The Grace of a Northwoods Monarch

Category: press release

 Aug 6th, 2014 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Aug 6th, 2014 at 12:00 AM

We were in the Northwoods of Wisconsin visiting good friend, Ryan, at his hunting shack on 40-acres in Oneida County. Frozen tire ruts hidden beneath new snow made for a treacherous hike along the easement road leading from the cabin into our hunting area. The sky was clear and the moon hung high, illuminating everything around me in subtle shades of blue. Several sets of fresh deer tracks obscured the surface of the snow leading into the land where I would be hunting before I turned off the easement and entered the woods. Hemlock, Northern White Cedar, Jack Pines and Birch decorated the land around me with snow hung to their branches like icing on a cupcake. The air was cold to breathe through my nose, but awakening by every sense of the word. This was a silent winter wonderland I had entered and I moved along methodically so as to not disturb the peacefulness of this brisk morning.

Soon I was crawling up an old wooden ladder Ryan’s Great Uncle had built many years ago, the cold wood creaking in every rung as I ascended. I would pause at every escaping sound hoping that it would be the last, but my hopefulness lacked integrity against the bitter reality of each next creak until I finally reached the platform.  As I settled in I could hear trees popping from the overnight freeze, and I convinced myself the noise I made climbing the ladder could easily have blended in with the natural sounds surrounding me.

As darkness gave way to light, brilliant colors danced off of snow crystals under the emerging sun, the warmth of its radiance immediately warming my face. The stillness of the morning was loud with thoughts as my imagination ran wild with ideal outcomes of this sit. Having never deer hunted this land before, very little thought went into where I chose to sit this morning beyond that it was pre-existing and somewhat easy to get to for a first time in. Today would be a game of chance dependent on luck, and as the old saying goes, I’d rather be lucky than good.

A slight breeze from the southeast carried the sweet smell of smoldering birch from the cabin; my wife must have stoked the fire to keep the chill out. I drew a deep breath and exhaled a cloud of steam like a locomotive. I’ve never breathed cleaner air than that of the Northwoods of Wisconsin. In the summer, dead pine needles blanket much of the sandy soil in the area and emit a sweet aroma most well-known candle companies do their best to replicate. In the winter, when the pine is under many layers of heavy snow and ice, the scent of burning birch and pine satisfy my senses in a wonderful way. As I sit in wait, I could not have wished to be anywhere else at that very moment.

An owl was the first to break the stillness as it swooped from one side of my front shooting lane to the other. I maintain my belief that hunting is the truest form of putting yourself in touch with nature in that you experience more than seeing, but believing the beauty of those sightings that most cannot relate to and likely wouldn’t believe without seeing themselves.

Like a painter blends color on a pallet to create their masterpiece, the beauty of this morning was no less engaging. I watched the shades of blue transcend into ever-changing hues as they blended with orange glow of the rising sun. When the sun was finally high in the sky, the woods came alive with visiting black-headed chickadees limb hopping around me and falling snow slipping from heavily weighted down evergreen limbs.

What happened next is a vivid memory that had a lasting impression on me to this day. I can press play, rewind, play it back again and pause when I close my eyes. No more than 70 yards before me a large buck, whose rack had been disguised behind a fallen tamarack, rose from his bed on the edge of a frozen swamp. His back was laden with snow, which he violently shook off with an impromptu shudder. The crystals from his snowy blanket seemed to float in the air, highlighted by the effervescent rays from the risen sun. How could I have not seen him? He was right there before me.

A black squirrel taken by surprise of the large buck ran to the tip of a small limb in a tree just a few reaches away and began to bark in the direction of the deer. His chirps were high-pitched and piercing, yet the buck paid him no mind. As gracefully as he’d risen, he turned towards me and started coming in the direction my imagination had rehearsed with the wind at his back.

At thirty yards he stopped and looked back towards where he’d come from, perhaps he caught the scent of the cabin in the wind as I did. When he turned his head back to the direction he was traveling, he released an exhaust of hot air that immediately turned to steam when it hit the crisp morning air. Steam slowly rose from his wet back from the thawed and shaken snow.

I drew my rifle and steadied my aim before shattering the silence. His body hunched and his hide rippled. His chest sank beneath his knees before bulldozing forward with his powerful hind legs through every branch and obstacle that he otherwise would have avoided. A moment later, the woods were again calm and the hunt was over.

Sometimes dumb luck isn’t dumb after all.

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