Friday, January 17, 2014

Sasquatch Winter

"Sqwuack!  Sqwuack!'  The sound of a grey jay never sounded so welcoming as it did this sunny morning at 8000ft in the picturesque high country of trinity county.  A friend come to visit gave Chris the final ounce of courage needed to roust himself from his place of safety.  Searching the remains of last night's raid, he couldn't discern whether or not anything was missing so he gave into his rumbling stomach.  Placing his stove on a rock, he struck a match to the granite and kissed the hissing valve with a "poof".  Propane burned blue under a titanium pot.  He carefully measured out two cups of water and poured it onto the hissing pan.  Unfolding his havalon knife, he checked its edge against the packaging of freeze dried biscuits and gravy.  The brand new razor edge passed with a clean slice and he poured the contents into a lightweight bowl, still slightly marred with the remains of last nights kung pao chicken.  "Adds extra flavor" he could hear his Dad say as he shook a few tablespoons of coffee into a tin mug.  By this time the water began to bubble so waiting, he turned his attention to the breathtaking surroundings.  Granite faces, scree slides and vast, flowing boulder gardens offset the greener, softer patches of willow and aspen.  Sunbeams began their march down the mountain faces and Chris suddenly noticed the vibrant contrast from last night.  Mountain chickadees quarreled in concert, squirrels bickered and the intermittent throttle of a woodpecker all joined in the cacophony.  Like the "camp robber" who woke him this morning and now waited patiently on a spruce bough nearby, the animals kept him company.  Unlike last night, when he felt alone.  Alone like a solo tourist who suddenly found himself in a dark alley with three or four "local boys".  Was it just the onset of darkness that unleashed the cloak of silence over the valley?  Or was there a real presence, in the form of a giant ape-man that opened a gigantic can of "shut the hell up" over the area's inhabitants.  Chris had read many stories of the "feeling" that people got from being near a bigfoot.  Now he knew that its presence was as unmistakeable as a light switch:  click it "On" and the creepies invade your gut and escalate to the top of your scalp;  Switch it "Off" and all the heavy, dark feeling lifts as a fog from the marsh.
The water reached a rolling boil.  Poured into the containers, a steam lifted in the air.  His sister used to say you were releasing a spirit when you did that.  Quickly he wolfed down the biscuits, chopping them up with his spork to release the vapors.  Sipping his coffee meditatively, he pondered the dilemma of finding such an elusive creature in such a vast landscape.  His experiences and research told him that looking for them was a futile exercise.  Best to exploit their natural curiosity and let them come to you.  Still, he couldn't just sit and wait all day for nightfall so he laced up his boots and headed for a secluded ridge at the fire side of the alpine lake where he might search for some sign along it's banks and then head for high ground to glass for clues.  He planned on buying a deer tag for this coming fall so was going to use the opportunity to scout for sign.  Figuring he could kill the proverbial "two birds with one stone", he set out to look for signs of life and possibly a bachelor herd of high-racked blacktail bucks with their antlers still puffy in velvet.  His March was a brisk one and he found himself in the valley before the sun.  Skirting the creek, more like a seep really, he searched for muddy spots that might hold a decent track.  Finding one, he squatted to read the story. 

Sasquatch Spring

Chirping, twittering, singing, song birds serenaded Chris whilst he warmed up a pot of water for coffee and oatmeal.  Still in his sleeping bag, half protruding from his tent, the morning sun burned through the sequoias in a hazy eastern dawn.  Bolstered by the warm illuminating forces of our closest star Chris chuckled at last night's paranoia.  Caffeine surged through his veins and a plan began to formulate:  No one ever finds him, he finds you.  Rummaging through his gear, Chris located his trail cam and checked that the batteries had juice and the memory card had space.  He strapped it to a tree overlooking his camp and camouflaged it as best he could with pine boughs he slipped between the straps, careful not to block the flash, trigger or lens.
The skeptics popular argument:  With all of these game cameras in the woods, why don't we have some clear pictures? -Is a decent one.  Though there are a few shots of dark, fat fingers and even two decent photos of a gangly adolescent sniffing some bear bait in Pennsylvania, no one has hit the jackpot yet with an indisputable shot of an adult, complete with facial features.  Maybe, as some conjecture, the camera emits some sort of low frequency sound that is alarming to biggie, or maybe they are just intimately familiar with their own living rooms and shy away from any new and unexplained "packages" in their territory.  Much like a flight attendant might flee from and subsequently report an unmanned backpack in an airport terminal.  In any case, Chris was out here to beat the odds and, just like you can't bag game if you don't go out and hunt them, one cannot catch anything in a trap if it isn't set.  So Chris gathered a day pack full of belongings and headed for the top of Castle Crags, the highest peak in the marble mountains, and left his camera and a sprinkling of hope behind at his base camp.
Heading off at a familiar clip, eating up ground at a pace that wouldn't break a sweat, Chris gained elevation and a new outlook with every step.  The trail bissected a boulder field and then wove it's way through a heavily forested draw, spitting him out again in more alpine terrain, his view spreading out and growing.  As he  marched he recalled the video he had watched over and over on youtube.  The video that brought him here and rekindled his confidence that a hairy apeman could be delivered safely into the context of rational conversation.
What is seen in the video is an outing for kids who are mentally handicapped but obviously fit enough for a trek into the high country with their supervisors.  The footage begins with the counselor narrating for the folks at home as he pans over what appears to be a bigfoot's shelter.  He comments on the materials used to create the structure and the fact that no sharp object appears to have cut the branches limbs and boughs that make up the tidy A frame shelter.  Whatever made it appears to have used an abundance of brute strength to crack off limbs over 6" across.  In the background one of the students blurts out that the owner is returning or something to that effect and for the remainder of the video we watch a very tall, upright creature with long arms meander down the spine of castle crags, skylined atop a towering peak.  How tall is unclear until a re-enactment shows it had to have been upwards of eight or nine feet.  The narrator notes the creatures agitated behavior and puts words in the Squatches mouth as it were, "Get out of my camp, Get out of my camp!"  Comments ranged from seriously skeptic to convinced but what stuck with Chris was the gait of the mystery camper.  The arms swung down near the knees and the head attached to the shoulders directly.  It's knees seemed perpetually bent as it stooped down the steep slope.
Chris had chosen his campsite carefully based on what he could glean from the footage and now he hoped to reach the area where the creature had stood.  Calves and thighs protested with an intense burn now and he paused to take in the scenery.  An intense vertigo overwhelmed him as he turned to face downslope.  A gently breeze rocked him like a seasickness as the panoramic abyss threatened to swallow him whole.  He marveled at the landscape.  Hundreds of thousands of acres here and more than the eye could see constituted a territory few modern humanoids could even comprehend and yet most "expert skeptics" are convinced there is nowhere for an as yet underdiscovered animal to hide.  If only he could drag them here for one look.  One taste of this native anthropoids home turf and possible seems more plausible than impossible.
Suckling from his bladder in between gulps of too thin-scratchy alpine air, he returned to the mission at hand:  reach the tree from the video and then literally reach for the limb.  The one the silhouette walks under without ducking, creating a perfect frame of reference for Chris to see for himself just what kind of height range the creature belongs in.  The cluster of trees grew larger with each step and he approached the last few paces cautiously.  The last sip of a fine chardonnay.  The closer he got the  more he doubted what he was seeing and then he was under the exact limb.  It had to be as the cluster was made up of only five altitude defiant trees and this, the one on the right was easy to pick out.  Chris reached his hand to it's full height of 7 feet and felt like he did as a point guard in high school, small.  The limb was perched at about the same height as a regulation basketball hoop putting the creature convincingly, at least to Chris, in the 9-10 foot range!
While it's plausible that a 7 foot man could have hoaxed or colluded to hoax the video, climbing 1000 extra feet to become a youtube anomaly.  But to do it on stilts becomes a circus act of epic proportions.  Highly, highly unlikely if not impossible.  Chris shook his head and sat down to admire the world from his perch sans vertigo.
Later, from the peak, Chris pulled out his spotting scope and glassed the valley below.  Even with 25 power glass, his tent was only a small grey speck in the tableu of alpine habitat.  He wondered what the creature was thinking as he paced agitatedly from this crows nest.  He also realized how easily the creature had traversed the treacherous terrain.  Every one of Chris's steps was calculated and accompanied with the real fear of falling to his death.  The film subject sauntered down the mountain like a neighbor retrieving his newspaper from the driveway.  Whereas before the Marble Mountains footage was intriguing to Chris, it was now convincingly legit.  No question an agitated squat had been here, would probably return and was very likely in the vicinity at this very moment.  Possibly it was watching him plod along right now.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sasquatch Fall

"Swishh, shake, shake, shake", Chris cocked his head to the sky and his insides fluttered.  Just like before his excitement was tempered with a paralyzing fear and the realization that as much as he told himself that he wanted this:  an experience with the legendary bigfoot, he knew that he couldn't hack it.  He wasn't brave enough.  He was a chicken shit little coward hiding in his sleeping bag frozen with fear.  Disbelief and incredulity flowed hand in hand like a tiny kayak over an enormous waterfall;  careening unstoppably towards a cataclysmic disaster.
He listened.  Something was rummaging through his backpack.  "The Last time" was three years ago when a group had tried to scare Chris and his roommates out of a remote campsite near this same area.  His friends had nervously laughed off the encounter but for Chris, who had witnessed a shadow return to his tent later that night and cast an unmistakeable silhouette over his tent, the experience had tattooed his brain leaving him a changed man.  The fact that he couldn't move a muscle during the entire episode, couldn't bring himself to roll over and grab his camera as the massive shape groped at the zipper, is what brought him back.  He wanted to test himself again to prove to himself that he wasn't scared of the "boogyman";  to prove to himself that he was brave and courageous.  But at this moment he realized that wasn't it at all.  He was here because he was curious.  All along he knew that even the bravest of men, when confronted by the legendary sasquatch in fur and blood, would balk at the chance to step up to him.  Seasoned mountain men were and have been terrified of the mountain devil for eons.  Native American culture professes a very legitimate respect for the validity of avoiding this creature and its territories at all costs.  The fact that he returned, alone, was enough to satisfy the question of bravery.  Unfortunately it did nothing to change the fact that the situation he found himself in at this moment was the last place on earth he wanted to be.
Summoning the courage that had eluded him in the past, Chris rolled to his side and fumbled for the video camera he had placed next to his sleeping bag, all the while waiting for his tent to cave in on him from the massive rush of an 800 lb beast.  As he got into position near the door and hit record, his heart thumped in his ears and he paused to listen.  Not a cricket nor frog nor boogeyman betrayed the suffocation of the most completely deafening silence he had ever experienced.  The thing must be frozen near my bag, waiting for me to make a move, it occurred to him,  so he can pounce, and once again Chris felt the petrification crystallizing  his body. Waiting, crouched by the zipper to the tent door, he could feel his muscles start to give and the feeling of being watched assuage.  From all he had learned of the forest giants, one never wins a game of cat and mouse with them.  He took a deep breath and with a deafening "ZZZZIIIIIP", aimed his camera light into the darkness.  A Kelty backpack reflected blue and grey from a crumpled pile of camp detritus then onto a tree limb, rocks, trunks, earth.  Whatever had been rummaging departed without notice as soon as he had turned for the camera.  If he slept at all that night, he was unaware of it, taunted completely by the lack of any sound.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Ernie Belf the Elf-He is where the magic lives

Ernie came to live with us one day.  A product of the naturally curious and daydream afflicted, our Ernie showed up on the doorstep in a box, of all places.  He didn't seem lost or the least bit worried.  His directions simply stated that we were to give him a place in our home and that he would choose a different location every night.  No one is to touch or bother him in any way and he will be watching.  Oh yes, Ernie is always watching to see that you are being nice for his is the greatest purpose that exists:  Ernie Belf Nelson the Elf is one of Santa's personal assistants.  More specifically he is THE Behavior Investigator.  El BElfo, as he is known by his compadres in the polar region, has a keen eye for spotting misbehavior and mischief in general of any kind or sort known to mankind and most specifically to little boys and girls.  He can smell a temper tantrum boiling up inside an upset child before even the child themselves can tell it's coming like a thunderstorm over the bayou in Baton Rouge but that's in Louisiana and why, I'm forgetting the most important part!  Why, Ernie doesn't just sit there judgin ya'll day neither.  Shhoo oot!  Nah lawd firecracka nah!  Ernie can make you happy too Chile!  It's true Mon!  Like dem Jamaicans say in their island irie way, "No Problem!"  And if Ernie Belf is anything at heart, It's a true Jamaican.  So don't worry be happy now mon!  Dream likle dreams of dem fishes in da sea.  Jus lak dat der movie with the los chile fish.  He find him Daddy and they be real irie right?
And don't you forget chile!  Done go on lookin at Ernie too hard for e'll know yer worryin ya soul chile.  Just breathe peace and easy goin style and ya be jus all right son, jus alright!  Big smile now, off ya go to bed.
What?   You don't believe that Ernie Belf is one of Santa's Elves?  Well then, you'll have to see for yourself come Christmas time Son.  Ask him a question with your heart and then stay true to your promises and Ernie will stick to his.
The boy laid down but his bright eyes sparkled with the christmas lights.
Will Ernie answer all of my wishes Dad?  The boy asked hopefully.
Only if you have the courage to believe in your dreams son.  Ernie knows that if you're brave enough to face your fears and embrace every challenge attempted as a victory, you can do just about anything you put your mind to.  His Dad tucked the covers under his Boy's chin.  Good night
Good night Dad. 
The Boy wondered if Ernie really was magic.  He just looked like a doll to the boy but then again, that face.  Every time he walked into the room it was like he could feel the elf's presence before he saw him.  I know there is magic in that little guy and so what the heck?  It only works if you believe in it right?
The next morning when the boy awoke from a heavy slumber, he stumbled out of bed and immediately went to go look for Ernie Belf but he wasn't swinging from the picture frame any longer!  Ernie was sitting on top of the drapes!  He had actually moved!  The elf had moved and it was a miracle.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Perseverance

Like a ghost from thin air, the brown body of a buck appears to my right.  He's a nice "hard-horned" fork and he's prodding a young spike out in front of him.  My heart skips a beat and I'm immediately afflicted:  Buck Fever has set in once again and I'm helpless to control it.  This is the ninth day I've spent hunting X3B since the season began and the second to last day of the season.
Last weekend, I missed a bruiser almost directly beneath my stand.  If you read my previous article, you can count and that makes two beautiful bucks with some degree of injury still hiding out in the area.  The beautiful typical 4x4 was still in velvet and he never meandered or gave me a broadside look until I came to full draw.  Struggling with the angle and at leveling my bow, I put the 20 yard pin in front of his rib cage and let loose.  Devastated, I watched my arrow thump him in the rump, missing his spine and leaving the trophy buck indignant.  He shuddered but didn't take a step!  I grabbed for another arrow and promptly removed my entire quiver.  As I fumbled to extract one more piece of precious ammo, the 175 plus monarch took a few steps and disappeared from the last of my shooting lane.  I watched helplessly as he and his six teammates, a sea of velvet antlers, melted into the junipers and buckbrush.  Moments later they climbed out of the steep canyon to my right, their leader ominous as he stared back at me from mid hill, my arrow jutting skyward from his generous rear, glaring at the little wasp who'd dared to sting him.  I felt more like an ant at that moment.  He teased me with a glimmer of hope as he balked at jumping the fence with the rest of the herd, instead opting to circle back down into the canyon.  I heard a crash as he skidded down the hill and then a loud "twang" as he somehow made contact with the fence.  Hoping to find him tangled up with some barbed wire, I snuck into the spot where I'd last heard commotion and found my arrow neatly pointing towards his escape route.  There was blood on my two blade rage but it only traveled about three inches up the shaft.  A glob of blood roughly the size of a quarter lay on the other side of the fence.  I spent the rest of the day trying to track him across the shale and rock to no avail.  The next day, I headed up to where I knew they liked to bed, only to glass the other six bucks traveling right past my previous stand location!  Dumbfounded, I set up ambush at the top of the ridge where they had escaped the day before, only to have them cross out of range as the youngest "scout spike" had me pinned from about 10 yards away.  Unable to move without spooking the scout, I had to watch my bow hunting dreams again elude me and I suppose it was at that exact moment that I started to conjure up my plan to return for the last weekend, stubbornly refusing to admit defeat.
Perseverance pays off for the author on a nice high-desert muley
So hear I am in the tree again.  My eleventh stand of the season.  I am calling my wife and kids again.  Exhausted from a day of trying to track "Grey Ghosts" over rocky terrain and scouting out ambush spots along the most recent travel routes from the alfalfa fields to rimrock bedding areas, I am second-guessing everything I've worked so hard to accomplish over the past year.  "Should I continue to pursue yet another deer when I've already wounded two?  Is it fair to ask my wife to stay home with the kids for a third weekend?  My tenth day in the field?  And shouldn't I be putting all of my full attention on hunting right now since I'm gone anyway and I can't teleport back and I'm not really paying attention to them anyway, whispering, "Oh Great." And, "that must've been fun" as I scan the terrain for movement, knowing that any potential targets will be spooked by my conversations anyway.  Damn cell phones.  I ring off and immediately notice the deer to my right.  Great.  I blew it.  I drove 600 miles just to get homesick and blow my shot yet again.  My eyes lock on the spot where I'd last seen the Grand Muleys but they never reappear and hope springs eternal.  I wait with renewed enthusiasm for nearly an hour before I hear the magic sounds of hooves on gravel.  I glance a nice forky behind me and I know he will follow the trail past my stand.  Preparing to shoot, I hear more magical hoof scratches.  In the dusk just before legal shooting light wanes, another forky, this one wider and with some extra "stickers" crosses beneath me.  I breath slowly, trying to lasso the shakes and then come to full draw on the nicer fork who I can see now actually has "lobster claws" on each fork and could be called a 4x4.  But wait!  There's the sound again.  They keep getting bigger so I let down slowly and wait.  I'm not disappointed as a bigger buck ensues.  When I hear a fourth buck, I figure he might just be the monarch I missed earlier.  I showed a picture of him that I captured on my truth cam to my buddy and he nicknamed him:  That f(^*^%er has a swing set on his head.  But "Mr. Swing Set" is a no show, it's just the scout spike and he's nervous.  The three shooter bucks begin to feed on a very popular stand of buck brush which had attracted me as well.  Tracks led me here earlier in the day.  Why this buckbrush was any more attractive to these bucks than any of the myriad millions of others in the area I'll never know but it's popularity was validated without a doubt as I took a bead on the biggest buck.  The pressure to make a good shot here was tripled.  I didn't let my mind wonder:  "what if?"  What if I wound and lose a third buck?  What if I used up the last of my "Honey DO" credit and returned empty handed?  Buck fever was now just a familiar heart beat and I settled into instinct mode.  I became the arrow and left the string in slow motion, someone else's trigger finger setting me free with a gently squeeze.  The Montec G5 sizzled through the air and I watched my red lumenok stick and then disappear into the side of my target, right behind the ribcage.  The desert ghost came alive and whipped around, giving me a perfect look at the exit wound in his shoulder, the arrow whipping around, delicately trapped by the fletchings.  A perfect hit.  The buck did just that, taking out a few branches from an innocent juniper and then bolting across the open space below my stand.  He did another spinning "buckin' bronco" kick and I watched the lumenok dance through the air like I used to twirl "sparklers" on the fourth.  I stared intently as he raced off and then heard a resounding crash.  Celebration-shy from my last two failures, I didn't allow myself to give into a grin when I found copious blood sign or my arrow covered to the nock with dried blood.  When my flashlight illuminated his rump and stiff legs, I allowed a little fist pump and then paid my respects to the spirit that moves in all things silently.
Tred Barta loves to say that he learns more from failure than he ever would from success and I think it is true.  Losing two bucks taught me a ton.  I love to practice with all kinds of different set ups and even tried to simulate shooting from a tree stand.  But I never practiced shooting straight down and it cost me a 175 inch class buck.  Upon experimenting with this angle, I realized that there is only a small window where you can make an accurate shot.  Trying to shoot straight down and to either side will leave you "out of bubble"; a risky shot at best.  I've also learned how to "range" any possible obstructions with my pins to avoid deflection.  Even though In hindsight, I probably should've passed on both of the earlier shots I had taken and probably will if presented with the same looks in the future.  Nevertheless, my misses and painstakingly bloodless tracking sessions made me question the effectiveness of an expandle broadhead and for my last hunt, I switched to a cut on contact and was ecstatic with it's performance.  One trick is to use a rubber O ring between the tip and the shaft that allows the broadhead blades to be lined up with the fletching.  Set up this way, my point of impact was nearly identical to a field point which was what sold me on expandables in the first place.  I didn't like that they could open in the quiver or field at the moment of truth or that, after shooting them once, they are basically useless.  The Montec G5 is simple and bulletproof.  I could've picked up my bloody arrow and shot it again if necessary.  Re-sharpening is simple and the extra five bucks will pay off after your first shot.
Driving home after dropping the body off at Enoch Wood's (seriously?) butcher shop, I felt a huge sense of relief at having sealed the deal on my last trip.  I wondered briefly how I would've felt if I hadn't filled my tag but I already knew that I couldn't have stayed home regardless.  Yes, I feel a twinge of remorse at having two nice bucks slip between my fingers but I find solace in the fact that they are tough as hell, they are and always will be part of the food chain and I came to realize one simple fact:  you can't kill em if you don't shoot.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Opening Day for Archery

With "plan A" foiled by a fallen log, we beat up my truck for a few miles down a rancher's boulder strewn road.  I tell my buddy not to worry about it until the sickening crunch of undercarriage on Modoc Counties infamous "rubber-grating lava rock" forces us into another U turn.  Plan C?
Your vehicle can be a great tool when hunting, allowing the prospecting hunter access to mountaintops and providing a tool for covering lots of ground.  At that moment though, it felt like a jail cell.  I'd spent months studying topos to get me AWAY from the roads and I wanted to start burning leather pronto.
Suddenly I spotted movement to my right and called out "buck"!  Then, "Bucks"!  A bachelor herd was hightailing it across the low rise to our right, obviously spooked  by something.  I spotted two or three large shooters and told my partner, Kelly, to slow way down.  We hatched a plan to try and intercept them and then have me slip out of the truck behind a tree or other suitable cover and then stalk them from there.  As we closed in on our targets though, we noticed two hunters walking towards each other across the road. One had just left his treestand and the other left vacant a groundblind next to a cattle trough.  The oldest was visibly agitated.  I figured we had blown his setup and felt a little guilty pursuing the herd right under their noses so we conspired to play dumb.
"Was that guy with you?"  he asked us.
Kelly and I gave each other a stupified look and I said, "It's just the two of us.  We've been in the truck this whole time."  We are literally watching our quarry galloping off in the distance behind us but stay the course.  "All we've seen are does and fawns.  Do you mind if we head on up that way?"
"Shoot go ahead.  I don't own it."  he replies.  We deduce that they are father and son as the younger one asks who or what it was that his Father saw.  Kelly and I decide to give them the slip as they argue and it's game on.  I can't figure who it was they saw unless they just heard the deer running behind their stands or bigfoot is protecting his stock of venison.  They were the only other hunters we had seen that morning and we were returning from where we had come.  In either case it was game on and we motored ahead, anxiously scanning the landscape for the escaping prey.  Just around the bend, we spotted one of the smaller forks running across the road and then another three higher up the hill, still moving but with less urgency.  I decided to leave my pack in the truck and slipped out the door as we passed a boulder and skinny juniper.  I shut the door gingerly as I stepped off the floorboard and ducked behind my cover, hoping they would focus on the passing truck.
I waited for a few minutes until the trucks' exhaust echoes and faded into the distance.  My goal was to locate them before they spotted me if I was to have a snowball's chance in the desert, but nothing going.  Shedding my boots, I crept at a millipede's pace, alternating between scanning each bush with my binoculars and then creeping along silently.  The terrain is littered with dry skunk cabbage of which the leaves rattle like crepe paper and the stalks snap like an alarm so each step has to be precisely placed.  I slack my jaw, trying to stay relaxed and focused.  I scan the willows where I'd last seen the bucks and try to stay patient.  I know they were hear just minutes ago so I keep telling myself not to give up on the situation.  They must be here but my gut tells me they're not.  Somehow they gave me the slip I'm thinking.  I start to glance up the hill and suddenly spot antler tips in the mahogany brush above me!  I recognize the rack as the biggest of the three bucks, a nice three pointer with eye guards.  I remember where my heart is at this moment.
Thankfully he can't see me but the wind is all wrong.  I figure if they haven't spooked on my scent yet I might as well give it a go.  I'm not wearing any expensive scent control garments but I do take care to keep my camo as uncontaminated as possible and the fact that this buck is casually browsing 50 yards upwind from me proves that all of my crazy (to my wife at least) "scent free products" are paying off.  Changing direction from a crouch, I ease up the rise towards the thick mahogany maze.  I spot a grouse perched atop a snag, surveying the surroundings and then two more not 15 feet away.  Careful not to spook them, I keep on creeping at a painstaking pace.  The turtle would be smoking me right now in a race.  I know the key is to become a stump.  Just become part of the landscape and let the bucks go about their normal routine.  Flushing a covey of grouse right now would send the bucks into another mad dash.  I don't make eye contact with the grouse and they must wonder what this camo giant is doing on their turf but they go about their business and I go about mine.
As I crest the ridge, I spot them feeding out in the open now and my enthusiasm dwindles.  Nothing between me and them but a field of crunchy skunk cabbage and an old burned out yellow pine, bleached white as a skeleton.  The bucks keep glancing in my direction.  They know something isn't quite right but they're not sure what exactly.
I contemplate backing out and changing tactics when the spirit gives me a sign.  Rain drops begin pelting the cabbage leaves and the silence is broken with a symphony of drumming skunk cabbage.  Oh blessed raindrops!  As soon as the bucks go back to feeding, I position myself to use the tree to block their vision.  As soon as I have all of their heads behind the trunk, I make up ground quickly.  When I peek around the tree with my rangefinder, they are still a good 80 yards but they seem to be frolicking now in the rain.  I ease around the tree to try and keep my back dry when the three point locks on me.  I slowly shift my gaze to my now sodden socks and play the waiting game.  After what seems like eons, the bucks finally bed down next to an old snag and I go back to work.  One foot goes in front of the other, feeling first with my toes and then along the outside edge of my foot to my heel, testing for any give that might betray my presence and then slowly shifting my weight.  Unbelievably I'm within range and I try and get a read on the big buck.  He shakes his head from side to side and I put the cross-hairs on his head through the fallen bare branches.  39 yards.  I practice a lot at 35 and so I try and get closer, focused intently on the three pointers position, I notice that there are other sets of ears and slightly to the right, the small fork suddenly turns and gives me the look like, "Hey.  What are you doing here?  You weren't there before!"  I come to full draw as the forky stands at attention, poised for me to make the next move and itching to go first.  I know the others will be right  behind him so I put my 40 yard pin on the big buck as he levitates from his bed.  There is a curved branch in my shooting lane but it's arching perfectly over the bucks shoulder.  I can see a clear path to the vitals so I lower the pin just below this arch and aim 35 yards at his heart.  I wait for the circles to steady and remind myself to squeeze smoothly.  It feels good on the release but then I see the arrow jump and hit the buck square in the neck!  He stands there like nothing happened so I grab for another arrow.  Then he spins away and to my right, directly behind the forky who is still trying to figure out who I am and what I'm selling.  My instincts tell me that my hit wasn't solid and I see that my first target is covered.  I instantly think of taking the fork instead but thankfully talked myself out of it.  By the time I have a clear lane at the big buck, he's 60 yards and all I see is his white rump bouncing away with the fork in tow.
I let down and fall to my knees in dismay, cursing myself for not aiming at 30.  In hindsight, the buck was 31 yards.  If my arrow was two inches lower, I would be eating venison tonight but instead, I have to chalk it up as a learning experience.  I shouldn't have taken the shot with that branch in the way.  Upon closer inspection, the "arching branch" was missing a chunk of bark.  And I recalled the "tink" sound my arrow made just before it glanced up into the bucks neck.  Also, not wanting to spook a wounded animal, I didn't pursue the bucks over the rise to get a look at where they were headed;  A fact that kicked my ass for the next hour as Kelly and I, and then Kelly and I and his Father Roy and his dog Mack, hiked all over the hillside trying to find tracks.  To make matters worse, when I got back to the truck after the shot, rain started to fall and fall heavy for about half an hour.  When the average rainfall there is under 10 inches, a 30 minute downpour makes for some tough tracking.
In the end, we never saw a drop of blood and the bucks left behind few traces to follow.  Judging by his reaction to the hit, that buck has probably shaken out the arrow and will have to let someone or something else taste his delicious meat.  Bittersweet defeat I call it though.  I had made a perfect stalk on three beautiful bucks on public ground, right under the noses of unsuspecting rivals and though the final outcome was tainted by my horn envy, I'm a wiser man from the experience.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Defiant Husband

"Both of you get your teeth brushed and get to bed right now" my wife boomed as the bedtime clock tick tocked.  "It's late and you both have to get up tomorrow."  My youngest had tears running down his face and his whine meter turned up to 7 or 8.  Just then Tanner emerged from his bedroom, camouflaged from head to tow with Bow and Arrows in hand.  "Can I go out in the greenbelt and shoot my bow mom?"
"Absolutely not, it's bedtime!  You need to get your pajamas on!"
For a sportsman dad like myself who has been trying to get his kid hooked on hunting since he was old enough to stand and fall on his face, the sight before me was like... I don't know what but I did know that I was soon going to be the defiant husband.  "Get your boots on and get out the door Tanner.  Go! Now!"
"Oh hell no!  What do you think you are doing?  He's got to get to bed!"
"Just five minutes babe."  I pleaded
"Your five minutes is half an hour!"
"Yes.  I know"
"This may be my proudest moment as a father and I'm going to run with it."  I may have even lifted my chin and stuck my chest out as I wiggled through the slider.  I think her face may have softened slightly.  It could've been a trick of the fading afternoon light.  In either case, Tanner and I found ourselves trompsing down the fire break in the open space towards our range.
We were free.  We were wild.  He shot arrows like a young man into a haystack and each hit or miss was a new discussion.  A new equation where values balanced and life meant living right now.  All that exists is the arrow.  It's flight suspends time and catches us from floating off.  Willing witnesses to gravities truth.
"Bullseye!" and indeed his premier shot was a centerpiece in a vast ocean of hay.  I couldn't have placed it any closer with a point blank jab.  And every shot after that fell away but we kept the bullseye arrow in.  A tangible goal:  he wants to split it in half like Robin Hood. 
Each arrow is a new discussion, a gateway connecting our worlds:  so far apart yet running in parallel circles.
We pull them out and start fresh but the bullseye arrow remains.  Each arrow is a new conversation another leap of faith, another bond between us hammered home.  That bullseye will always remain.