Well another deer season closed with the end of the year and although it was not the best season I have ever had, I still managed to put some meat in the freezer. All the snow lately has given me a chance to reflect on the fall hunting season and although there were some low points, especially during buck season when I saw only one small buck that happened to curse me, but I'll worry about that next year. Most of what I took away was the very positive experience of being in the woods with family, friends, and of course the dogs.
I did not do much bow hunting this past season, instead I hunted my young pointer every chance I could letting her get as much experience with birds and guns as I could. This is probably why I had so much trouble locating a buck during gun season.
I just didn't take the time to locate any nice bucks before the season and determine their routine and patterns this year. However, I still enjoyed being out with friends and was able to see a few sights that one rarely sees unless hunting. One day I was sitting on stand when a flock of turkeys came by the tree I was in, this is always a treat watching the birds interact with each other, softly calling back and forth, as they fed around the hill. Then slinking through the shadows came a bobcat slowly stalking the flock, I don't know if he ever caught one but I know he made his move when I heard the turkeys flush and saw a couple flying off after he pounced.
On a frigid morning in December I watched a bald eagle soaring in the early morning almost glowing in the bright sun, circling above me silhouetted against a cloudless blue sky, not as rare as they once were, it was still a beautiful sight and will be in my memory for a long time. Another day while on stand I watched an owl hunting small rodents, this was amazing to watch. The barred owl would wait patiently on a limb watching for movement in the leaves, when he saw something he liked he would lock on to the potential target then silently swoop down for a strike. After about four misses, he scored on a small mouse; he landed directly on it with wings outstretched twenty yards from me, he turned to look up at me with the mouse in his beak and silently flew off with his prize.
However, my best memories from this fall were from hunting with the dogs and my daughter. It was a pleasure watching my young pointer mature and gain confidence, early on she made mistakes bumping birds, but by the end of woodcock season she was rock solid on point and seemed to do better every time out. Early on, she was creeping on the birds unsure of how close she could get before pushing the birds to flight, by the middle of November she would lock up on birds and hold them tight until I could flush them.
I have to say though my best recollection from this past fall was the first time my daughter wanted to hunt with me. We took both dogs to Canaan Valley for some bird hunting in the jungle like alder and hawthorn thickets where woodcock like to live. Jade had a big time adventure and was amazed at the terrain and birds we were hunting. We hadn't been out of the truck five minutes when our Labrador flushed a grouse that sailed right over us. Jade had never seen the explosive flush of a grouse and asked me what that was, I said that's what we are after, and with wide eyes, she asked how do you shoot them? All I could say was I don't shoot many. She was also amazed watching the dogs work, she had never seen the dogs at work and could hardly believe our Lab will can move like that. The first bird Brandy pointed that day I didn't even try to shoot, Jade and I slipped up on the dog on point and I told Jade there was a bird in there and took the time to explain a little about the birds and how their feathers make them almost invisible when sitting in the leaves.
When we got closer she couldn't believe there was a bird in there but Brandy was certain so I sent Jade around the hawthorn the small woodcock was under and I will never forget the look on her face when that bird flushed five feet from her, twittering and zigzagging up through the branches as it took flight. We didn't have any luck taking a bird that day but it was still a success introducing my daughter to the world of hunting and she really enjoyed watching the dogs work.
The experience of being out in the forest hunting brings you so much closer to nature than any other outdoor pursuit. The challenge of getting close to a deer, turkey or other animal gets you in tune with nature and the quarry you hunt.
The best hunters know the habits and habitat of the game they pursue, they know the land they hunt and how the animals relate to the terrain and where they are most likely to bed and feed and how they travel between the two.
To hunt is to immerse yourself in nature; hunting makes you more aware of everything in the forest and stimulates all your senses. Knowing how to interpret all the sights, sounds and even smells of the woods can help increase you odds of seeing and taking game and the only way to gain that knowledge is to spend time hunting and observing the game you pursue. Some non-hunters think we just like to go out and kill animals but that is not true at all, we like the challenge of getting close enough for the shot. Most hunters respect all animals and are the best conservationists, willing to spend time and money to improve habitat and learn about the animals they hunt. Killing is only a small part of hunting, the thrill of the chase and challenge of getting into position to harvest a game animal is what drives most hunters I know.
I also know that I seldom remember actually killing an animal but the experience of the hunt and the little things that happen in the field are what always seem to remain etched in my memory.