"Contemplation Point" Copyright 1996
by Dana Charbonneau
If you value the notion of serendipity -- finding something other than that which you set out to find -- then hunters are blessed each time we enter the woods. We set out to find a deer, and find much more.
Late in the archery season it penetrates into my thick skull that my strategy isn't working as planned, and 'tag soup' is looking to be a feature on the menu. Sometimes I move my stand in one last attempt to intercept as deer. Other times I use part of the day to scope out potential new hot spots. It was on one of those late season scouting trips that I found Contemplation Point.
We had only recently received permission to hunt a new area, composed of a 2000 foot Vermont 'hill' and surrounding terrain. We had driven by it often, on our way to known spots, and finally got around to asking. Sometimes it's just that easy.
The old orchard down by the swamp was well known by the locals, and we learned quickly that the deer were nocturnal feeders. The hillside was logged clean of all its oak, leaving mostly white birch and pines, which supported a few lean, hungry squirrels. Looking closely at the topo map, I noticed a smaller hill on the backside of the property, sort of lost among the larger mountains in the area. Even the name was small, Pan Hill. Oh well, it was a nice morning for a walk. I'd skirt the base on an old logging road, cut up the side, and hunt back along the ridge top.
I headed in at first light, covering ground slowly, watching for deer coming up from a few apple trees I knew of on the property below this one. it had been a warm October, with few frosts, and acorns, though not as abundant as some years, were available in many areas. The deer were not concentrating on any particular food sources, which was why our efforts so far had been in vain.
About half a mile down the trail I came to where a small finger ridge jutted off the main hillside- This was where I had planned to climb to the ridgetop. About fifty feet up was a granite outcropping next to a large oak. To my right was a small gully, whose easy slope up the hill shouted 'deer run' to me. This looked like a perfect spot to sit for a while. I turned around and sat down, my eyes scanning the base of the hill. Then I looked up- wow!
To the East, I had sunrise over rolling hills. To the South, the first rays bathed a trio of mountains in soft glow. Directly in front of me, the woods fell away to a valley of fields and farms, backed by a huge mountain whose fog-shrouded top glowed orange and gold. I knew right away I wasn't going anywhere for a while.
I quickly settled in, my back to a gnarled oak. This spot had serious possibilities. The deer could pass to the left or right of me on their way to the ridge above.
After an hour of watching squirrels, it warmed considerably. At first the squirrels kept me focused on the present, but gradually I found myself mentally drifting. I thought of what was going on at the farms below, families rising to breakfast and chores, with the kids then being hustled off to school. I thought of what the view might be like from the tops of those mountains south of me. I wished for a map -- what was that big mountain due east?
Gradually, my thoughts drifted further. I thought about the job I had lost, when they closed the factory back home. No big deal, another day will come, another job. I've often taken my work too seriously, and it takes something really big to get my perspective back. An hour of solitude in this place was a good start.
I thought of my family, with two members diagnosed with cancer. Would they be all right when I got home? Next year? I had no idea. I knew that I should worry about them more, but not now, not yet.
Finally my thoughts were disturbed by another noise, louder than the squirrels. A deer, maybe? I don't know, I never got a look at it, although I peered intently down into the bush for a good ten minutes. Whatever it was, it never came past. Oh well, another day.
I spent a few more minutes admiring the scenery, the light now brighter and the shadows lessened. It was still awful pretty, but not quite so magical. As hunters often do, I started wondering what was at the top of the ridge, and beyond. Maybe the deer had ascended by another route, and I could still-hunt them on top. I drank some water from my canteen, took one last look, and started up the ravine to my right. Deer or no deer, I knew I'd be back. After all, we hunt for far more than deer, and this hunt was already a huge success.
Bob, Sounds like you are.
“Ten Minutes” Copyright 2000
By Dana Charbonneau
Yesterday, for ten minutes, I was fully alive. It was the second day of bow season in Massachusetts and I was deer hunting. The previous day I’d still-hunted all morning and sat a stand ‘til dark, seeing nothing but a grouse.
This day was different. I headed out to a remote patch of oaks where I’d seen deer before. I was moving slower, maybe calmed down from the opening-day jitters, or maybe just because it was steeper going here. As the old tote road leveled off and turned right I thought to myself, here’s the spot. Immediately a deer bolted in front of me, disturbed by my less-than-stealthy approach. I quickly crouched down and froze.
The deer bounded along the road, finally turning into a small swamp two hundred yards south. I wouldn’t be following her there. Then I heard it, steps. Close. Too loud to be anything else. Another deer, behind and to my left. She must have been following the first one but hadn’t seen me.
As she slowly meandered along, I stepped forward. The ground was dry and the leaves were crunchy. The deer was forty yards away, walking parallel to the road, but I’d have to move too, to have any chance for a shot. Ten yards further the brush thinned enough that I might be able to close the gap.
My eyes picked out a relatively quiet path, and I began to move one step at a time, easing toward the more open spot. After every step I’d look up from my feet and relocate the deer. She was browsing along slowly, but no deer ever drops its guard completely. Five minutes later I had a halfway clear look at the doe, but she was still thirty yards away, screened by twigs. I needed to be at least ten yards closer before I’d risk a shot with my recurve.
Someone once wrote that moving straight towards a deer is easier than moving sideways, because the deer are better at detecting lateral movement. It sounds good in theory, but now it was crunch time.
After a few more cautious steps, the crunch came. An unseen twig snapped under my foot. The quarry immediately lifted her head, her radar-dish ears turned towards me. She went through all the classic deer moves. First the head bobs (the better to see you, my dear,) then the front hoof stomps, to startle an intruder into betraying himself. Sorry, hon, been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I stayed stock-still, but it was no use. A big doe like this is naturally paranoid, and she decided to bolt, blowing loudly all the way.
I was grinning like an idiot. I’d blown yet another stalk, yet I was happy. Glowing. Alive.
I recently read another article, where the hunter lists the many and varied reasons we hunt – for meat, trophies, companionship, appreciation for fine weapons and their skilled use. The working of a good dog, the quiet times afield, the high beautiful places our steps take us to, are all good reasons, yet not the complete answer. There’s more.
In that short encounter, I became more than a job-holding cog in the machine. I felt every hint of breeze, while praying that my scent would not betray me. I heard the chirps and tweets of birds, and hoped they would not be alarmed by my presence. I marveled at how the dun gray-brown of the deer’s coat blended into the woods so well, causing me to nearly lose sight of her several times. I felt the heft and balance of the bow, my shoulders tensing in anticipation. Maybe I’ll get to shoot…I heard my footsteps like thunder. I was more than modern man; I was a sleek, stealthy jungle cat.
Okay, maybe not. I’m still a big, clumsy, middle-aged lion-wannabe. King of the jungle? Hah! But in those precious minutes, I was fully awake and aware, a rare moment in our TV/internet/video game culture. Later, as I slipped back out of the woods, the yellow of the poplar seemed brighter; the orange of the oak leaves seemed deeper. The scents of pine needle and leaf seemed purer. The brook below the trail rang like silver bells. I know why I hunt.
I have no other explanation...other than my age...but my hunts have definitely become more about the destinations and spending time outdoors than filling tags. Don't get me wrong, when the right opportunity presents itself, I'm releasing an arrow. But I'm definitely more particular and feel much less stress when it comes to filling tags today...than in my younger days. It has become more about the adventure...but I'm absolutely still a bowhunter.
It was a Fisher, the first I have ever seen, and an animal whose identity I would have to confirm via the internet. It stopped about 20-yards distance in a clump of logs, apparently finding something to eat. After watching the fisher digging around the log pile for a lengthy period, I began to worry that it had found a trap set and that I was going to witness its trapping if I didn't intervene.
Suddenly, the fisher took to a nearby tree and stared to the west. A larger fisher approached and the smaller of the two headed for the depth of the swamp. The larger animal claimed whatever food lay amongst the cluster of logs and ate for a few moments. Still fearing a trap, I stood and called out to the fisher, flushing it into the safety of the swamp.
I searched around the logs and thankfully found nothing. I was thankful for two reasons - I had not foiled the legal efforts of a trapper and had waited long enough for each fisher to get something of a meal. The only thing that died that morning was my ignorance of the fisher.
If just shooting animals was all that motivated me I'd go to a game 'preserve'. I've killed a few, and with the exception of one 'guided' hunt I earned every one of them.
Drive you to a blind, 'climb up there and watch that corn pile' will put you on game but I don't call that hunting.
I wouldn't call that hunting either.
If a man can be a woman and live a womanly life, then understand that I am a hunter, was born one, so that's what I do. End of story.
“The Dance Hall” Copyright 2000
By Dana Charbonneau
I often name the places where I hunt and fish. Partly it’s an aid to an abused memory – if I don’t tag it, it’s just another hole in the water or another patch of woods. When I name it, it sticks to the brain cells better, (and I can find my way back!). But the real reason is to help preserve special memories.
When I think of Turkey Ridge, I remember the flock of hens I’ve bumped into several times, and a huge buck I saw there once. The Magic Hole is a place I always walk up to with visions of brook trout dinners. A few weeks ago I named a new spot – the Dance Hall.
It’s a strange spot, one that fishes better when the water is “too” high, and better when the sun is “too” bright. But the best thing about it is the dancers.
I’m always on the lookout for birds; a screeching blue jay may mean another hunter, possibly pushing a deer my way. Swallows low over the water means hatching bugs, and bugs means rising trout. And anybody who wants to watch a truly efficient predator at work should watch the swallows feed, gracefully swooping to pick off tasty morsels on the fly. But the Dance Hall has something even better, a bird I don’t see at the home feeder – cedar waxwings.
Where swallows perform a fluid aerial ballet, the waxwings are swingers, jitterbugging and lindy-hopping in midair. They chase bugs up, down and sideways, hovering like helicopters, shooting straight up like an F-18 with afterburners cookin’. Swallows dance to Mozart and Tchaikovsky; waxwings jump, jive and wail to Benny Goodman.
A couple weeks ago I stumbled around a new bend in the river, out of curiosity and boredom. The water was deep, tricky wading for a middle-aged klutz, but I could see boulders below the surface, and birds above. I managed to catch a few fish in that stretch, but the highlight of the day was seeing a giant stonefly hovering over the water. Out west these bugs are legendary, producing great hatches and awesome dry fly fishing, but here in the east they’re marginal at best, seldom appearing in sufficient numbers for the fish to really key on them. Still, they’re an impressive sight.
What happened next was a scene from “Top Gun” as choreographed by Jerry Lewis.
A medium sized brown bird charged from the trees, overshot the giant bug, stopped in midair, cork-screwed around, missed again, nearly tripped over its own tail feathers, and finally managed to snag the bug. I’m still not sure if it was a virtuoso performance or a slapstick routine, but I spent the next hour watching these birds and their wacky acrobatics.
I finally left for the day, anxious to get home to the field guide, anxious to identify this crazy flier. (Yeah, I know you should bring the field guide into the field. So duh.) In my head, though, I’d already named the place as the Dance Hall, and the birds proved to be cedar waxwings.
As a fisherman I’m reluctant to identify good spots, I get crowd-ophobia too easily. I’m a firm believer in ‘creative misdirection’ when discussing places to fish. So when I described this spot to a friend, I called it the ‘CW’ Dance Hall, and if he figures the fish are doing the Texas Two-Step in there, who am I to say otherwise. Sometimes honesty is for the birds.