For 3½ weeks, I’ve been among the orange-clad masses who have flocked to the woods of Maine in search of deer.
OK. That’s really not true. In my case, I haven’t been looking for generic, garden-variety deer. Instead, I’ve been looking for one specific deer.
Because I have no any-deer permit, my deer must have antlers.
Because I’m not too stealthy, my deer must be hard of hearing.
And because I’ve never filled my deer tag before (and veteran hunters tell me I may contract a case of “buck fever” if I see one), my deer should be willing to stand perfectly still for several seconds as I line up the perfect shot.
Other than that, any deer will do.
On Wednesday I received an e-mail from a reader in Thomaston who told me he had enjoyed reading my personal deer-hunting tales over the past several years.
He hinted that the fact that he and I are in the same deer-less boat most years helps my stories ring true (and likely helps him feel better about “wasting” dozens of hours in the woods each fall).
And he wondered why I hadn’t shared any of those stories yet this year.
Hmm. Good question.
The fact is, though I’ve been able to spend a fair bit of time in the woods this fall, I’m still waiting for something … anything … to happen.
One year, for instance, a red squirrel climbed my tree (well, maybe it was his tree) and began throwing bark at me.
That was a story worth sharing.
And last year, I saw a bobcat, up close and personal, as he peered into a ground blind I was occupying.
Another tale worth telling … and tell it I did.
This year, however, I’ve got little to say, for one good reason: Nearly nothing has happened.
The deer haven’t visited.
The weather hasn’t been cold enough, nor wet enough, nor windy enough to cause me discomfort, and I’ve learned that complaining to nonhunters that it’s simply “too warm” or “not snowy enough” is a good way to earn yourself a quick kick in the rump.
See? Nothing happened.
Make that nearly nothing happened.
There was another squirrel story, I suppose. And I could tell it, I guess. I’d just been hoping (against all odds) that the first personal hunting story I told this deer season would involve a deer. My deer. Finally.
As you can see, that hasn’t panned out as planned. So it’s time to talk about … well … squirrels.
Knowing that the red squirrels in my hunting spot are particularly pesky and like to throw things at hunters, I headed to the woods on opening day expecting the worst.
My expectations were accurate.
It didn’t take long before a particularly bold beast (who may have been the same bark-chucker I had previously met) climbed my (his) tree and stopped 3 feet above my head.
He, I convinced myself, was the ringleader. The boss. The king of all squirrels.
King Red wanted a showdown. I wanted peace and quiet. And I knew the only way I was going to get that peace and quiet was by giving him the showdown (or stare-down) he wanted.
The battle was short but intense.
I craned my neck and stared up at King Red. He stared back.
I stared harder. He gave me his best, meanest look.
Then I upped the ante.
I widened my eyes (giving him my best, craziest look) and bared my teeth at him.
Picture a coyote … with two legs, a pot belly and a rifle … sitting in a tree stand.
I didn’t growl at King Red (wouldn’t want to scare off the nonexistent deer, mind you), but I did gnash my teeth. Picture a coyote with two legs, a pot belly and a rifle, sitting in a tree stand, chewing up a pesky red squirrel.
King Red got the message.
After a few rounds of teeth-baring and gnashing, Red abandoned his perch and headed for terra firma.
Apparently he shared his experience with his loud-mouthed brethren, because since that opening-day encounter, I’m nearly happy to say, the squirrels have left me alone.
I still hear them, out in the forest, chattering away. I still see them, once in a while, scurrying up and down other nearby trees.
But when I head to my (their) tree, they no longer try to visit. They no longer tell me what they think of me.
They no longer care that I exist.
Most seasons, that would be OK with me.
After 3½ weeks of sitting in trees and hunkering in ground blinds, however, I’ve started to re-evaluate the situation.
Maybe I’m lonely.
Maybe I’m bored.
Maybe I just need to see a deer … any deer.
Whatever the case, I’m almost willing to admit that on those not-too-rainy, not-too-cold, not-snowy-enough jaunts into the woods, there are times when a deerless deer hunter might enjoy watching the antics of a single crazed squirrel.
Just don’t tell King Red I said that.