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Trying to figure things out in the woods

Oak Duke's In the Outdoors column

By Oak Duke
The Spectator
Though recently blinded in one eye, the buck still wants to fight.

One of the many great things about deer hunting is that it gives us time alone to think.

But we are not the only ones out there, trying to figure things out.

A writing course taught us that our writing tools actually influenced what we wrote.

Well, it doesn't take much of a leap to understand that a pristine day in the middle of the deer woods is a great place to think; there where the only distractions are Blue jays, falling clumps of windswept snow from Hemlock branches and distant gunshots, those sporadic rumbles crowding out faint memories.

'Course some people don't like to be alone and think in a wild setting under the sky.

To them, the woods is a lonely place or else the opposite extreme - where demons, ghosts, spirits and all kinds of haunting things come out to get you.

Who knows what goes on inside someone else's head? I mean the stuff they don't talk about. It's probably best we don't.

Tough enough trying to figure out these deer.

The other day the shooting started down in the valley. Now anyone who has been on a quiet deer-stand for a few hours likes to hear the sound of distant gunshots because, for one, it may mean that "the deer are starting to move."

OAK DUKE

Whitetails, being chained to their circadian rhythms, have periods of rest and movement each day. And those times vary throughout the seasons. And it follows that when the deer start moving, distant shots down the valley and over the hills begin to give us hope.

But when the shots are relatively close, "then maybe the deer will come my way!" The perpetual optimism of the deer hunter is reinforced once in a while because sometimes they do.

“Sure enough,” I thought, “a big doe, running along a trail, directly away from the shooting.”

Now, was this cause-and-effect, that is did the shooting actually spook the deer towards me or was it correlation? That is, deer run trails all the time when shots ring down the hollows. They have to be somewhere, right?

And since it is not practical or important enough to directly verify the origin of the deer in the snow (too many other tracks and too steep a climb); I prefer to think it was "spooked" by the other shots.

A quick shot, I had a tag filled.

Meat for my family and friends.

And all the does relatives will in fact have a slightly easier time this winter. The wild plants she would have browsed will now be there for them.

Instead of meeting a car's radiator grill she will meet my backyard grill and be thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.

After taking care of the doe, there was still plenty of light to continue hunting. And within an hour, another deer came down the same trail, followed by another and then another. In all, 11 more, like beads on a string, down the trail.

When the first of the line came to the spot in the snow where one of their clan, two hours before had met its end, what do you think happened? Did they snort, run, scatter? Nope.

The lead doe in the herd continued on down the line, out of sight after carefully checking out the scent where I had so recently dressed out the doe. A few of the less dominant does and youngsters carefully walked through and then out of sight too.

But as the final couple of deer in the herd came to the scene in the snow, they actually tried to figure it out.

One walked up the drag mark in the snow, step-by-step, looking ahead with ears pointed. And one got on my tracks in the snow where I walked down and began back-tracking me and walked to within 12 yards, but could not see me hunkered down in snow-camo (with some orange blaze) next to a brush pile. And the so oft betraying breeze was for once perfectly in my favor.

For about 20 minutes these old does tried to unravel the confusing line of my tracks and the drag marks in the snow, walking down to each other, and back again.

I remember years ago at dusk when a buck came out of a thick stand of hemlock, and walked straight to the tree in which I had chosen for a stand. It was too late to shoot. But that buck walked directly to the spot beneath me where I climbed up the tree. I remember it stretching its neck out and smelling the climbing steps, obviously not knowing of the hunter, 15 feet directly above.

The buck thought I had gone. It would smell my tracks and look back up my trail, sweeping its head a little from side-to-side while standing at the base of my tree.

Then satisfied that it had figured me out, slowly walked away into the twilight.

— Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.