Saturday, October 2, 2010

the Deer Hunt – part I

It is 6:05 AM. I have just forced myself from bed in the still dark hotel room. Stumbling over pillows and comforter knocked to the floor during a night of tossing and turning, I make my way to the lit bathroom and crank on the shower. A few minutes later, much refreshed by the scent blocker bath gel, I pull on my layers of hunting garb and prepare to head out in to the early morning. I stuff my army surplus pockets with sheath knife, binoculars, freezer bag, vinyl gloves, hunting license and permit, tag protector, cell phone (on vibrate) and permission form, signed by the owner of the land I'm headed out to hunt.

I scouted the land again yesterday afternoon, stopping by at the house to pay my respects to Gene. On my walk down the access road, I watched a snake slither across my path just ahead of me. I smiled at the good omen. Everything looked good. Plenty of deer sign, though I didn't spot any actual deer. I did check out the man-made pond, where I saw a yellow spotted frog, and a dried creek-bed, where I saw a chipmunk and lots of deer tracks. I took time to connect in with the land spirit as well as Deer spirit and Grandfather. All signs looked good. After a few hours of practicing my somewhat silent and stealthy stalking, I went off in search of a hotel room for the night.

Arriving at Gene's farm house, I kill my lights before they can shine in his windows and park in front of the open pole barn. I open the back of my car and begin going over my checklist. I seem to have everything I will need. I consider taking the coil of rope with me, just in case I get lucky first thing and need to string up the carcass to do the field dressing, but I don't want to load myself down, so I decide I will come back for it after I tag the deer. I take only one arrow, with the assumption that I probably won't have more than one chance to shoot anything. Knocking the arrow, I head out for the access road. It is still mostly dark as I practically skip down the partially graveled road. I am moving as quietly, but quickly as I can, balancing speed and quiet for what I hope is a happy medium. I see the turnout for the pond and move more slowing in hopes of surprising some deer at their morning drink. No luck. It's just me and a few birds. I take up a position on the far side of a small mound, so that I will be out of sight of any does and bucks that come wondering up from the west.

I've been squatting here for over an hour. The sun is above the horizon. Fish are popping the surface of the pond and a duck flies overhead – but no deer. I move into shamanic body and journey into the Under World to chat with Deer. I assure the Old One that I am here to honor the old contract between humans and the deer. I make offerings of tobacco, corn, salt and beans. I've been making these visits for the past month, leaving offerings and asking for Deer to help me find one of HIr people on this hunt. As usual, I don't get much of an answer. The dew is beginning to dry on my bow where it has settled into the long, sawtoothed grass. It is time to move.

Cutting back across the access road, I decide to try some more stalking. I wade into the waist-high weeds at the tree line, carefully turning to avoid the curving limbs of berry bushes with their hooked thorns. Now I want to be really quiet, so I go to stalking mode and am doing pretty well, until I lose my balance and come down hard on some twigs, snapping them loudly in the stillness beneath the trees. There is nothing I can do about it, but I begin moving even more slowly, carefully threading my way towards a large tree that probably has a clearing around it. As I approach the tree, I see that someone has built a tree stand against the trunk . . . several years ago, and it is now hanging off at an angle. Not something I would want to try to climb. Peering through the undergrowth, I spot another big tree that I think I recognize from my scout yesterday. It has wide undulating branches that make it look a little "spooky." Smiling to myself, I begin working my way through the trees, brambles, berry bushes and assorted unknowns toward this landmark.

Suddenly aware that I could get lost in here, I stop to orient myself. I can make out the open sun-lit space of the access road off to my left. The spooky tree is straight ahead. That puts Gene's house and fields beyond that, which means that I have already strayed out of the proscribed hunting zone (the farm I have a signed permission form for) and into what I've been told "shouldn't be a problem." Forging ahead, I make it to the tree with spreading arms. The undergrowth is more sparse beneath the limbs of the tree, so I can move more freely. I peer off in all directions, wondering where the deer may have bedded down for the day. I touch the ground with my fingers and send a prayer to the land spirit, asking for its help on this hunt.