The Big Doe of Bemis Hill

The Big Doe of Bemis Hill

Back in March of 2014, I wrote a blog post called “Opening Day 1965” in which I wrote the following:

I got only a glimpse of this big old doe as she bounded off. As it turned out she and I would have several encounters over the next two years. She taught me more about deer than all the other deer I would come across the rest of my life. But that’s another story.

Now is the time to tell the story of the big doe of Bemis Hill.

It is unlike me not to give this deer a name. I guess I didn’t because I didn’t want to humanize her. She was a deer after all. She was smart, but more importantly she utilized all of her senses to elude me and others. It was her senses that she taught me most about. Here are just three of the lessons that she taught me.

Lesson #1: Assume That a Deer Is Already There

First, I’ll elaborate on that very first time that I saw and heard her. Yes I said *heard* her. Not her footsteps, but her blowing or “snorting,” as it is called. It was my very first morning of hunting this area. I had just completed an arduous uphill hike to the same spot where everything I mentioned previously happened.

It was long before sunup. It was very cool, foggy, and consequently quiet. I was cramped up from sleeping in the front seat of my Falcon that night. I got to the spot where the tote road meets the field, which again I had no idea was there.

I was all consumed with the picture perfect place I was gazing on and realizing that this was a hunter’s dream come true. Suddenly I was startled to my core as un unbelievably harsh and loud sound emanated from the tree line directly in front of me just on the edge of that tree line.

It was this big doe snorting at me….repeatedly. She snorted at me more times than I can count. Then, as if to flip me off, she whirled and threw that huge white tail right at me.

This would be the first of many such encounters. She greeted me with her snorts and stomping hooves many times over the next two years. It got so that I looked forward to it each and every Saturday and Sunday morning for six weeks for the next two seasons.

I’m not kidding when I say that I missed that sound in the coming years. I am confident that she lived to a ripe old age. I only saw three other hunters there that first season, and two of them were gun hunters, who were not allowed to take does.

I saw another bowhunter that first day, but I never saw another hunter near there for several years. When I did see other hunters, I never saw them return.

Lesson #2: Don’t Fall for the Head-Fake

Then there was the one morning during the early part of a subsequent archery season, which was in mid-October in Vermont in the 1960s. I was coming out of the woods for lunch when I saw her just inside the woodline of a mature pine grove that bordered a substantial hay field. This was her turf. She knew every tree, every sound, and certainly every scent.

She did not see me, but I could tell by her very rigid stance that she knew that I was there. I also knew that I had the wind in my favor.

She was facing into the light breeze, but I assumed that she heard me walking along the tote road. It was late morning, and I was hungry so I paid little attention to my footsteps. She was about 40 yards from me on my right. I felt very comfortable that without a shift in the wind, she would not bag me.

She never moved a muscle for what seemed like several minutes. I was also feeling good about the situation because I knew that her trail of choice was about 20 yards in front of me. If she felt nervous at all, she would certainly take that trail for several reasons. First, she knew that she just traveled it without incident. Second, it would be very quiet because it was so well worn, and she knew every twig along it.

Next came my first bit of schooling for the day. She put her head down, and I took advantage of that to shift my feet to get into a more comfortable shooting position, but she no more than lowered her head when she snapped it back up in a split second. In so doing, she caught the movement of me shifting my weight. This is a common trick that deer use. We call it the head-fake.

At that point, she knew that she heard something, and she knew the direction of the sound. What was she going to do? Again she was to my right, facing in the direction where I just came from. I swear that I could read her thoughts, or instincts, if you prefer. She felt vulnerable, but she knew better than to panic because she was unsure of the intruder. Her plan was simple. Put the big pines between her and me. She turned 90 degrees to her left, and I was looking at her butt.

She then *very* quietly put one hoof in front of the other, put her head low, and went behind the two-foot trunk of the big pine. I immediately raised my recurve bow, anticipating her turning more to the left and probably trotting up her preferred trail.

Sneaking Doe

Sneaking Doe

I stood there looking at the left side of the pine for five minutes with my bow raised. Finally I dared a peek to see what she was doing. She was gone. To this day, I cannot believe she crossed that open field without me seeing her. I went to the spot where she was standing, and sure enough there was her track and trail going through the hay.

Example #3: You Can’t Sneak Past Someone in Their Own House

One time, in an effort to mess with her, I circled the field from a trail further south. I hoped that this maneuver would give me the advantage of surprise. She bagged me anyway. As I came along the trail from the opposite direction, after an additional 30-minute hike, she simply stood perfectly still and watched me “sneak” past her. She then blasted me with her signature snort. I can’t print the words that came to mind at that moment.

Each of my encounters with this doe taught me something. It is easy to read a book or an issue of Field and Stream magazine and to try and adapt the author’s experience to your situation, but *every day* in the woods is unlike any other, like snowflakes and fingerprints. You might be able to duplicate a situation, but never all aspects of the event–weather, wind, temperature, sunlight, clouds, and very importantly the moon and its phases. They each play a major role in how the natural world functions every day.

 I will be forever grateful to that nameless doe for all that she taught me. Because of her, I was a lot more successful hunter over the next almost 60 years, and a much more appreciative one because of her.

WLAGS

 

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Apple Blossom Time

Apple Blossom Time

As I walk through the woods, the things that amaze me most about New England are the stonewalls (which I consider a greater feat than the Great Pyramids) and the apple trees.

As I’m sure you are aware, there are no apple trees native to the Americas. All these trees came stock and seed from Europe, starting long before we were a nation.

There are literally thousands of varieties, many of which grow wild in our woodlands, that are found nowhere else in the world. They are varieties that have no commercial value in today’s world, but are of extreme importance to the wildlife that depend to varying degrees on them. That’s why we were thrilled on our recent trip North of the Notches to see hundreds and hundreds of these trees in full bloom. It makes it so easy to see them for a few days a year when they are otherwise camouflaged into a green world of leaves and limbs.

I call them wild trees because they are no longer in the care of humans and survive as best they can. Tens of thousands have died over the last century. I can find almost a hundred just here in town, but thousands still remain.

Most of them are more, much more than 100 years old. Some twice that. The tree that I shot that buck from in Vermont in 1967, is a good example. It was, according to the farmer there, a hundred years old then, and last I knew it was still alive, 50 years later, having survived being mangled by bears and a lightning strike.

So it should come as no surprise that I cherish them and help them, when possible by cutting out competing saplings and in some cases pruning and feeding them. This picture of the apple tree at J.E. shows how that effort pays off.

J.E. Apple Tree Blossoms

J.E. Apple Tree Blossoms

A tree full of blossoms does not ensure fruit later, but a lack of blossoms equals no chance of fruit.

Long live the apple tree!

WLAGS

What Spring?

What Spring?

Just 14 days ago, I sent an email to friends and family touting signs of spring. Well, that was like calling a no hitter in the 8th inning. Since then it has snowed seven out of those 14 days, and sometimes those flakes lingered into the next day.

We have had eight consecutive Winter Severity Index (WSI) days with no end in sight. As I explained in Winter Severity Index Report for 2015, a WSI day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.

The average snow depth right now is 27” on the level. Here is a photo of our front picnic table with a yardstick protruding.

 

A Yardstick Shows 27" on Our Picnic Table

A Yardstick Shows 27″ on Our Picnic Table

The birds—juncos, blue jays, and cardinals—are going in and out the end facing you as well as the tables on the deck and under the Lund to seek shelter from the snow and wind. We are now putting birdseed in those spots to help them out.

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Here is a photo of our moose weathervane that is now sitting on 27” of snow. It still has another 29” protruding above the snow line. In the winter of 2015, it was completely covered by snow.

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

 

This winter has been tough since about the Super Bowl, but I have seen many worse winters. For example, the winter of 1968 – 1969 killed hundreds of thousands of deer in New England, especially in VT. It started snowing the night before opening day, and it seemingly never stopped until March. I shot an 8-pointer on the day after Thanksgiving that year, in the middle of a blizzard.

Then in 1993, we bought the camp in Antrim. When we passed papers in January, the ground was almost bare, but it was the worst March ever. We got snowfalls of over 2 feet on several occasions. We had to get help from neighbors to get into the driveway almost every Friday night, and we had to hire people to shovel the roof.

In 1999, when we bought our first place in Washington, we had to hire a frontend loader to get in the yard, as the snow banks were 8 feet tall and at least that wide.

So why has this winter been so bad? Because it has been like death from a thousand cuts. The most snow in any one storm was only 9”, but we have been getting 1” to 5”seemingly daily. Even on the days it doesn’t snow, it blows so much I have to use the snowblower anyway. I have used more gas in the snowblower in the last week than I did in the truck. Having said all that, I know if I want to live here, and I do, I have to accept it as a form of dues that I must pay.

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The snow does have its upside. To the farmers of centuries past it was “poor man’s fertilizer” or “white gold” because of the nutrients that leeched into the soil for spring planting. From a fisherman’s view, it provides the necessary runoff to provide spawning conditions and suitable fishing conditions for many species. That was never more evident than it was last April when Tony and I could not get into the setbacks to hunt pike because the water was so low.

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

That in and of itself is almost funny. Ten months ago, we went to great lengths to catch a pike in New England, but seven months ago, we were for the most part very disappointed to hook one when were in Labrador. We were seeking more vaunted species, such as brookies, salmon, and lakers. Nevertheless, we appreciated the pike when the other species were not active. We enjoyed catching them on poppers and better yet when they provided us with a meal as our food supply got low.

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Here we consider them at the top of our list of targets for good reason. Their size, their fight, and their slashing strikes. It’s all on your perspective at the time and place you are in at the time. I’m already looking forward to getting into those setbacks this spring.

It’s the same with the snow and winter in general. I have not been able to get out ice fishing or snowshoeing nearly as much as in years past, and that makes a difference. Despite the rigors of this winter, the ice fishing conditions have not been good in large part to a milder than usual January. So much so that there have been several fatalities of snowmobilers going through the ice just in the past 10 days or so, both here and in VT and Maine.

A couple nights ago, wardens rescued a Canadian man and his two dogs from Mount Lafayette near Mount Washington, at 1:00 in the morning. They said that all three would have perished in just another hour or two.

I’m sure that my game cameras are level with the snow and maybe even under the snow in places as I write this. If the weatherman is right, and we hit 40 on Sunday for the first time since January 21, I’ll try to reach them then.

The upside to all this is that whenever spring gets here, it will be thoroughly appreciated!

WLAGS

 

The Best Season, Part 2

With Tony’s deer in the freezer, I was able to scout to my heart’s content over the remaining bow season and the weekends in between then and gun season.

Opening day of gun season would fall on my birthday. It wasn’t the first or last time that would happen–and all of them were memorable–but this one most of all.

We awoke on opening morning to almost every hunter’s dream–4” of wet snow and little wind. I had been intrigued by a particular hill east of town because I thought deer were transitioning there between a hill where they fed and another where they bedded. So foregoing my previous scouting, I decided this snow would prove my theory right or wrong.

I started climbing up a fairly steep grade, and in no time I was in two sets of tracks. I figured that they were does, but with the rut on, they were worth following. In the next
5 minutes I caught up to them where they were bedded, and I got a good look at them as they bolted up the hill.

Right where they were was a third set of tracks. It was obviously a buck, and needless to say, fresh. I tracked him for a good deal of time. It became obvious that I had spooked him, so now I concentrated on getting to know his turf. After I thought I had a handle on it, I headed out to make ready for the afternoon hunt. On my way out, I was surprised to see the buck’s track in my track. It was plain that he was tracking and winding me at the same time. He knew exactly where I was every minute.

I went back to the motel and declared to all that I was going to get my birthday buck that afternoon. I asked for a volunteer to go with me to help drag it out and maybe get a shot at him too. Jim offered his services. I was not as confident as I made it sound, but I knew that I had a handle on this buck and his M.O.

Jim and I split up about halfway to where I had jumped the does. He would be below me. I have no idea how much time passed exactly, but it was less than a half hour I’m sure, when I reached the spot where the buck had tracked me earlier. A few minutes more and I was above the bowl where he had made several scrapes.

Knowing that he liked to know where I was at all times, I kept taking glances at my back track. Sure enough, there he was with his nose buried in my track, about 40 yards behind me–a very nice Vermont 6-pointer with an almost ivory-colored rack. I got off a good shot into his neck before he dashed off. He didn’t go far.

Birthday Buck

Birthday Buck

Between the snow and Jim, the downhill drag was one of the easiest I ever had. This capped off one of the most memorable seasons of my life.

WLAGS

The Best Season, Part 1: Tony’s Take

Below is a story that Tony wrote during his freshman year of college that tells his side of the story I recounted in The Best Season, Part 1.

WLAGS

——————

Now I Know

“Dad, I’m hot! Why do I have to wear all these clothes?”

“It’s going to get colder, much colder,” he says.

“Dad, it’s 75 degrees! How cold could it get?”

This time he wouldn’t answer. I’d seen that look on his face before when he was thinking: not as a salesman or a father, but as a predator. This is when the real hunting begins. He signals for me to stop and I wait. I now know that he was “feeling” something I refer to as hunter’s intuition. I’m mesmerized by his sauntering back and forth, the autumn leaves crunching under his feet.

“Do you know where we are,” he asks in a low voice.

“Vaguely,” I instinctively volley, surprised that he spoke. We’re predators now, and predators don’t speak. Sure, sometimes they communicate when working in teams, but we’re bowhunting. Bowhunting is you against the brains, senses, and survival instincts of one of the most beautiful, intelligent animals on earth. The white-tailed deer is no ordinary prey. Its sight is rivaled only by that of hawks and eagles, and its hearing is far greater than that of our canine friends. But a deer’s nose is the hunter’s worst enemy. A deer can see and hear something and still not know exactly what it is, but its nose never lies. If it smells something out of the ordinary it leaves, easily running 50 feet per second. Bowhunting is also a sport against the individual. A true hunter must have confidence in his knowledge of the prey, the outdoors, and the weapon. I am ready. I haven’t scouted the area enough though, and I’ve yet to make a tree stand. Being up in a tree adds many small advantages for the bowhunter.

“Where are you going,” Dad asks.

“I’m going to that big apple tree in the corner of this old field, I guess.”

“OK. I’ll be over there,” he says pointing the opposite way. So I walk on slowly, and it is hot! Before I get to the apple tree, I spot a smaller one. Apples are the staple food for deer this time of year in southern Vermont. Any deer headed toward my original destination would probably stop here too. I see an appropriate white pine to make my stand in and climb it. I pull my bow up to simulate shooting, but the branches hang too low in front of me. All that work for nothing.

We are already two hours later than usual because of my Hunter’s Safety Course exam. It’s 3:30 now, leaving only a few hours until sundown. I lower my bow carefully. Then I climb down making sure I don’t land on it and move on to my original destination. I look around to see a tall scotch pine. I climb up, saw a few branches, and realize that this just isn’t my day. This tree is shaped in a way that I could never stand in. Once again, I climb down and then up the tree next to it. While climbing, I notice some dark clouds rolling in, and I think this could be a really bad night. Once again I cut a few branches, putting them behind my head to break up my silhouette from ground level. I test my bow again to see that I can shoot it. I hang it on a branch to put some makeup on my face to cut down the shine that might catch a deer’s eye. It’s starting to rain, and I realize that the makeup won’t be on for long. Due to the heat, I’m soaked with sweat on the inside, and I’m waterlogged wool on the outside from the rain. I realize the temperature has dropped to 32 degrees as hail stones bounce off me, and my wet skin freezes. The branches I’m standing on turn to ice, so I throw a rope around the tree and myself for safety. I think that all this has been a waste when I check my watch to see only an hour of light remains due to the dark clouds.

With nothing else to do, I put my hand in my pockets and count apples. I imagine what this “field” looked like a hundred years ago when man shaped it as he wished. A black spot is moving under the tree that I can’t identify. Suddenly and quietly a skinny doe with a black spot for a nose appears below me. I stay motionless only half noticing the snowflakes falling between myself and an animal that would never survive a Vermont winter. I must get my bow without letting her spot my movements. Luckily the grass is long, and when she bends down to pick up an apple, she can’t see me. Each time she does this, I make a move. When she picks her head up to eat, I must freeze. Eventually I’m in position with the bow at full draw. I see my opportunity when her should blade moves forward exposing the heart, and I release. A solid “thud” is heard, and the deer runs. It falls out of sight as I realize that all my hard work and determination paid off.

In what seems like one motion, I climb down and run as fast as my feet will carry me towards my father. My adrenaline screams and so do I, “Dad!” I trip and land flat on my face. Not even feeling it, I get up running. As I find my father climbing out of the tree, I tell him the whole story. Getting down, my father shakes my hand and congratulates me. We run to where the animal is, and I kneel before it.

“She’s so beautiful,” I say.

“Now the real work begins,” my father says handing me his knife. I take it and do what I had read bout so many times before. Again my father shakes my hand and says, “She only ran 75 feet and at 50 feet per second. That means she only lived for a second and a half. She never knew what hit her: no pain, no fear, just peace.”

As I drag the hundred pounds behind me through the now two feet of snow two miles back to the car, an inner peace settles over me. It’s very dark now, and physically I’m blinded by the wind-blown snow in my face. Yet I “see” better than I ever have before. I think back to that moment, reliving it all over again. There were so many synchronized small details that fell together like a pre-solved puzzle to help me accomplish something barely in my grasp. I was successful through hard work and focused desire, but there was something more. For the first time I feel close to a higher power. I had always believed that God wasn’t in his “house,” but inside of us. We just have to let him out. Prior to this moment I had been told what God is, but now I know.

——————

The Best Season, Part 1

The best hunting season I ever had started on Saturday Oct. 3, 1987 at the Concord Rod and Gun Club in Concord, MA.

I was there waiting for Tony to pass the Hunter Safety exam. He was 15 now, and as soon as he had his certificate, we were headed to Vermont for opening day of bow season.

We got to Concord about 9:00 a.m., and the test was an hour long. Then we had to wait for the results. Sure enough he passed, and we left right from there with a Jeep packed for a weekend of bowhunting.

Tony's Hunter Safety Certificate

Tony’s Hunter Safety Certificate

Not only was it opening weekend of archery season, but it was also the height of foliage season. That meant leaf peepers everywhere. That slowed our trip dramatically.

After grabbing a burger at Wendy’s in Keene, NH, we made the last leg of our trip and arrived in Wilmington, VT about 2 p.m.

It was warm, very warm–close to 70. I insisted that Tony take his wool shirt with him up the hill. He did so very reluctantly. We made our way up to our stands with much perspiration. Tony had picked out his stand the previous week. It was a white pine overlooking an apple tree that was approximately 10 yards away. He climbed the tree and sat on a limb about 15’ up. I knew it was a good stand, better than mine, which was downhill from him about 100 yds. I didn’t want to be out of shouting distance from him.

I don’t remember how long we sat in our respective stands, but I’d guess that it was about 2 to 3 hours. We were up there long enough for the temperature to drop dramatically. There is an amazing gap in my memory because it seemed in no time at all I heard Tony shouting and running toward me. He was obviously very excited. I could hardly make out his words as he came to the bottom of my tree.

“I got one!” he said. “You’re going to be very proud of me.”

I quickly got to the ground and we trotted uphill to his tree. Along the way, he gave me the details of what transpired. I was more excited than he was, I think. Truthfully I can’t remember the exact details other than that the doe came from where he thought she would, and he did everything right. He waited until she got broadside and put her head down before he released.

He said that he made a good shot, but he was nervous that we were going to be in for a long trail. It couldn’t have been much shorter. As I remember she went not more than 10 to 20 yards–just the other side of his tree.

He had made a perfect shot. The arrow hit the heart and both lungs.

As we reached her I put out my right hand to congratulate him, but he pushed it aside and hugged me. It was the best hug a father could ever get.

Imagine getting your first deer just a few hours after getting your certificate!

Now the work began. As we started field dressing the deer, it started to snow…really hard! The snow helped us get her down to the Jeep in short order. We got her on the roof, and made our way to the motel where we were meeting friends.

Tony was justifiably the toast of the town that night. Well done my son.

Roy Hangs Tony's First Deer by the Motel

Roy Hangs Tony’s First Deer by the Motel

The roads became awful very quickly. The snow caught everyone off guard—no snow tires and everyone forgot how to drive in the snow. We finally got to the motel after checking the deer in at the weigh station. The snow was already over a foot when we got to the motel, and it kept coming until it was 18” deep. There were people sleeping in their cars and buses in every available parking lot. At about 9:00 that night a couple from Germany knocked on our motel room door. They offered us a “premium” for our room. I graciously declined.

The next morning the roads quickly recovered. It was October, after all. The foliage season however was shortened with the snow taking down many leaves.

Tony and I headed home early that Sunday to get his deer taken care of. I couldn’t imagine a better start to the season or Tony’s hunting career.

Opening Day 1965

As many of you know, my almost lifelong friend, Paul called this morning. He suggested that I tell the story of opening day of the Vermont bow season in 1965–October 9th.

I drove up to Vermont that Friday night by myself in my Falcon that Paul had sold me, for very short money, as he was off to the Sea Bees.

1964 Ford Falcon

1964 Ford Falcon

I woke Mrs. Wickberg, the town clerk, in Athens at her home about 10:00 that night. Not only was she not upset with me that I had disturbed her, but rather she offered to put me up for the night as I had no idea where I was or where I was going to sleep.

When I declined to stay, I asked if there was a place nearby where I could set up my tent. She told me to go right across the road along the pasture and cross the brook and I could set up my tent there as she owned that land. It was one of the luckiest breaks I ever got.

Too tired to set up the tent, I simply curled up in the front seat and went to sleep.

I awoke at daybreak, grabbed my bow, and climbed the steep hill in front of me, not knowing what lie ahead. A few hundred yards and 20 minutes later I thought I died and went to heaven. There on my left was a beautiful field and right in front of me was an old apple tree full of apples. Even an inexperienced hunter like me knew I was in a perfect spot.

Vermont Field

Vermont Field

With my mind still comprehending my surroundings, I was startled out of my shorts by the snorting of a deer just a few yards in front of me. I had never heard that sound before, but I knew instantly what it was. I got only a glimpse of this big old doe as she bounded off. As it turned out she and I would have several encounters over the next two years. She taught me more about deer than all the other deer I would come across the rest of my life. But that’s another story.

I then worked my way down the tote road that paralleled the field inside the wood line. I came across a group of six or so apple trees, most with apples and so much deer sign even this novice could not help but notice.

I looked about and picked an apple tree to climb–one that had two trails intersecting under it. I climbed, carrying my bow with the exposed broadheads in my hand. I wasn’t smart enough yet to have a rope with me. Of course I had enough rope in the car to string up a 10 deer, but it was in the car.

There was a slight drizzle–perfect for bowhunting, but not for climbing.

As I reached a large fork in the tree I thought, “If I step out there on that branch I’ll have a better shot.”

I also thought to myself, “Be careful!” as I looked down at my Converse sneakers.

I no more than had that thought when I found myself falling! I had the presence of mind to throw the bow and the loose arrow as I fell. I hit the ground with my left elbow jamming into my ribs. However my first thought was about the bow and the loose arrow.

It seemed like an eternity, but the bow came down just above my head and what seemed like minutes later the arrow stuck less than a foot from my nose.

I now assessed the damage. I knew nothing was broken, but I couldn’t breathe. I was literally crawling on all fours making the most god awful sounds in an effort to breathe. I looked up and saw a bowhunter still-hunting down the tote road. I tried calling to him, but I could not make a recognizable sound and watched him pass by.

After an agonizing hour or so, I managed to get myself back to the car. A couple of hours later, while I was eating, the other hunter came down to his car that was parked near mine.

We exchanged hellos, and I asked him if he saw anything. He responded, “No, but I have to tell you something. I have hunted all over this country and Canada, but I heard a sound today that I’ve never heard before. It was weird…like something dying!”

I then told him it was me.

I assumed that I would see him again, and other hunters, in my new found heaven on earth, but I was wrong. I never, in many years of hunting there, ever saw another bowhunter and only a couple of gun hunters, and two of them were very pretty young ladies.

I did my best to recover and made my way back up the hill, known as a mountain to flatlanders, that afternoon. There was no way that I could climb a tree as I had all I could do to stand erect. So I sat myself down under a hemlock just feet from where I had fallen, in an effort to save the day.

I was sitting for a couple of hours when suddenly I heard what had to be deer hoofs walking straight towards me. I grew concerned because the sounds were close but I knew I should be able to see a deer above the grass in front of me, but there was none to be seen.

Suddenly, right at my feet was a young raccoon, a kit. He walked right up my right leg, stepped on my right shoulder and up the tree. He was followed by another and then another. All stepping right on me. Now I know I’m in trouble because here comes Mama!

What to do? If I move, I know she’ll attack to protect her young. So I freeze even more than before. I even hold my breath. Thank God they were all moving very briskly because they were not at all aware of what was immediately in front or under them.

Sure enough Mama trots right up my leg and onto my shoulder, but as she climbs the tree she keeps her last foot on my shoulder and taps me with it, as if she realized that she wasn’t walking on wood. I’m still trying to decide what to do if she attacks, when she lifts her foot and crawls out on the branch immediately over my head and hangs her head down to see what I am.

Raccoon

Raccoon

I looked up and scooted several feet away, paying no mind to my aching ribs and back. Thankfully she ushered the little ones up the tree and stared at me until I left…almost crawling.

That was my first real day of bowhunting. It could have discouraged me or even killed me, but I was thrilled, and full of anticipation of what tomorrow would bring.

I would spend countless hours and days and nights there and share it with family and friends, over the next 20 years. Almost 50 years later, it still is one of my favorite places on earth.