Hook and Bullet Club
The thick snow covered every branch, making a world of white with the evergreens poking their needles through nature’s winter blanket. This was last Wednesday when even a nippy north wind couldn’t change the scenery. A slate gray sky kept the shadows away in the fading afternoon light.The location was a logging site off the Echo Trail. The area had been cut recently enough that the popple had yet to take hold and the jackpine were only starting their climb toward the sky.The attraction was several sets of fresh deer tracks heading this way off the main path. The day felt right for a good hunt and the area was known to hold deer this time of year.And there was the bonus of being able to sneak out of work for a few hours during the waning days of the muzzleloader season.But it felt good to be outside, if only for a few hours. The wool coat felt like a handshake from an old friend and even the blaze orange seemed to be not as bright that day. The muzzleloader was ready to do its job, loaded with several Pyrodex gunpowder pellets and a .50 caliber bullet inside a plastic wad holding everything in. The 209 primer was inserted in the breech and it all felt right. This was new country to explore and it hadn’t been trampled by the guy getting out of his car a mile up the road, likely heading out to check his marten traps. The snow was several inches deep, soft and silent, masking the footsteps following hoofprints to the landing where the wood had been stacked before being trucked to an area mill. The largest set of tracks had veered off as the opening grew larger. Heading into the wind, this buck’s course brought him into several tight stands of balsams where he could see and not be seen. The wind was not in his favor, though, so there was a chance his senses could be fooled if only for a minute and he could make his final mistake. A course was plotted to a small ridge south and east of where the deer looked to be hiding out. Tiptoeing through the snow one finger stayed near the safety, just in case something moved ahead. More deer tracks came into view showing several mid-size deer, likely does, had travelled the middle ground between the higher ridge and the swamp below. But there were no movements except for the tops of some birch trees swaying slightly in the breeze. That ridge was now nearly at hand and a vantage point behind some small pines would serve as a blind from the buck’s location below. Just then a familiar noise came from the north. The buck wanted to know more about the visitor he could not smell and may not have had a good look at yet.The grunt was low and a second or two in length. Almost to say, “Are you friend or foe?” or maybe, “That’s close enough, fella.”The inside jacket pocket contained a grunt call so there was a chance a conversation could be struck, perhaps peaking the buck’s curiosity.Slowing the gun moved from the right hand to the left so the call could be retrieved and blown into. All the while those pine thickets were being scanned for the possible outline of a deer standing or bedded down. The plastic grunt call harkened a response, similar in length and tone to what had been heard just a few minutes earlier.First there was silence. And then a response. We were talking, except only one of the two parties knew what to say. Would this create enough of a curiosity for the old buck to stick his head out and investigate? Eyes stayed peeled, watering now slightly in the north wind. Was that a dark shape over there? No, but just the possibility stirred the adrenaline. Could this be it? Another blow into the grunt call and the gun was brought closer into position. One last response from the woods and then silence from that end of the line. Maybe the call was the wrong message. Maybe the deer had sensed danger and headed north or maybe he stayed right where he was, safe in his hiding spot. These are all unknowns. There is no instant replay to let you know where you made the mistake that kept that deer alive for another day.If only I had stood over there. Or looked to the west more. Or this or that. Those can only be pondered now because the answers were not being supplied in the woods. We think our hunting skills are so fine, so honed that we can just pop into the woods and shoot a deer with our superior knowledge and intellect.But we forget that deer are hunted 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. And the big deer don’t get to be big and old by being dumb. They’ve learned to travel at night and to use their senses to their full advantage.They play this game with their lives at stake continuously. Be it from the wolf packs or other predators in the forest, the deer know the rules of the game. We may have the advantage of firearms, better eyesight and the patience to sit and wait for a deer to walk by, but there is still a rule that seems to fit pretty well.In addition to the all-important component of luck, the deer hunter has to do everything right to be successful. He has to use the wind to his advantage, his eyes and ears must be at a high level of concentration and his aim must be true.The deer, especially the bigger ones, need to make at least one major mistake to tip the scales in the hunter’s advantage.A hunter has to do everything right and hope the deer makes a mistake at just the right time and place. That’s why the firearms season is set to coincide with the rut so the bucks are thinking about procreation instead of protection. There are deer hunters who are successful every year, but the number of deer who outwit hunters and stay alive to grow another set of antlers will always outnumber even the best hunters.Getting the opportunity to spend the afternoon in another world far from work and worries would be reward enough for that day. It also added fuel to the desire to get back out there and do it all over again.