"I'm waiting until noon before I shoot a doe." I tell my brother in the predawn darkness. He tells me he's taking the first legal deer he sees, buck or doe. We wish each other good luck and go our separate ways into the woods. It's the first Saturday of the 2008 rifle deer season and the first day that antlerless deer are fair game. I'd been patiently waiting for a chance at a nice buck, but had nothing to show for it except an encounter with a small six point opening day.
I'm headed for the stand that I simply call "The Hemlock". It's a huge hemlock that overlooks a bench covered with mixed hardwoods and mountain laurel. Several years ago I placed a large flat rock at it's base to make a comfortable seat. The spot always seems to produce deer that are pushed from the opposite hill and I'm hoping today is my lucky day. Walking in the darkness I can't help but notice the biting cold. I'm dressed in a few layers of clothes already and I have a few more layers to put on once I get to my stand. The frozen leaves crunch loudly under the light dusting of snow we got last night and I'm sure every deer in the surrounding hills can hear me coming.
Once on stand I silently say my traditional prayer asking for a safe hunt for all out today and I settle in for the wait. Three hours later I have yet to see a deer and there are fewer shots than I expected to hear this morning. My mind starts drifting to other things when suddenly the crunching of leaves below me brings me to full alert. I see antlers before anything else and I can tell already it's not the buck I'm looking for. He comes up the hill toward me and I see through the binoculars that he's a six point. Walking to within fifteen yards of me he begins to nibble on hemlock needles. Browsing for awhile, he then beds down right there and luckily he's facing downhill. I watch him chew his cud and listen for any approaching danger.
After an hour of sitting perfectly still trying not to spook him, I'm chilled to the bone and my legs are falling asleep. Not able to take it anymore, I wait till he's looking directly away from me and I quickly move into a more comfortable position. Success! He continues to chew his cud and survey the hillside. A few minutes later I hear the crunching of frozen leaves behind me getting closer and closer. The six point is looking directly in my direction now and he stands up as I can hear that something is at the crest of the hill directly behind me. Fearing getting caught in the line of fire I turn to look and see a hunter walking along the edge of the hill oblivious to either me or the buck. Finally he notices me and gives me a wave and continues along the hillside. Looking back I see the buck still standing there staring at the both of us. Suddenly he bounds down the hill at full speed and is out of sight in a matter of a second. As I listen to him crashing through the woods I turn to look at the hunter still visible behind me and he's oblivious to the noise. I laugh to myself thinking how that hunter would have walked past and probably never seen that buck.
Being chilled to the core I decide to take a walk and get my blood pumping again. I walk down to the bench and start working my way east across the hill. I jump two doe within the first hundred yards and one gives me a good shot opportunity. It's less than an hour till noon but I decide to stick to my plan and pass on her. Slowly making my way to the opposite hillside I see three more doe along the way. I pass on them as well.
I start working my way west along the next hill and stop to check my watch. Noon, time to check in with my brother on the radio. He has a deer down and is on his way towards me on the same hill. He tells me he's going to take the truck down to where he'll have an easier drag and I decide to join him. We meet on the gas line and make our way back to the truck. I find out he had a large group of deer come through and he picked out the largest doe and dropped her in her tracks. Upon walking up to his deer he found out it wasn't a doe after all but a shed buck.
We drive down the steep logging trail that runs between the two hillsides I'd been hunting this morning. At some places it's barely wide enough to get the truck through. As we get near the creek at the bottom I take in the view. This is one of my favorite places. Hemlock, mountain laurel and old gnarly rhododendrons cover the hillside. A light snow begins to fall as we park along the creek. My brother has left the deer where he shot it and stashed it under some branches and leaves. We decide to still hunt together to it and head out along the creek towards the steep hemlock covered hillside.
As you get into the hemlocks you can't help but notice the difference in the light, an almost early morning look to the woods. Being a steep north facing slope it receives virtually no sunlight from mid morning on in the winter. Generations of my family have referred to this area as 'the dark woods'. It's almost a sure bet for seeing deer in rifle season as it's a tough drag out.
We get to my brothers deer that is against the base of a huge oak. We make a plan for me to sit there and my brother is going to do a long, slow drive along the top of the hill. Sitting there in the dim light I keep an eye uphill for deer. I'm sitting approximately sixty yards above the creek and the sound of it muffles out any chance of hearing deer before they show up. After focusing uphill so long I turn just in time to see the back end of a deer in the brush about seventy yards to my left. It's too late as it fades away into the laurel and brush. After about an hour I see my brother coming along the bottom from the same direction the deer had been headed. We decide to sit there together till quitting time. Him facing uphill and me facing the creek below.
As we sit there I realize this is the first time we have sat in the woods together like this since he used to take me hunting when I was just starting out. As I listen to the sounds of the creek below I reflect on how special this hillside has been for members of my family. My grandfather and father had taken numerous deer off of it and their stories used to be told at our hunting camp yearly. One in particular comes to mind as I'm sitting there watching.
In the early seventies my father had been hunting here on the first day of buck season with a heavy snow falling most of the day. Having hunted on top of the hill all morning and early afternoon he walked down over into the 'dark woods' to finish off the day. As he told it...."I went to the bottom and found a nice big tree to sit against and sat and watched for deer to come across the creek. An hour before quitting time two bucks and a doe came from the other hill and started across the creek. As soon as the first bucks hooves hit the bank I let him have it." His buddy he had been hunting with had a long wait till he got back to the truck and from what they said it was close to midnight when they headed out. Sitting there I could visualize it perfectly in my mind as if I had been there to witness it myself. I wondered if this was close to where he had been sitting. I even wondered if this was the same tree.
Suddenly movement on the on the opposite creek bank caught my attention and I snapped back into the present. A large lone doe was about to come across. I whispered to my brother there was a deer and I was going to shoot. As she made her way across the water I got ready. When she came up the bank and started slowly walking to my right I took aim and squeezed off the shot. She dropped right there.
My brother had been watching the whole scenario from behind me and I turned to see the wide grin on his face. At that moment it really hit me how special this day was. We made our way down to her and he commented on how nice of a coat she had. We were both impressed with her size seeing as how there was no agriculture anywhere nearby. As I prepared to dress her out he went up and got his deer ready for the drag out. I knelt down beside her and lay my hand on her shoulder and silently said to myself, "I'm sorry. May your spirit roam these hills forever."
As we were getting ready for the long drag out two owls began calling to each other from the hemlocks. "Who cooks for you?" echoed back and forth across the hill. We looked at each other and smiled. Darkness was falling fast but we both agreed to take our time getting back to the truck. A light snow was falling and added to the dusting we'd got the night before making for a somewhat easier drag. About halfway to the truck we paused along the creek to catch our breath. The moon broke out from the clouds and lit up the woods and creek and we stood there admiring the beauty of it all for awhile.
As we got back to the truck I almost hated to see it all end. We got the deer loaded up and began the long slow drive up the narrow logging road. I stared out the window to the dark hills and reflected on all that had just transpired. It may have been just a doe but it is a hunt I'll remember for a lifetime.
Good job and especially nice that it is a true story of the two of you . Thanks for sharing a well written piece .I am sure you have more to come.....Finn <span style='font-family: Arial Black'> </span>