I spend as much time in the woods as anyone at this time of year but for me it’s not just about deer hunting. Certainly I’m out there, armed and ready for an encounter with a big whitetail, but the truth is that more, other stuff happens over the course of the day that provides some great dinner-table conversation back at camp. In fact, half the reason I go out the door every day is the anticipation of seeing something new and interesting “out there.”
This season has been especially entertaining because I’ve been seeing so few deer and, even worse, so little deer sign. Last season there were tracks, trails, rubs, scrapes and all sorts of interesting sights and sounds that deer were nearby, but this year the local whitetail herd was leaving very little sign for me to study. Fortunately, there are two weeks of muzzleloader hunting ahead and almost certainly there will be snow to help solve the mystery of the missing deer. As I write this (on Sunday, when there is no hunting allowed so everyone can go out and enjoy a family picnic in the woods) I’m content to worry about that tomorrow!
The 2015 deer hunt has been a very entertaining one right through the end of the regular firearms season. Because it was warm and dry through most of November there were several reports of black bears still roaming the woods, including one very large specimen that was spotted crossing the road just a few hundred yards from where I like to hunt. So, of course I was on anticipation overload during the following few days – I like bear meat as much as I like venison!
Late one afternoon when the wind had died down and the leaves were as crispy as corn flakes I heard the unmistakable shuffle of something large heading my way. It was so quiet in the woods I could hear each footstep as whatever it was came closer, closer, closer. Because I like to hunt in the thickest cover I could find I was not able to get a glimpse of the traveler until it was nearly upon me. What I could see through the dense saplings was big, black and slow-moving – holy moly, could it be a bear?
It wasn’t till the animal was 30 yards away that I was able to identify it as a big, fat porcupine! Sheesh! I had him in my crosshairs, hammer back and ready to shoot, but I’ve sampled porcupine meat before and it’s not nearly as appealing as it may sound. I let him walk off and spent the next 30 minutes trying to calm my jangled nerves. That was a close one!
For the second time in my half-century of deer hunting I had a rutting buck threaten me. The first one, a big 200-pounder, ended up in the freezer but this one was too small to shoot even though he was big enough to consider himself, for a moment, the boss of the woods.
I was standing at the corner of a hay field just about to enter the woods when I caught a whiff of rutting buck. The odor is one few hunters can forget, a musky combination of tarsal glands and urine. Seconds later I heard the shuffle of leaves and I knew that there were deer nearby. At first I thought they were leaving but I had the wind in my face and had not made a sound walking in through the wet grass. Suddenly a doe popped out of the woods and ran past me just a few yards away. I knew then that a buck was chasing the doe so I got my rifle up and ready, anticipating a monster, rut-crazed buck.
I was almost disappointed when a puny 4-pointer came stomping into the field. He was no more than 10 yards from me, head down, neck swollen, uttering strange growling sounds. He spotted me standing there in the hazy pre-dawn light, raised his head and stared at me for a moment. Apparently thinking I was a competing buck, he put his head back down and came for me, side-stepping and grunting, the hair on his back and neck sticking straight up. He was doing his best to put on a menacing show but he was just a yearling and we both knew it.
I let him get to within five yards of me and then said, “Don’t make me shoot you!” He jumped back about three feet, snorted and ran off with the doe, which had been standing a few yards away watching the show.
The smell of the little buck lingered in the heavy morning air long after the two deer scampered off, leaving me with great expectations for a busy, active rut, but, sadly, that was the only and last encounter I had with a love-struck buck thus far this season.
Just as interesting to me was a chance observation I made a few days ago while sitting on a high, pine-covered ridge just before dark. I’d been seeing and hearing a lone raven all afternoon and enjoyed the show as always when, moments after sunset the big, black bird landed in the tallest pine behind me and began uttering a series of soft clucks, coos and purrs. Had I not been watching him with binoculars I’d have thought he was a wild turkey, but there was no doubt it was a raven.
Known to be solitary loners for the most part, I was not surprised that the raven was letting his presence be known, but what did surprise me was the sudden appearance of dozens of ravens, all flying in with a whoosh of wings but otherwise remaining silent. I counted 37 ravens all coming to roost in that stand of old pines and more showed up after I quit counting. I was amazed at how quiet they were and how all of them were drawn to the pines by the odd calls of that first bird.
One more new experience to add to my life list. We call it “deer hunting” but it’s obviously a lot more than that!