Have you ever experienced something that contrasts so sharply with itself that it almost takes on two different beings, two unique personalities? For example, the skyline of a city at sunrise is as equally beautiful with its color and glamour as it is destructive with its pollution and noise. What if I told you that the Rocky Mountains, the powerful backbone of America that even the mightiest of hunters can’t sometimes conquer, is actually corroding yearly at the hands of water and ice? On January 7th I experienced a similar juxtaposition. I climbed a tree to go hunting, a decision that would generally lead to a kill and death. However this time, it was to extend the life of the previous 3 months through spiritual and personal reflection.
A shot of my home away from home, so to speak. I've spent the better part of my 22 years in this camp and the surrounding woods and fields chasing whitetail deer. Maybe it's not home away from home and it's just..home?
As I settled into my stand, I decided to just close my eyes and let my mind wander, rather than trying to reminisce about certain memories. That didn’t last long, because a meat fly landed on my nose and I grinned to myself as I swatted him away, because I couldn’t believe how warm it was for a January hunt. It must have been 65 degrees, 20 degrees warmer than it was at the same time opening day over 3 months prior.
After I ridded myself of the pesky insect, my mind truly began to wander, but in a direction I certainly hadn’t intended it to. I wanted to relive the day my brother shot the 150” giant we had been hunting all year, and how we celebrated in the woods together, sharing an indescribable fraternal connection. I badly wanted to replay the events of the day I shot my biggest buck to date, and how countless hours of hard work had paid off. Finally, I wanted to remember cutting up deer meat with my family the night my dad shot his first buck in 6 years while watching college football. But, as is often the case, my mind had other ideas.
On my last hunt of the season, I climbed a tree not wanting to shoot a deer, but instead reminisce over the memories of what was my best season to date.
Instead, my mind wandered to different memories. For instance, I remembered an early November hunt that my brother had offered to film. We were hunting over one of our food plots, and I had just finished hanging his camera stand when he told me there were three does quickly coming down the opposite side ridge. I hurried down, and he hurried back up as I followed him, praying the deer wouldn’t see us. Magically, we got set up safely in our stands just as the deer came into view. Strapping the camera arm to the tree was out of the question as this point as the doe and her twin fawns were at 40 yards and closing. The twins got a free pass as they sprinted in the food plot chasing each other back and forth excited for an afternoon of feasting on oats and clover. I laughed to myself because their eagerness reminded me of how I must have acted when I went to Chucky Cheese as a kid.
I refocused on the doe and recognized her as a doe we had been seeing the last 4 years and had earned the name “Momma.” She had a distinctive white streak down her nose, and was once so comfortable with my presence she would almost eat out of my hands when I would put out minerals during the summer. She had to be at least 7 years old, and I was prepared to take her life if she gave me the opportunity. She was at 15 yards when I drew my bow and at 7 yards when I settled the pin, there was only one problem: a small branch protected her vitals from my arrow. She stood there for close to 20 seconds completely unaware of my brother and me sitting 20 feet above her. I could have shot her in the shoulder blade, and I know I would have gotten enough penetration that she wouldn’t make it far, but I couldn’t do it. I could have shot through the small branches and, at just 7 yards, the arrow wouldn’t deflect enough to make much of a difference, but I’m not that type of hunter. Momma deserved more than that. After scanning the field for danger she took the final step I needed to clear her vitals, and when she did I tried to stop her. I was going for a subtle bleat, but a loud, boisterous grunt is what erupted from my mouth. To this day, I don't know how that happened. She didn’t think twice about stopping and looking up, and she bolted immediately back in the direction from which she came. I had no choice but shake my head and smile while my brother laughed at me. I guess my subconscious simply wouldn’t let me kill Momma.
One of the many images I have of an old doe we call, "Momma." She's an old doe, wise to my ways, and would be a true trophy if I could harvest her next fall.
Eyes still closed, my mind ironically shifted to a morning where my eyes were full of wonder and curiosity. I had just hung a stand a few days prior in an area I hadn’t hunted for close to 10 years. I could just never convince myself there would be deer there. However, a trail camera on a mock scrape had revealed this area was actually a deer haven with two monster bucks working the scrape. To say I was excited about be an insult to how eager I was to get in the tree on an early November morning. I had hiked close to a mile to get to my stand, got settled in and said the same prayer I say before every hunt, giving thanks for the opportunity and the ability to hunt, asking for safety and, if it were in His will, to bless me with some luck, in any way He felt fit.
After a deep breath I looked up and was blindsided by how clear the stars were. It was beautifully cold and clear, and the stars could have never been brighter. The frosty field I was overlooking harmoniously joined forces with the stars and the result was a glittering dance floor for me to enjoy. It was one of those mornings where it was literally difficult for me to take my eyes of the sky, and I was glad I didn’t. I must have seen 5 shooting stars that morning, and I made a wish on each and every one of them. By the time the sun had risen I had already deemed the morning a success and readied myself for the actual hunt. Over the next 4 hours I saw close to 10 deer, one of them being one of the bucks I was hunting, but he was just out of bow range. It was an awesome morning and one that I am thankful I could experience.
One of my favorite things about hunting season is the clairty of the stars on crisp cool mornings. This picture could never do the real image justice.
The season was now a little less than an hour from being over and I had decided to do my best to relive the morning I shot my buck, High n’ Tight. I was, after all, sitting in the exact same stand. Right on cue, however, my mind had other ideas. I thought about the first time I had seen High n’ Tight from stand. It was a terribly windy day, and I had gotten in my stand a little before noon hoping to see some midday rutting activity. I suppose my plan had worked because I saw High n’ Tight, although only briefly, about 100 yards in the thick timber. Unfortunately, he left as quickly as he came, but I had hoped he would make another appearance, only this time closer.
Unfortunately, he never showed himself again that day, but I did have an encounter with a different buck. About 3:00 I had a button buck make his way out of a nearby bedding area and made a beeline right for my stand. The minute he got underneath my stand he stopped, set up shop, and began feeding on acorns. He looked up at me briefly, almost as if to say, “I’m glad you’re here Cody! I think I’ll just hang out with you this afternoon, I know you won’t shoot me, will ya?!” I tried not to anthropomorphize, and decided to take out my camera and snap some photos of the small buck. He was only 5 yards from the base of my tree, and I was worried he’d spook if he heard the shutter. I decided to risk it and see what happened. I snapped a couple images, and it was clear he heard the shutter, because he jerked his head up with each picture I took. I thought it was funny, so I decided to take some more. With each shot, up went his head and back went his ears. He could clearly ear me, but he hadn’t been around long enough to know that suspicious noises from above generally mean danger. We repeated this process frequently the entire afternoon and the laughs he gave me far outweighed the fact that I could be unnecessarily educating a buck I could be trying to kill in the three years. Oh well, hunting is supposed to be fun, right?
This little guy never could quite figure out what was making the clicking noise in the tree above him. He knew something was there, but I don't think he really cared what it was. He was more concerned with eating acorns than avoiding danger at the time.
By this time sunset was quickly approaching and since I wasn’t going to shoot anything I decided to make my way back to the camp so I could enjoy the last sunset of the season. It was the perfect ending to the perfect season. I sat on a picnic table, spitting sunflower seeds watching the clouds blow in and subconsciously began subtly shaking my head in agreement. I suppose it was to both acknowledge what a blessing the previous three months had been as well as let the woods and wildlife know that I was ready to begin preparation for another season. Because after all, saying goodbye to one season only means saying hello to the next.