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The old doe

Young doe shot by Michael Westerfield

Is that a twig?  There it is again.  Maybe it’s a squirrel.  I wish my ears were better.  Something is on the ground behind me. A twig falling onto the crunchy leaves could make that sound.  So could a deer stepping on those same leaves. Then, of course, it could be a crazy gray squirrel.  Nah, they cant hold still for more than a few seconds.  They make noise constantly.  Right now, it is silent as a cemetery.

The silence doesnt mean it was a twig. Deer stand still sometimes. They tend to avoid the dry leaves as much as possible.  Deer freeze as still as a statue after making a noise. They will step on grass or anything silent if given the choice. When critters step on a moss-covered log or rock, theyre silent as a breeze. They might be there standing silent on the moss.

There was plenty of bright green fall moss ground in this valley.  It lay like a blanket on the fallen trees and rocks that covered the valley floor.

The valley floor was cluttered with trunks, twigs, branches and vines.  It looked like Gods own game of Pick-Up Sticks. Every year more and more limbs, and entire trees stack on top of each other. The older ones were practically ablaze with bright, flame-green blankets of moss.  Some of the older logs had hundreds–even thousands–of white shingle mushrooms clinging to their sides. Near the earth, the smell of rot mingled with the smell of new life.

Pictures of the emerald green fields of Ireland werent as green as this small, sunlit corner of a deep-woods valley in Tennessee.

The morning sun streaked through the disappearing fog. It glittered on the fog droplets decorating a spider web. This is why I love outdoor sports. Hunting, fishing, hiking and camping all get me closer to all this.   

The morning sun painted crisscross shadows of the limbs on the forest floor.  I could see the shadow of a squirrel.  Turning my eyes to the left and tilting my head slightly allowed me to see her. She was fat and busy getting fatter.  She sat with her back against the main trunk of a post oak tree. I decided to watch her for a few minutes longer.

Theres the sound again from the same spot. I guessed the sound came from the end of a ridge about 40 yards behind me and to the right.

“Oh my God!” I thought. “Thats three, fastdefinitely a deer.”  My heart picked up the pace a little bit.

It was bow season, and I was on a deer hunt. That sound meant the moment of success or failure was near. Then I heard a thump to my right, then another.  I recognized that sound.  Somewhere to my right, a deer was standing stiff-legged and alert.  It was most likely an experienced doe. I pictured her tail standing straight out, quivering. That thump was her front hoof striking the ground.  That and the white tail were an alert to other deer. Something wasnt right. I didnt even turn my eyes. Hers were most likely looking for me right now.  If I were to blink right now it would be over.

With a short snort, she takes three more steps. I very slowly turned my head.  There she was. She was beautiful. She was posed like one of those concrete deer some people have on display with fiberglass gnomes and plastic flamingos.

She was only 10 yards from the base of my tree. Steam pumped out with her every breath. It was a magical moment, and I thanked God for it.

She was old but strong. With her long, strong muscular body, and full belly, she led a small herd. She had the experience to spot danger, so the bucks let her lead. Her eyes were huge and black, scanning for me. Her nose and ears helped the search.

I watched in awe and wonder at what the Lord might provide for my family. From my ladder stand, about 15 feet up a big old cedar tree, Id have a clear shot. It all depended on one thing. I had to move to aim my crossbow without being noticed. If any deer or squirrel or even a bird noticed me moving, it would sound the alarm. All hell would break out in that end of the woods, and in just a few seconds, Id be all alone.

It would help if she stood still. That was unlikely except the path she was following lead her to where a buck had left his calling card. It was about 20 yards away from my tree. If she was interested, she might leave her scent there, but even if she wasnt, she was still likely to stop out of curiosity. I figured that would be my chance.

 If I managed to shoot her where she stood now, she would most likely double back from where she came. Shed quickly disappear behind the curtain of trees. That might work to my advantage. My car is in that direction. I dont mind bringing home the meat, but why work harder than you must?

She tiptoed through the dry leaves. Large cupped ears, many times more sensitive than ours, rotated on her head like radar. She hesitated at the edge of the clearing, flared her nostrils and curled her lip to smell for danger. She took another step, just one and stood as still as a statue as she scanned the landscape for anything out of place.

Suddenly her tail waved a warning to the other deer. She ran about 10 paces and stopped behind a thick tangle of vines. Behind me it sounded like several deer ware running away. Then it was quiet and still. One young doe remained. She was frozen in fear, not knowing what to do.

Her hesitation gave me the opportunity to aim my bow. I wanted the big old doe or the buck that was following her. That chance was gone. All I had left was the young doe that was trying to decide what to do.

The arrow was so fast it seemed to hit her before she heard it. The arrow passed through the deer right where it was intended to hit.  She jumped once then ran up the hill. I heard her crashing thru the small trees for a few seconds, then it was silent.  

This is the worst part of bow hunting. Even if its a great shot like this one, deer dont often die on the spot. Now I had to wait just in case it wasnt such a good shot. If she was wounded, shed lie down to rest and bleed to death.    

I had to give it time to be sure. Eventually I climbed down from the tree and walked to the place where she had stood when I shot her. There was the arrow, bloody from end to end. The next few minutes were spent following her blood trail. I found her about 30 paces away. I verified that she was not suffering then got on my knees and thanked God.

Dragging a deer out of the woods is always the toughest part. Several hills later, she was in the trunk and headed to the butcher for processing. After the butcher verified my paperwork, he got to work processing the animal.

All the meat was boxed up by the next day. She not only yielded about 100 pounds of burgers, steaks and roasts, but she also provided a memory. That memory is now a story Ive been able to share.  I hope it provides insight as to why I love the experience and the environment of hunting.

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