I spent the day in the woods today. I drove up north to one of my deer hunting areas and for all purposes I was going deer hunting. Years ago I’d leaned a small ladder stand against a pine tree I’d found while I was still-hunting and exploring the area. I sat on a fallen log and leaned against that pine and in the next 90 minutes I saw three different bucks but was unable to get a decent shot at any of them in the heavy cover. I decided then to put a stand against that tree. I’ve shot several good bucks from that stand since.
The stand is kind of my headquarters when I’m in those woods. Sometimes I can sit there all or most of the day, others times I start wandering around after only a short time at the stand. I often find my way back to it for the day's end and once I find my stand, I know I can find the faint trail to my truck. Today was a wandering day.
It was oddly warm for this time of year and we’ve gotten no snow. A storm is predicted for tonight and I was hoping deer would be moving before it, along with what should be close to peak rutting time. I moved slowly, a step or two at a time. Here and there I came upon a small deer track pushed into the damp leaves, a lone fawn wondering where everyone is, but for the most part deer sign was sadly lacking.
Before long my deer hunt evolved into more of a bird watching nature walk. My compact binocular worked perfectly for watching the blue jays, whiskey jacks, chickadees, and pileated woodpeckers. The red squirrels were busy, too, and the longer you go without deer contact, the more that squirrel rustling sounds like whitetail footfalls. Occasionally a raven would fly over croaking and kawking and the honking of a high V of geese reminded me of waterfowl hunting.
It’s neat country I hunt up there near the Canadian border. The bare rock outcrops are ribboned with rough looking scrub oak that drop acorns all over to feed the deer and squirrels. There are huge white pines scattered about, along with birch and aspen stands, spruce and balsam and jackpine thickets. The rock gardens will turn an ankle or worse if you don’t watch were you’re going and in the midst of the thick forest you’ll come across huge rock boulders that leave you wondering how they ever got there, glaciers or not.
I came to the edge of a moss covered outcrop that overlooked a little stream. I sat back and leaned on my pack to enjoy a break and snack all the while keeping an eye on the creek bottom, visualizing that big buck sneaking along the waterway. At my feet wintergreen berries stood out with green leaves and red fruit. The deer didn't show and it was time to keep moving.
I lost direction on this cloudy day and used my compass to find the road. It was nearly dark and I had a mile hike to my truck, but it was easy going compared to the hours I'd just spent in rough cover.
Today I started out hunting deer, but ended up hunting deer sign. I found no rubs, no scrapes. I know where there is better cover that holds more deer, and I’ll likely hunt some of it before the season is over. But there are no secrets anymore and good habitat probably involved logging, and many hunters key in on logged areas for good reason. The hill country I hunt is wild, tough going, and beautifully interesting. In all the years I’ve wandered around up there I’ve never seen another person. I like that.