It was pretty brisk at ten-to-five Saturday morning. The sun was an hour and 40 minutes from coming up- not even a smudge of bright on the eastern horizon. I had packed everything into the car Friday night after work, and laid my camo out. Last year on the bow opener, I was sweating in light cotton. This year, it was 39F as I shouldered my pack, and trekked up the road in darkness.
I had forgotten a flashlight, so I was intensely thankful for moonlight. With the moon waning, three days from full, I won’t be able to do this next Saturday. These woods I know so well turn alien before the daylight arrives. After three days of rain, the mud was slick, and hills interesting to climb. Once I reached one of the back fields, I was at a loss to actually finding the spot I meant to sit. It’s marked by two pine trees that grew twisted around each other. How much of our sense of direction is determined by what we can see! Somehow, though, after wading into the brush I ended up sitting very nearly where I wanted to be. When the sun came up, I saw the twisted trees not far to my left.
I made myself comfortable against a tree trunk. This was going to be ground hunting- leaving tree stands up is illegal on public land. I listened to a trio of owls hooting in the predawn gray. I settled in for a few hours of morning hunting, hoping the deer would stick to the habits we’d observed late this summer. As the world around me lightened, birds came to life. About 10 minutes after dawn, the noise of the woods was cut by the crack of a small rifle. And a second and a third. My heart sank, I’d forgotten it was also the squirrel season opener. I listened to what I would later find was a trio of guys, and I aurally tracked their progress back towards me.
I’m not sure what sort of hunters they were, but I do know they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. At their nearest point to me, I counted 11 rounds, standing in one place. They were close enough I could hear their ricochets, the click of cartridges being reloaded, and I could hear them operating the bolts on their rifles. I was absolutely incensed, but definitely unwilling to come crashing out of the woods while there was live fire nearby. I’m still not sure what kind of squirrel holds still and lets you take your second shot on it, much less eleven. Eventually they moved along, but kept shooting and crashing around. At that point, I figured I wasn’t seeing anything that day- it would be incredibly easy for the deer to avoid one small group of shooters by just spending the day on the surrounding private land, and the deer know that. I got up and left.
As I trudged back to the car, another bowhunter waved to me from his ground blind, nearly scaring me right out of my pants. He’s the one who told me it was a trio of squirrel hunters, and I let him know how careless they’d been. I know there’s not much of a way for them to know I was right there, but every one knows the start of bow season. Plus, they saw other cars parked and one bow hunter on the way in, as well as my footprints the entire way back. One would think they’d do the math that there must be another hidden somewhere, and at least be careful where and how they shot. Not to mention, courteous about not crashing around.
I got home, fully intending to breakfast, nap, and head out for the evening, but my sister told me that my grandparents were driving up from Missouri. I had not seen them in at least six years, maybe more. I scrapped what would probably be another crowded, frustrating hunt to go see my family. I have all the way to November to get burnt out on bow season. But how many times am I going to be able to hug my grandma and grandpa,and feed my nephew s’mores behind my sister’s back?
I plan to give the deer today to calm down from what was undoubtedly a stressful weekend- it’s chilly again, and rainy, on top of being a workday. Few people will be out. I’ll be heading out tomorrow morning, and probably evening when Matt gets home.