For four weeks — through rainstorms, snow squalls and some tree-shaking wind — those of us in the blaze orange fraternity spent as much time as possible in the Maine woods, stalking and sitting, hoping for the chance to fill our 2010 deer tags.
I hope you succeeded. I hope you had great luck, saw plenty of deer and have already enjoyed a few celebratory pan-fried venison steaks. And I hope you share some of that delicious meat with people (like me) who didn’t fare nearly as well.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you. The fact is, every time I go out the door and head to my favorite hunting grounds, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what is waiting: nothing. The area where I expend most of my hunting effort, on land that anyone can access, is hunted hard. There are deer to be found, to be sure. There are also plenty of hunters looking for those deer.
My friends often ask me, “Why don’t you just go somewhere else? Why don’t you go someplace where the deer density is higher or the hunting pressure is less?” My answer is pretty simple, and I expect it might ring true to many of you.
I go where I go because … well … because it is where I go.
This small forest is comfortable to me. I know the lay of the land, and have been tromping about (or sitting in trees or ground blinds) on the same acreage for nearly a decade now.
My family’s camp is not a mile away. I see the same trucks parked in the same turnouts every hunting season, and I know that those hunters are sharing the same experience that I am. Not many are filling tags, I’ll bet, but we’re all out there, somewhere, because to us, hunting this small tract of land, year after year, just feels right — no matter what the deer might try to tell us.
Based on a “Deer Seen Per Trip” basis, this season wasn’t much to talk about, I suppose. Based on a “Memories Made” or “Lessons Learned” basis, however, it was an unqualified success.
I saw birds of all shapes and sizes, including a few bald eagles. That was cool. And I saw one bird (the one with a pendulous belly that gave him an odd, Hitchcock-ian profile) that I still haven’t identified, no matter how many bird photos I look at.
Even when the deer weren’t arriving, I kept busy. I had taken on a challenge at the beginning of the month, as you may recall, and was participating in National Novel Writing Month. The goal: Write a novel — 50,000 words — in 30 days. And I found that spending a few hours in a tree stand a few times a week provided a per-fect opportunity to mentally work my way through the process, flesh out characters and dream up interesting situations to put them in.
No, I may not have filled my tag. But I did reach my goal: When November ended, I had written 53,000 words. So that, too, was a good thing.
On Saturday, the final day of the season, I dutifully headed into the woods for a final time. Friday’s snow had melted, then frozen again. Stealth was impossible. Every step resulted in a deep, raspy crunch. Kind of like what it would sound like if you were walking through a monstrous bowl of corn flakes.
As it turned out, stealth wasn’t necessary.
After getting within 50 yards of my stand — the stand I had sat in for so many hours and seen exactly zero deer — I heard the approaching footsteps of … something.
Another hunter, I thought, squinting through the falling snow.
This time, it wasn’t. The crunching got closer. Closer. And eventually, about 80 yards away, I could see a deer. Or, more accurately, I could see the lower two-thirds of a deer.
I couldn’t see its head. I couldn’t see the top of its back. But I could see all four legs, and it appeared to be an adult. Finally, a deer.
Not that I had a shot, mind you. And not that I took one. There were too many branches between me and the deer, and I never did find out if it sported any headgear.
But there it was. Eighty yards away. About 30 yards from my stand (if I had been sitting in my stand).
I slowly crunched my way in the same direction it was heading, hoping for a better view, and maybe, if I was lucky, a shot.
I never got a better view. And I never got a shot.
That’s not to say that hunting season was a washout, however. Far from it.
I got to spend plenty of relaxing time in the woods, you see. And I ended up writing more than 200 pages of my first novel’s rough draft during hunting season. All that time spent sitting and contemplating the story and its twists and turns certainly contributed to the process.
I spent good time with great friends. I escaped from the everyday grind. I spied a bird that looked a bit like Alfred Hitchcock.
And I saw a deer.
All in all, I figure it was a month well spent.