My plans were hampered a bit by the fact that I had been on call until 6am, so by the time I was able to leave the house, and drive to my area, the sun was already up. Generally, if I don’t need my headlamp to load my rifle, I’m late. Since I was so late, there wasn’t much point in trying to get to the field where I usually set, so I decided to loop around to it from the back.
Not only was I late, but the conditions were terrible. The forest floor had been dusted in snow the day before, and the temperatures the night before had been low enough that every step I took sounded like I was walking on corn flakes. It was so bad, that before I had traveled a hundred yards into the treeline, I kicked something up. It was off to my right, completely obscured by trees, and moving back in the direction I had come. There wasn’t much point trying to follow it, so I moved on.
As I stalked, I began to experience the worst part of hunting…other hunters. At first it was just finding some tracks in the snow. Old, probably those of a bow hunter, and nothing to do with anyone this morning. Then the shots began. If you listen long enough, you’ll catch the cadence of what I like to call the old “NYC 1-2-3.” There will be a shot fired, then a pause, then two more in rapid succession. If you hear that, it means someone missed a deer, and you know they’re an out-of-towner.
Somewhere around 8:30am, I heard one of these songs, inside of a quarter mile from me. By this time I had made my way into a stand of hemlock trees, so I was able to move along a bit more quietly.
Unfortunately, the shots were just the beginning. Not long after, I was sitting on a birch log, resting and listening. To my left I hear movement. No point in getting excited, it was moving too fast with footsteps too close together to be a deer. A second later, I see him. Another hunter, less than two hundred feet from me. He is clad in head-to-toe camoflage and walking almost casually down towards the path where I sat, albeit behind me a little. I watched him come to the path, and look down. He had seen my tracks in the snow, made less than ten minutes ago. Again, I’m sitting on a log, in the middle of the path, with a blaze orange vest and hood on….a few hundred feet away. And he never saw me. He moved off in the direction I had come from. Scary.
I made it to my field and found that it had seen a flurry of activity that morning, and not deer. One set of footprints in the snow seemed to indicate that someone had been lost. He walked in, up to a stone wall, stomped around in a small circle for a bit, then walked back out the way he had come. The heartbreaker was the four wheeler tracks though. They’d been there not long ago, so if there HAD been any deer, they were gone now. My only hope was that the hunter I had seen on the path would push something back to me. I set for a while any way. I was still for maybe ten minutes when I hear more movement. Slow this time. Measured. Another hunter was coming from the bottom of the field. I recognized him, we had crossed paths here before. We waved, met, and talked for a while. He was headed in where I had come from, and I had made up my mind that I was headed OUT.
There were simply too many people out. Since the weather was cold, we all limited our ranges a bit, and between the people I saw, the people I heard, and myself, I could account for no less than four hunters in less than a square mile of woods…all armed with rifles, and at least one of them lacking the situational awareness to see someone in orange a few hundred feet away.
I was home four hours after I went in. All in all, it was a lousy hunt. I saw more people than wildlife, it was cold, I was late, and there was so much foot traffic through there that I considered wearing my bullet resistant vest from work the next time I went out.
I did, of course, enjoy the time out, but not as much as I would have had I been alone. I might have had a nap, or even seen a deer. But, the traffic will subside by next week. Our out of town visitors come up for opening weekend, then for the most part are gone until Thanksgiving, so I’ll have some time.
I had planned on going back out yesterday, but was held up at work Saturday night, not making my bed until nearly 2am. Getting up three hours later to go play in the cold would have been murder.
I’ve got an eye turned to this weekend, which will be much needed. The week ahead is crammed full of activity. Two ambulance shifts, a PD shift, parent-teacher conferences at the school, Court duty…and this doesn’t count the fact that I am working BOTH Saturday and Sunday nights this weekend. But I’ll have the morning hours to go play. We’ll see how these plans pan out.