BY MITCH MODE
Special to the Star Journal
The only sound was the sound of the wind. We heard it in the middle of the night in our restless sleep; a roar in the blackness, full of power and promise. It blew without pause in the predawn darkness, straight from the north, strong and with an attitude.
We made coffee and listened to the wind blow. Big weather had come our way.
Come time we dressed in heavy layers, shouldered rifles and walked in the haze of faint light to our stand. We made ready. Then we settled for the wait.
Opening came and went in blustery cloud and wind. It had snowed, a light dusting, patchy and seeming of little consequence. But any snow in deer woods has consequence. It all helps.
I would have seen the deer without the snow. It was that close. One moment all was normal. The next, movement behind me. I eased my head around; deer. It moved and I saw the head: Buck. I tapped Ted; held up a finger and pointed behind the blind. Whispered, “Fork.”
Then the deer turned its head, I get another look and I leaned back, said, “Eight.”
The buck was uneasy; edgy. The wind made him nervous. He is 30 yards away. He takes a step; stops. Steps again. I can see him; Ted cannot. After a minute the buck walks forward and holds in cover. Then Ted can see him. We are as players on a stage; Ted, me, the buck. Nothing moves; all is as if we wait our cues.
Then the buck turns and angles away from us but still very close. Ted says, “What do you think?” And means, “Take it or wait for a bigger one?” I whisper, “Your call.”
The deer moves ahead, slowly, deliberately. Then he turned to the open area and we have a good look at him and I see Ted’s rifle ease forward.
The buck runs but only a few steps, out into the open area, 75 yards away. Then he stops and stands. I hear the small, inconsequential click of the safety on the rifle pushed to fire position. The decision has been made.
The wind carries the sound of the shot into the November chill and snow, carries the memory of it into the rare air of our souls, carries off the life and the death of the buck. The wind never quits; the wind never cares.
It is ten minutes after seven. The season has been open for half an hour.
We stay in the blind for three more hours. The wind never slows. The power of the storm is immense. Into this storm no birds fly; we do not see chickadees or nuthatches or jays. Our companions in the hunt are holding deep in cover, husbanding energy. Overhead the trees toss and the wind rages.
We climb down and I go in to stoke the fire and start breakfast. Ted stays to work on the deer and drag it out.
There is something about a wood fire. Heat never seems as pure. I load the stove with oak bolts and open the draft and the fire roars, its sound the sound of the wind but the result is heat.
I eat bacon and eggs and relax. Then I hunt the late afternoon. The only constant is the wind; it never abates. Late season oak leaf waves in the storm and the occasional windblown leaf drifts through my field of view and I invariably double take on it, alert as I am for movement.
I do not see a deer. The afternoon fades slowly to shadow and hint of night to come.
Late in the afternoon comes a sound familiar but uncommon and I strain to look into the scudding clouds of the low November sky. Swans, five of them, riding the north wind from who knows where, riding the high, cold stream of air, calling as they go.
I watch them, the big white birds, ghost-like in the graying afternoon, spirit-birds that carry with them the end of the autumn even as their call sounds the alert of new times to come. The swans fly into the glooming of the late sky on the cold and the wind and the snow.
I follow the birds with my eyes. Then I cannot see them as then become part of the cloud. I hear their call; then that too is gone. In the gathering dusk I can only remember how they were as I remember the buck of that November morning, gone now as the swans are gone and the autumn season is gone.
Dusk falls and there is shadow and dark and in the end all that is left are memories, memories and the wind that blows without cease and carries it all away.
I walk back to the shack where the embers glows orange and hot and I find shelter from the wind and the cold.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.