I spent some time in the woods last week, a camera I hoped to use judiciously hanging from my neck and a gun I wasn’t thrilled about firing idle on my lap. I am usually enthusiastic come deer season because I like venison and being outdoors even on chilly days. But my objective this year was to shoot a buck with my camera.
The woods woke up around 6:30 when gray squirrels began to emerge from nighttime hiding places and forage for food. At least foraging was what they were supposed to do. They played instead, amusing themselves with a game of chase and the sounds they could make while clambering on and around the hollow trunk of a dead tree.
Squirrels are a lot like children. One leaped from a thin branch high above the forest floor to another equally thin branch. The squirrel that was tailing thought twice about making the jump and acted as if he had heard something, likely to buy some time and hope his compadre came back over. That didn’t happen and, with some hesitancy, the second one finally crossed the span. Later, the two met face to face while chasing and one thumped the other across the shoulders. Twice. Either a way of saying “I can’t belive you made me make that jump,” or “I can’t believe you didn’t follow me right away,” since I couldn’t tell who was who in the conversation.
Around eight, does began to wander through the area. Three came toward my stand, stopping about twenty-five yards away, acting as if they felt something was wrong, something they couldn’t quite place a hoof on. They carefully stepped toward some brush, often glancing at me in my stand, sixteen feet up the side of a tree. They disappeared into the brush.
I watched a brown creeper scale a tree next to mine and looked across the hills to spy Canada geese patrolling the skies. Crows had begun holding conventions in other trees nearby, their calls like speeches from windy keynoters. A runt squirrel was playing alone, away from but in sight of others. He had probably heard that he was too young for squirrel games so many times that he had created his own versions.
The deer trio came back after being gone just ten minutes or so. This time they snorted at me in unison, and I snorted back. I’ve done this before and can hold a deer in rapt attention for a few minutes while they try to decipher my broken whitetail. They finally gave a last, hearty bellow and ran up the adjoining hill, out of sight.
They were young deer, traveling with their momma and were in no danger from me. Even if I had been there for venison, I would have looked elsewhere. Still, I’m sure their conversation at deer camp that night was how brave they had been in the face of danger, and the fact that I never picked up my rifle probably never made it into their version of the story. They were likely great heroes who had thwarted the efforts of a human perched way up in a tree.
I never did see a buck, although I had come across a scrape line that was active. But the stories I saw being told, the communications I got to see, the conversation I got to make, made this deer week rank up with one of my best. There is something about being in a tree when the woods wake up that makes me feel a part of the scene instead of a mere observer.