Standing at the window, peering into the first traces of daylight and a new morning, it was hard to decide. There was a little cold snap earlier in the week, but today it was supposed to get into the 40s, so the temperature really wouldn't be too bad.
Still, it was very tempting to think about just walking back to the bedroom and getting under the covers. No one would know. He was at camp alone, and nobody was waiting for him. Going to the front porch, he stood for a minute and let the cold air wash over, pulling him away from thoughts of sleep. He watched a little gang of crows fly over, chattering about where to go to breakfast.
He decided to join them. He would get a biscuit, pull on too many clothes, grab the little .450 rifle and go for a slow walk in the woods. "Why wouldn't you?" he thought to himself. The season is in for a few more days, you probably won't see another soul, and the bucks will have settled down from their jitters when the crowd was here. Then he had a thought about where to go — a lofty ridge that eventually flattened out a little, and walking it wasn't too bad, not too bad for this country anyway. It was up high, and he hoped the wind wouldn't be too bad today ...
Does any of this sound familiar?
As hunters, we are often faced with a strange scenario. We seem to wait and anticipate all year for the coming of our favorite seasons, be it for deer, turkeys, squirrels or whatever we think of as favorites. Then time goes by, and before we know it the season is here, but often we are not ready as it just seems to sneak up on us.
The first week of deer season, usually thought of as the rifle buck season, gets most of the fanfare and is the time of the most boots on the ground. It puts more hunters in the woods than any season of the year.
In truth, though, it is often the first three days or so of this highly anticipated week that get most of the activity. In my home state of West Virginia, the first week of the buck season always starts the Monday before Thanksgiving. (It varies from year to year, but often Virginia has the same first week as well.) So usually what happens is many hunters go to the woods for opening day, and many travel to traditional deer camps for this week.
After the first three days, though, a lot of hunters pack up and head home to be there for the turkey and family and football of Thanksgiving. You can't blame them. Being together with family on this day is a deep-rooted tradition. The result of this is these first three days often account for the bulk of the deer kill of a given season. If there is bad weather (especially rain) for these three days, the deer kill will often be greatly reduced.
Back to our lone hunter in camp ...
He spent the first hour getting only about 100 yards out on the ridge he had picked, but that was what he had planned. Slow and easy, one or two steps at a time. Stop. Look around, really look around, peering into the gloom for a hint of movement. It might be an old buck taking a step.
In truth, he hadn't seen much "chasing" lately, that is, bucks chasing does all over the woods as they do in the rut. But he didn't believe all the chatter at the country store about the rut being over. Patience is the biggest virtue of a hunter was the thought.
After 200 yards, he found a decent place to sit for a while. It was a shallow low gap on the ridge, and it was really too steep on both sides for his liking, but that is what this country was like. Steep and rough. This wasn't a farmland woodlot easy stroll. He wondered how much longer he would be able to or want to come here. The deer were here and using this area, however, and the sign told him so. Rubs on the trees from bucks honing their antlers and scrapes on the ground dug into the leaves gave him confidence in this place.
He was encouraged by seeing a few squirrels working the forest floor, and their movements usually got him excited for a second before he identified what it was. He was ready to move off the root or rock he had been sitting on when he caught a flicker of something below him and froze. On the edge of a small thicket 75 yards away, he began to make out the body of a deer but couldn't tell if it was a buck or a doe. He strained his eyes for several minutes trying to find an antler and reminded himself he needed to get his eyes checked.
With his heart rate up while watching the deer, he thought of all the controversy over deer and deer antlers. Just taking a legal buck with forked antlers didn't seem to be good enough for many hunters these days. Calls for changes in regulations and hunting laws were constantly being discussed in the form of antler restrictions making hunters wait for bigger racks.
In truth, he didn't really understand all this. If you want to take a spike or a little basket six-point, it should be your choice.
He put it all away when the deer finally took a step, but he still couldn't see its head.
Easing up the rifle, he put the scope on the deer, and though he could see much better, the head and shoulders were still shrouded in the thicket. He realized his heart rate was increasing, and he was toying with idea of touching the trigger. He let himself glance to the left at a movement and saw another squirrel dive off a tree.
That's when it happened. The deer snorted, and he heard the unmistakable sounds of it stamping the ground, challenging him. "Who are you? What are you?" It seemed to say as he watched the prettiest bright-eyed doe emerge from the thicket.
Lowering the rifle caused the doe to snort again and bound away down the hill. He wished her well; he had the day, and this wasn't the only deer on this mountain.
He was kind of looking forward to slinking through the woods to see what he could see.
He would just go hunt.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at email@example.com.