Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Deer Win the Day(s)

The score after the opening two days of deer hunting season for me and my three friends is: Deer 4, Hunters 0. Our party took a total of six shots, and, most unusually, missed them all. I myself took no shots and spotted only one deer - a large one, running fast across a distant field. If, perchance, a reader is not familiar with the routine of deer hunting in western New York, the following explanation might be of interest.

The day starts in the dark, at about 6 a.m., when we walk to the tree stands where we hunt the "morning hunt". The deer are still out and about (theoretically, at least), and we stay quiet up in our trees, scanning the entire area to identify any movements of these well-camoflaged animals. Following that early morning hunt, we hike to a well defined large area and "drive it". Two hunters start at one end of the area and move through it, hopefully pushing any deer to other hunters who wait quietly at the other end. (Care must be taken to avoid shooting another hunter instead of the intended quarry.) After lunch we do a second drive, and then the "evening hunt" which is another sitting spell that lasts until the light fades.

The temperature this weekend was in the high 30's and low 40's, windy, with occasional spotty rains. The forest was wet, with the low areas filled with large puddles. The sky was totally overcast, so the lighting conditions were marginal. All in all, advantage deer! They are very quiet, camoflaged, and they often lie down to rest during the day in preparation for their nocturnal eating frenzies. In this farm country, deer can find a great late evening dinner at any one of our endless cornfields or alfalfa meadows. This highly nutritious diet makes for extra good venison if one is fortunate enough to find a deer and accurate enough to bring it down. (Of course, one must first "field dress" the deer, which is an activity not for the squeamish.)

It's Sunday evening, and I'm pleasantly tired after a one and one half days of walking through muddy fields and soggy woods. Yesterday I saw a large, puffy-haired red fox hunting in a cornfield. Several hawks circled constantly, and one would occasionally swoop down low over the fields after a small critter they had spotted with their keen eyes. Squirrels chattered at me as I sat in the tree stands, and all the small birds kept busy flitting about and finding insects or seeds to eat. No, I didn't get a deer, but I got a lot of satisfaction from being away from the routine of life, refreshing my amazement at the wonders of nature, and spending time with friends in a ritual older than history.

1 comment:

Dave said...

When I turned fourteen I became, in my father's eyes, old enough to go on the annual deer hunting weekend "up north" (northern half of Michigan's lower penninsula). In the four years we went, I saw one deer (my father over his life had shot one deer when he was in his early twenties). But that was hardly the point of the weekend.

I learned the craft of hunting (quite possibly not very well given the results) and was introduced to being an adult as I was expected not to be my usual kid self.

One year we were walking a fire trail. About as far down it as you could see, something was moving. We couldn't really discern more than the movement because it seemed out of context. As "it" came closer, it formed into what seemed to be an impossibly big bird. It glided along the path about chest high. When it was maybe twenty feet away, it lifted without visibly moving a muscle, gliding a couple of feet over our heads and continued behind us, gliding still until it disappeared. There was no sound from it or us. We learned that it was an Arctic Owl with probably a six foot wing span.

This and other memories that I've kept made each of these annual hunts "successful."