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Friday, August 05, 2005

Phil -- First Afternoon

I had a look at the map when I got back, and figured out a way to go directly from camp to my stand, the one that Walt had shown me. It wasn’t too far of a walk, maybe a half mile at the most. A gully came in to the main creek, and left a standing pool of water. The tracks indicated that at least several deer preferred the water from this pool over the main creek.

I had a lightweight strap-on stand up in an oak tree overlooking the pool. It was on a small bluff, maybe 15 feet up from the bank, that just added to the height of my stand, so I ended up close to thirty feet from the level of the creek. I roped up my bow up and settled in and tried my best not to sweat.

This hunt seemed somewhat jumbled. It was a mix of seasons. It had been so warm that some of the leaves still had not left the trees. It had been dry too. On the other hand, the woods looked generally open. It was hard to categorize, and I was not sure what to expect.

I had not been up in my tree long when a doe came from down the creek trotting my way. I nocked up an arrow and stood up, but she stayed about sixty yards out and kept going. About a half hour later, I got horribly fooled by a pair of squirrels rooting around under the leaves. It took forever for them to show themselves, and I kept waiting for something large to appear. The wind rose steadily all afternoon, and the stand moved about quite a bit. It took a while to settle in for the long wait.

I had no idea I was dozing off until I woke up suddenly. I was still in my seat. My bow was hanging from its holder. It was getting dark. I looked at my watch and saw that I had been on my stand for less than an hour. Sunset was quite a ways away. The afternoon had grown still. There was a bit of dark cloud that I could see out to the north, but I was too far down to see much else. It all just added to the jumble.

Another half hour went by and then I saw a nice fat doe come out of the cedars behind me and start making her way down to the pool. I think she had some idea I was around, but she did not worry about it much. She kept her nose up, as if she had been given a wiff of something. It took her a while to get into range, and then even longer for her to turn broadside. By the time she was at the pool, she was nearly beneath me, with some of the under story blocking a shot. I got in a good position while she took her drink. When she was done, she turned and walked directly away from me, quartering slightly towards me on her left side. I drew and shot. She ran off upstream about twenty yards, stopped, walked back and peeked out from behind a bush. She stared at my arrow, sticking out of the ground, and then took off. She didn’t snort.

I was of a mind to get down immediately, but chose to stay for a half an hour. I was fairly sure I had missed, but I didn’t want to disturb things any further. When I did climb down, I was met with a puzzle. The broad head was buried in the dirt, and there was no sign of blood on the arrow. I was left to conclude, after considerable searching, that I must have just barely passed the arrow under her chest. When I found no blood near the bush, I wrote it off.

There I was, down on all fours, not paying much attention to anything except the vague possibility of a drop of blood on the leaves. When I gave up, I slapped the ground and sat back on my heels.

Ooops. The sky had grown very dark and there was a yellowish cast to everything. I suddenly realized this was not a dry front coming through and something deep within me resented Walt Cooper, but I could not figure out why. I stuck the arrow back in my quiver and went back to gather up my gear. As I reached the tree, a tremendous whoosh of wind hit, and I knew the walk home was going to be a close-run thing.

It was not until I had left the woods close to the creek and headed out into an open field that I really got a view of the approaching storm. It was an awesome darkness coming. If I had not had that far to walk, I would have just stayed there and watched. It seemed a shame to put my head down and keep going. There was a foot trail across the pasture that I found and it took me into a large oak flat. Instead of going back the way I came, I tried angling for an ATV track I had seen on the map. I figured it would be easier to follow in the rain and the darkness. It did not take me long to realize I needed more light, and I broke out my headlamp.

The oaks were fairly close together, so the ground cover was sparse. They ranged in size from young to incredibly old. In some cases, old white oaks with trunks as wide as a car sent their branches sweeping towards the ground. Some had names I had seen on the map, but could not remember. It was an eerie world, especially when lightning began flashing, and distant rumbles of thunder started.

On the edge of the oaks, the track cut across, and I had nearly walked past it when I caught a glimpse of bare dirt. I turned around and began to follow it. Much to my surprise, I saw a flash of a headlight, and a soon a red Polaris was pulling up beside me. It was Walt Cooper.

“Damn fool.” I said. “Out riding in the storm.”

“Damn fool” he replied, “Out walking in the storm! Come on!” I hopped on back and off we rode. “I figured you’d be out this way, but you’re lucky. I was going to go a different way. ”

“We may make it back before it rains.” I replied. “This went just right.” I was wrong, but not too wrong. We started to hear the rain in the leaves just before we broke out into another field. We would get a second or two of rain, and the occasional large monster droplet, and then a wind gust would blow dry for a bit. Walt gunned it when we hit the gravel road and roared into camp a bit hotter than I would expect for an old guy. He had me get off at the house, and he went on to the tractor shed. I turned around just in time to see a solid wall of water coming over the top of the ridge. Walt passed me up on the way to the porch, running.

“Durn, fool!” he said, slapping me on the back. “You’re gonna drown like a turkey if you keep your mouth open like that.”

The cloudburst hit about a second or two before we got under the porch. We got wet, but we weren’t soaked. I stood there, looking out.

“Any luck?” Walt asked, handing me another cup of solvent like the night before.

“I got a shot at a doe.” I replied, “But I muffed it.” I stuck my nose in the cup.

“It’s scotch.” He said.

“Oh.” I replied. “I’ve never had scotch before.”

“That’s okay.” Walt said. “I’ll tell the jokes slower.”

We found a seat on the porch and watched for a while. The rain was coming down as hard as I had ever seen it. The lightning was close and bright. The thunder shook the decking. I downed my drink and about that time the wind changed and started blowing the rain under the porch. Everyone made a scramble for the door, and we filed inside.

“Thanks for the drink,” I said to Walt. “And thanks again for the ride.”

“No problem.” He said.

“When this rain lets up, I’ll buy you a steak.” I said.

“Why wait?” he said. “You can buy me one now.” He took me out on the porch and showed me a stone grill built under the roof of the screen porch. Someone had rolled down a couple of awnings to keep out the rain, and someone else had built a good fire. Walt poured me another scotch, and I went to the fridge and pulled out the two steaks I had. Someone had a load of corn roasting. Someone brought out a bag of spuds and threw them in the oven. Occasionally the wind would swirl, and the smoke would fill the porch, but for the most part it was a perfect scene. We sat on the whitewashed picnic tables and watched the storm.


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9:29 PM  
Blogger vsearch-406E1 said...

Any post you make on mule deer hunting in the future will be well received.

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Blogger vsearch-406E1 said...

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