Outdoor Adventures: A world of difference
Late November solitude brings quiet beauty and peace of mind
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
The wood stove fire burns down at two in the morning. Outside; cold and clear. Stars blaze bright as if in defiance of the blackness and arc across the dome of sky like a city of lights. Orion stands proud in the November sky. The moon is faint. Ghostly birch trees stand like tall sentinels. It is calm and very beautiful.
We stoke the fire, add oak; fire rises. Wood becomes heat.
Three hours later the clock rattles alarm. Wakeup. We rise, make coffee and oatmeal, then dress for the day.
The radio plays music, reports weather. Then national news of terrorism in Europe. It is a week after the attacks in Paris; a day after one in Mali; Belgium on high alert. Talk of darkness of terror is nonstop. The world has changed.
We close the door behind us and step into the morning.
It is cool and clouds have moved in; the clarity of midnight hours is gone to shadow and haze. There is a thin dusting of snow on the ground. We pass under tall pines and there is a noise of wings overhead and an owl flies into the shadows to the east. An omen, the owl; But of what?
We climb to the stand, load rifles, arrange gear, focus binoculars; then wait.
Deer hunting is a waiting game. The stand is a good one; has been for decades. Deer will move following sinuous trails set by generations past. It is very quiet. We hear a handful of shots, distant and thus of little interest. It is cold but not bitter. We zip parkas tight and pull wool hats snug.
On this day change is in the air. Gone now the days of lingering warmth and leisure. Now the gray clouds build over frozen ground and chill wind of north brings notice that days ahead will bring a new reality.
There will be harsh days and long dark nights before the spring comes. The world has turned.
I do not know if I’d have seen the deer without snow on the ground. I’d not have seen him when I did, 200 yards out, nose to the ground, moving, then pausing, then moving again. I’d have seen him eventually but with snow I saw him earlier. Saw the deer; raised binoculars; saw antler. Told Ted, “Buck”.
Ted raised rifle, held steady, his eye to the scope. The buck moved into thicket; paused. Held still. Moved. He came forward with certainty in the cold air of the new day. Stepped forward into an open lane. Stopped and in that moment we could see horns wider than the ears.
Ted killed him where he stood.
It was five minutes after seven on Opening Day. I told Ted, “You’re early”. A year ago at seven ten he had killed another buck that stood then within 20 feet of where this one had.
We sat back and breathed deep. We waited for a while then climbed down and walked to the deer. When we came close enough we could count ten points.
Two hours later deer moved behind us. Ted turned, whispered, “Buck and doe and fawn.” I turned slowly, saw movement of leg and brown body and ivory tine of antler. The buck was in the thick and he moved as a mystery moves; now a glimpse, now not. The doe and the fawn drifted in sight, then out, like shadows moving with sun and cloud.
The buck stayed in cover. I could see flash of antler, thought “Too small”. Then he turned; another angle, another look; a question becoming an answer. Different story now. I’d seen enough to know that the buck was a good deer and the rack was wide and solid, not the largest I’ve seen but a good one.
He would come out to my right on a runway I’ve hunted for more than 20 years. He’d angle slightly away from me and I’d raise the rifle, hold it steady and ease into the trigger pull. I’ve taken deer there a dozen times, maybe more.
He held up in the brush and I turned my head to catch glimpse of him. All my attention was on the buck.
The fawn saw me. I’d ignored the fawn as I focused on the buck. Now the fawn stood 15 yards behind the base of my tree and locked eyes with me.
There was a moment when it all held together; me and the fawn and the buck all still as a painting; drawn as if a line, united in November air and the tension of the moment built like a braided rope under pressure.
Then the fawn snorted and turned and ran and the buck followed. They ran, tails high and white, ran away from me as I raised the rifle. They stopped at 100 yards and I found the buck in the crosshair of the scope, held on his shoulder and pushed the safety to Fire and found the trigger.
Then the buck turned and ran again and I pulled the rifle back. I will not take a shot at a deer on the run.
I do not shoot enough to be confident and without confidence there is no justification to shoot.
And the woods were quiet and they were empty again. It was nine o’clock in the morning and I told Ted, “We’ve had a pretty good season in two hours”.
Overnight the temperature dropped. I hunted Sunday in biting cold under a clear sky. Any warmth the sun brought the wind stole away. A very good buck moved into the open but he saw me as I raised the rifle. He wheeled and was gone.
I hunt until ten o’clock and then walk to the shack, chilled but enthused for it has been a wonderful morning of late November beauty. The shack is a warm refuge on this day. I close the door against the cold. I make coffee and Ted sautes fresh venison backstrap in butter.
I think to myself: There is no place I the world I’d rather be.