Note: A friend's recent Facebook post had me recalling a column I wrote for the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star daily newspaper in early November 2006. It was the tail end of archery season for deer and I as giving it a final shot on an absolutely miserable day, weather-wise. It was like I had competing angels perched atop my shoulders, whispering in each ear. One was encouraging me to hang in there; the other was saying "Let's get out of here." The "Go" persona was really pushing hard. I chuckle at the reference to doppler radar. Now, anybody with a smartphone has the weather world at their fingertips. Good hunting!
Character building – that is one way to characterize sitting in a tree for nearly three hours on a recent cold, rainy afternoon hoping a nice whitetail buck will magically appear during a lull between downpours.
As I “visualize success,” the buck appears at the thicket’s edge, his gray-brown hair shedding rain. His antlers bob as he swaggers to within 30 yards of my perch. He pauses. I draw, take careful aim and release the arrow. Water droplets spray as hooves dig into the soggy, musty forest floor and the big buck wheels and bolts, only to stumble and fall, permanently, 80 yards away.
At least that's the way it always seems to go down in the hunting videos
Rainwater ran in rivulets to the end of the arrow, eventually succumbing to gravity with a steady, drip, drip, drip from the razor-sharp, three-blade broadhead. I pulled snug the flaps on my rain gear. With an hour to go, my mind began a protracted debate on the merits of staying versus going.
Go: Nothing has moved in 90 minutes. Not even a squirrel. Let’s bag this.
Stay: We had a good break in the rain earlier this afternoon. If we get another one, that buck may decide to get up from wherever he’s dozing and start checking or freshening some of these scrapes. Wish I had Doppler radar in the tree stand.
Go: The wind’s picking up as that front is moving in…deer usually don’t like to move when it’s windy.
Stay: Still, the wind is knocking lot of new acorns to the ground. We’re in a patch of white oak heaven and these deer haven’t been pressured. Some may decide to come grab an afternoon snack. We’re here; better give it a while.
Go: I can’t believe I’m going to futilely sit out here for another hour until the end of legal shooting time. Cold beer, good college football on TV? Might be a better option?
Go: May be a good day to build that first fire of the season…
Go: You know -- my leg is getting cold. This raingear keeps me dry on the inside, but when the cold, wet exterior of it presses against something, like this tree stand, it sure seems to conduct the dampness against skin.
Stay: It was incredible last week when that owl flew into the next tree, just 10 feet away 30 minutes before dark. Never knew I was here. And then that raccoon shuffled under the stand just as I was thinking about climbing down. He climbed that same tree, scrambling to just above my eye level – probably 30 feet up and saw me in the fading light - that was worth the price of admission.
Go: My hand gripping the bow is getting cold. Probably will have to do some preventive maintenance when the gear dries out.
Stay: The bow is already wet. I’ll have to do that whether I leave now or at the end of legal shooting.
Go: I’ll never be able to hang in here until the end of legal shooting. It’ll be dark before sunset with these
clouds. If something is going to show up, it better hurry.
Go: That scrape below that oak limb didn’t look like it has been visited in a couple days. That buck has probably already been shot. We may be hunting a ghost.
Stay: Not so fast. Bucks often cruise around a lot of territory as the rut approaches. He may only visit this spot every couple days, sometimes just scent-checking from downwind. Still, it seems true that your best opportunity comes the first time you use a particular stand. I found this scrape during some midday scouting and it was smoking hot. When that buck appeared at dark that same day, doing that snort-wheeze sound they make when trying to intimidate other bucks, I thought the plan was really coming together. Of course, he hung up like a wary gobbler; that’s how they grow a set of mature antlers. He didn’t pop out of the thick stuff and into the open below the stand until 5 minutes before the end of legal shooting. By then, the good light had faded in the woods. I could barely make out his outline in the shadows, but whenever he turned or lifted his head, there was no mistaking those big white antlers. A couple times, I thought I had the aiming pin where the vitals should be, but I just couldn’t be certain. I lowered the bow. It’s never worth taking a bad shot. I waited 20 minutes for him to clear the area while I sat in that stand in the pitch dark. Still that was one of the finest hunting moments I think I’ve ever had. Times like that keep you coming back.
Go: Even in this miserable, windy downpour?
Stay: Even in a miserable, windy downpour. Whether hunting or fishing, you never really know unless you go.
Go: Well, I know it’s really starting to get dark. There may be 20 minutes left for legal shooting, but I won’t see him clearly enough for a quality shot even if he comes in.
Stay: Guess it may be time to call it a hunt.
Go: Smart thinking old chappie. Careful, standing and turning on this climbing stand. Muscles aren’t as limber when you’re old, cold and wet – well cold and wet anyway. Lower the bow down with the haul rope.
Stay: Hope I don’t spook him as I get out of this tree and these woods - if he's nearby.
Go: You know -- that wasn’t so bad…a pretty good afternoon, actually.
Stay: Just shut up!