Funny how we remember some things and not others, especially parts of the same story. Like my first deer hunt. Dad and Mom hunted every year on Roy Stewart’s orchards, but that was adult sport; kids not invited.
Then one day Mom handed me her rifle and a bullet and sent me forth.
Her rifle and a bullet. Actually, she gave me two bullets, and instructed me to keep one in my pocket. The general rule was if you heard one shot, someone saw a deer. Two shots meant the hunter likely needed to finish the job.
More than two shots meant someone was going home empty-handed.
Our driveway was about a half-mile to the hard road, and could take an hour or so to traverse. Even in my younger years, just wandering in the thousands of acres of woodland that was my home turf was more than sufficient enjoyment, observing the critters and their home turf as they went about their daily chores.
Most of the year, deer were for looking, activity of which I never tired. Hunting season was for the freezer. I also loved venison.
I loved being in the woods but I would be much older before I would discover how much I had learned in my wanderings without actually thinking about learning anything. We all tend to believe our current life is what is normal, so I did not give much thought to knowing the place where a partridge would explode into flight when I came near.
I knew she had a nest nearby, but I also knew she would sneak away from it before bursting into flight in a great commotion that dared me to look at her take-off point rather than where her family actually was growing.
I left our driveway and started down a logging road, walking slowly and, I hoped, quietly, being careful to pick my feet up to avoid shuffling stones or fallen leaves. Deer are two things above all else – curious and nervous. When they get a hint that something strange is on their turf, they try their best to check it out –to sneak up on it, but always stay ready to vanish at the first sign of danger.
If you don’t move, a Whitetail may well come right up to you. But if you blink, it will be like the deer was never there.
As I slipped slowly around a corner, I suddenly heard the unmistakable crunching of a Whitetail enjoying dinner. Over the course of maybe 10 minutes, I snuck up to where I could see the critter chowing down on a patch of grass.
Over the years, I have hunted deer in Virginia and Barren Ground caribou in Alaska. I have harvested smelt and striped bass on both coasts of the Lower 48.
And I have traded my guns and fishing gear for cameras. It’s not that I no longer like venison or fish. Au contraire.
But I have come to think the more fun activities are to see how closely I can approach, or let them approach. It is pretty cool to put a GoPro in front of a crawdad and try for a quote about the cleanliness of the creek. Or watch a Great Blue Heron stand like a statue as she waits for dinner to move within spearing range. Every hour in the forest or on a creek is like a magic classroom taught by the residents.
As an editor with whom I once shared journalistic pursuits often pointed out, “It’s difficult to see a stranger in someone who has allowed you into their home.”