It’s almost like a switch turns off in my brain the second I settle in for a still hunt for deer, as was the case this opening weekend of the firearms season. The rammy, caffeine-fueled fidgeter checks out and some zen-like observer of the world settles down in place of my usual self anytime a bow or firearm is in hand and the idea of a big buck fuels all concentration on the sounds and sights around me. Perhaps zen-like is a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m certainly not physically and mentally turned up to 11 during the time on stand or during a sit as I normally am when upland hunting or bass fishing or even putting the dishes away on some Tuesday evening. Admittedly, the two personas have a serious battle when a doe and her two fawns come into sight, or a buck rumbles through, bumped by a nearby push, or even when the squirrels are having a solid go-round for the season’s remaining acorns deep under the cover of the gnarled gray oak canopy.
This weekend, with ideal conditions for a still hunt and a corner draw of some public-access land to sit on and watch the season unfold, the Jekyll-and-Hyde duo were constantly at it as deer of all shapes, sizes and speeds came into sight, including more than 30 on opening day – by far the most I had ever seen in a single session. All day the squirrels were there too, helping me to remember the difference between their scrambling footsteps and those of a deer stepping gently (or sprinting at times) through the leaf-covered floor of the draw. By the time sunset darkened the valley, I was pretty sure I could tell the difference again.
Waves of adrenaline washed over me and seemingly flowed down from my hillside vantage point, as I struggled to check my more excited nature which rattled the binoculars in my hand as I followed the deer, which at mid-day were moved by hunters on surrounding lands and toward evening, made their own cautious motions along the forested edge of the grassy lot where I sat. While other hunters ventured onto the plot of private land made open to the public through the state program and the landowner, their presence was an added benefit as they moved deer around, keeping the entertainment and the adrenaline rushes flowing. As two small bucks rustled in the leaves of the draw to my right, a third sneaky one bounded along the outcropping to my left, giving me only the time to catch a glimpse of him and his tall, shiny antlers in my scope as he slipped over the ridge and down into the river bottom. Later, two streaking whitetails, pushed from the private parcel behind me, burned along the creek bottom. The lead buck’s headgear making him a definite shooter, but his awareness to ghost himself in the branches as he made his escape kept the safety firmly in place on my firearm.
Following that, every buck of any size which was bounced from cover and ran through the drain, and every set of slow-creeping does that came over the adjacent hill provided a rush that the calmer portion of my mind struggled to put into check. Luckily, there was hardly a down moment as the dozens of deer came through at a regular pace, giving the fidgety sportsman in my psyche the continued excitement he craved, while providing a point of focus for the calmer side of me I have attempted to nurture as a still hunter in those moments of anticipation. When deer would slowly sneak into view, both sides of my brain teamed up to focus on picking out the legs, ears, body lines and antlers against the gray tree trunks and clusters of saplings, first without the aid of magnification and then with the help of my binoculars, as near tennis-elbow set in from lifting them up in reaction to the frequent movement the day brought.
Aside from maybe the buck tag still firmly tucked in my wallet at the end of the adventure, it was everything such an outing should be. It was filled with excitement as my fellow hunters moved the world around me, with shots echoing off the valley walls. It was relaxing and calming to sit in the autumn sun with legs outstretched behind my brushy vantage point and eyes on the eagles and magpies and squirrels doing their autumn activities as part of nature’s supporting cast in the production. Most of all, it was a joy once again to be embroiled the internal struggle between calm and chaos, brought on by a world in motion…in our outdoors.