Just a Matter of Time

by | Oct 1, 2013 | Outdoors

The crunching gravel was audible for almost a mile on this calm and clear late October afternoon. This was something the hunter driving the old pickup had failed to consider. Other ears were very aware of this, however, and knew exactly what the popping sounds meant. The old deer, bedded in the bottom of a nearby hollow, locked-in to the sounds of change in the woodlands.
In his fifth year, the buck had reached his absolute prime. Antler and body mass at its peak. The decreasing autumn sunlight had triggered a release of hormones; his chest and neck were massive from the steroid infusion. Increased aggression was part of this annual transformation as well. Young trees stood no chance as he marked each one with deep gouges and scent. His core area was ablaze with the orange of shredded cedar saplings.
This buck was an extraordinary specimen, the product of superior genetics and a lot of luck. Southern highlands are skimpy on nutrients. When coupled with generous hunting seasons on this public land the odds of a buck reaching his potential were long at best. Most were killed during their second autumn, before their caution outweighed their primal urges, but this buck’s wisdom had grown along with his body and antlers. Nothing escaped his notice. Even those primal urges took a backseat to awareness.
The hunter had done everything right up until this point. His scouting had revealed a funnel used by the local whitetail herd. A narrow saddle made an easy travel lane from one hollow to the other across the ridge. The majority of deer took this path. He had also found another, more obscure trail. It ran through a small dip in the ridge top. A steeper climb and more rugged terrain than the trail chosen by the masses, but it had some noteworthy items that caught the hunter’s attention: Three large rubs, one on a tree the size of a utility pole.
The tree-stand was strapped in a white oak to the side of this trail, facing down into the thickly grown old clear-cut that dominated the hollow. It put the hunter in the best position to kill the old deer.
The hunter had waited for a perfect southeasterly breeze to hunt this stand. Care was taken to travel on the ridge- side opposite of the hollow, and he took considerable time walking to the stand. No noise and no sweating were very important. Climbing into the stand, he almost had a smirk on his face. As he settled in and went through a mental checklist of all the things that were so important to this hunt being successful, the warm feeling of confidence enveloped him. It was just a waiting game now. Sooner or later the old buck would try to slip through this trail. It might not be today but the hunter had two weeks of vacation ahead of him. It was just a matter of time.
The sound of tires on gravel had focused the buck’s attention on the ridge top. He knew what the sounds meant. He had noticed the increase in traffic on the lonely dirt road since the days had started growing shorter and the nights cooler. The scent of two-legged predators was common during this season and it made him even more of a recluse. His travels from the safety of the clear-cut were mostly nocturnal now and he was suspicious of everything. While the does and young bucks would sometimes let their curiosity lead them into a bad situation, he lacked that curiosity. One unfamiliar smell, sound or sight was enough to send him slinking back into the cover of the greenbrier and young cedars.

Faint metallic pings and scraping sounds filtered through the tangled saplings in the hollow as the buck listened. Finally, and suddenly, the sounds stopped. The background noises of the forest returned, but the old whitetail kept his focus on the ridge top.
For the rest of the afternoon the buck lay in his bed, a mere 200 yards from the hunter, hidden in the thicket. As the sun dipped below the Ozark hills, the deer came to his feet and slowly eased up the ridge. He paused after a few yards and became a statue for 8 minutes. A faint movement, sixty- yards away confirmed his suspicion. Silent as a thought, the buck turned and slipped into the thicket. A single crunching oak leaf betrayed his stealth. The buck would likely never use this trail again. A deer of his age learned lessons quickly and thoroughly.
As darkness gathered and the trees became silhouettes, the hunter began to gather his things. No deer sighted today. Right at the end of shooting light, a crunching leaf had him peering into the hollow, but he could never identify the sound. This was just after he had slowly raised his arm to scratch a maddening itch on his back. The hunter had seen nothing except a few squirrels and one gray fox, but he wasn’t discouraged. The weather forecast called for identical conditions tomorrow. He would be back. After all, it was just a matter of time.

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