feet. Buddy No. 2 did reach the summit but when, after a short tea break, he saw that our next destination was down the other side and up an even higher peak, he, too, unloaded his water and granola bars on me and headed back to the truck.
These two intrepid sports did in fact travel back and forth from town to the foot of the mountain every day to hunt (and to keep track of me), but they will tell you that, from Monday till Thursday, all they saws of me were the boot prints I'd left behind the first morning.
Sign was everywhere, the hunting conditions were perfect and I ended up hunting long and hard over two or three additional high spots (a little over 1,100 feet per “hill”). I followed creek bottoms, side hill deer trails and ridge top runs that had probably not been trod by humans in years - at least there was no evidence of anyone having passed that way other than the moss-covered stumps left by woodsmen from axe and bucksaw days.
The better news was that, late on Wednesday, I bumped into a doe racing headlong away from a rutting buck, and after an interesting interlude involving lots of snorting, grunting, calling and rattling, a nice, big 10-point buck lay on the ground. It was near dark and I was still miles from the road, so I just gutted the deer, built a lean-to beside him, rustled up a small hardwood fire and roasted myself a dinner of venison tenderloins. With some hot tea, a granola bar and the last of the brownies I'd brought with me, I thought I'd had a meal fit for a king. I knew I'd have a long, hard day ahead of me on Thursday (it was up and down all the way back, mostly up, but I knew the way - one step at a time!).
I got back to the truck late Thursday afternoon. I was cut, scratched, worn and tired, with no water and no food left, but the hunt was over and I rated it a great success. My partners actually came back to the truck just about the time I slammed the tailgate behind the buck, so all they had to do was walk over and take a look!
Though they were duly impressed by the wide-racked 10-pointer, they agreed that they would not have gone that far or have spent three nights in the woods for it. I would not have had it any other way, and on most trips I am in the woods before daylight and don't come out till after dark. In fact, this year I was having all sorts of trouble with late-moving deer (thanks to an ill-timed October full moon) and so I decided to stay in the woods until I heard something move. It was very enlightening for me to find that the deer stayed bedded from before daylight until nearly 9 p.m. That was the time I suddenly heard deer getting up and moving all through the huge clear-cut I'd been watching. They'd feed quickly under the cover of moonlight, and then, after just a few hours of activity, go right back into the heavy cover and stay there all day without moving.
It cost me a few hours' sleep but at least I had my answer. Hunting during that full moon, at least, was hopeless during the day, but guess what . . . I went out there anyway because, as we all have learned, you just never know what might happen!
So, though most of the major hunting seasons are now closed and it's over for most sportsmen, there's still ample reason to don the heavy parka and head into the woods again. There are rabbits, coyotes and foxes to hunt (bobcats, too, but later) and ice-fishing begins as soon as there is enough safe ice to justify cutting a hole in the local pickerel pond.
I've been accused of being lazy, crazy and obsessed, and my accusers are probably not that far off. What gives me strength is that, looking into the woods or across some frozen lake, I see that I'm not the only one. It's good to know that there are plenty of others who see what I see and feel what I feel out there. There is much more to it that trees, snow, ice and cold. Take a break from shopping, working or the other trappings of responsibility, step outside and see what you can find...I'll see you there!
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