Early morning, just before dawn. John stepped out of his Jeep and greedily breathed in the cool, clean fall air. The damp, mossy scent of the woods lustfully filled his nostrils. Just standing here at the parking spot was fantastic, let alone walking out and truly being lost in the experience. The calm, the silence, the total lack of any other damn humans to ruin it, yes, the woods are home.
Oh, and of course, there are a plethora of tasty animals.
Early deer season, yes, sir.
John opened the back door and grabbed his bow. He went over the usual checklist making sure he had everything and headed out to his tree stand. The path opening sat just in front of his vehicle, a narrow walkway with thick brush on either side. Visibility was not very good on either peripheral, but you could see the tops of the thickly settled oak and pines.
John's stand was about one and a half miles in, a beauty of a spot which he found by total accident when he was out scouting in the off season. He had walked the immediate area yesterday and saw no signs of other hunters. Yup, he was all alone in his spot, just the way he liked it.
John was roughly one mile in when he heard movement. It was still dark enough that he could not see very well. He stopped, slowed his breathing, and just listened. He heard movement from another direction, and then silence. He stood stoic for about two minutes, and heard no further movements, so he began walking again. He got about fifty yards more, and again, heard more movements, this time from numerous directions.
His heart began to race and his face flushed with heat. The movements stopped again. He was breathing hard now, which made it difficult to hear, he tried to shorten his breaths. He wished it was lighter, this darkness made him feel extremely vulnerable. Humans may be the top predator, but take away our vision and we are pretty useless in situations like this.
The movements stopped again, but John’s heart sure didn’t. He moved quickly now, he figured he would just get to his stand quickly and forget about this nonsense. Due to his somewhat frantic demeanor at this point, he was not using caution and moving too quickly with such low visibility. The toe of his boot stopped against something solid, and he toppled to the ground. Something rustled the brush and shot towards the path. His heart was going to beat out of his chest at any moment. Something broke through the thicket just ahead of him. His stomach dropped, his heart pounded as he looked around frantically.
A squirrel ran across the path about five feet in front of him.
Like someone letting air from a balloon, John deflated. He began to laugh and shake his head, what else could he do? He felt like the biggest wimp on the planet at that moment. The sun was beginning to come up, he had wasted far too much time, he needed to get up in his stand before prime time. He grabbed his bow, did a quick check of his person to make sure everything was still with him, and he made haste.
The rest of the hike to his stand was pretty uneventful, thankfully. He climbed up, fastened his harness, and prepped his bow. He was quite happy to be up in the tree and off of the ground. Now that his nerves had settled, he just sat back and soaked it all in.
John heard a stick snap behind him. Something was clearly approaching. His heart began to beat fast and his nerves jacked up. He notched an arrow and slowly stood. He could not yet get a visual on whatever animal was approaching, but it had stopped moving, he hoped that it did not catch his scent. He stood perfectly still. The animal began to move again, after what seemed like an eternity, John finally got visual confirmation. An eight-point white tail buck stepped into his path of sight.
John's heart began to pound in a machine gun rhythm. He felt hot, like he was in the middle of the beach on a summer’s day. The buck moved excruciatingly slow, stopping to sample the air with it’s nose each step, and taking the entire area in visually. John did not yet have a shot, he was in range now, but needed him to turn broadside. He began to fear that he would not get a shot before the buck got out of his arrow’s range. He thought the animal was behaving oddly, he had seen numerous deer, but never one this cautious, very odd.
The buck was almost out of range. John decided to go for it, as he had no more time. He drew back, held it, and then whistled loudly. The buck’s ears snapped to full attention. It looked like, well, a deer in the headlights. The buck turned giving John it’s broadside. He sighted and released the arrow in practiced precision. The arrow hit it’s mark with brute force. The buck jumped, took two steps, and fell.
John sat back, trying to calm himself a bit. The thrill still pumped through his body like a contained lightning storm raging. He stared down at the buck, no movement, perfect shot. He tried to contain himself, as he needed to wait at least thirty minutes to get down from the tree to check and field dress the deer.
After a little while John settled down. The peace and tranquility of the woods bathed him like warm sunlight. He looked down at the buck again, still no movement, definitely a clean kill, but he would not jump the gun.
A stick break. John’s relaxed demeanor vanished, replaced by total awareness. Another deer? He stood and tried to get a visual around the tree. The tree was just too large to see around. Movement ahead. He snapped his head around and saw nothing. More movement from two other angles. The thicket moved in numerous spots. His nerves heightened and attacked with a barrage of anxiety.
'What the ever-loving hell,' he thought to himself.
As suddenly as it began, it silenced, and stilled. John looked around in every direction frantically. He was just plain scared. He cursed this damn state for the law making it illegal to carry a gun while bow hunting. At least he was up fifteen feet off of the ground. He had four arrows left in his quiver, that was it.
He began to hear noises. They seemed like growls and grunts with snorts. They seemed to go around him in a perfect circle, each spaced one perfect second apart. This continued for about one minute and then silence again. John listened, he could not hear a thing, the woods were totally silent, and then a rash of commotion. Figures shot out of the thicket from all angles, the grunting and snorting now frantic. John froze as he witnessed seven figures converge on his downed buck.
But, were they coyotes? He stared in amazement as they tore at flesh. They were absolutely huge. Wolves? There are no wolves in this area though. They were also magnificently colored. Their coats looked flawless, unlike normal coyotes, these almost looked unreal, like a painting from a fantasy novel. They just devoured the deer, similar to a pack of lions.
Every now and then one would glance up at John. It was one of the scariest and most unsettling things that he had ever witnessed in his life. But, at the same time, it was one of the most beautiful.
All of a sudden, like an afternoon storm clearing, John was no longer nervous, no longer scared, this was beautiful. Tears welled in his eyes. A lone tear fell slowly down his cheek, he had never felt so connected to anything in his life, he almost felt as one with these animals.
After they had finished consuming the deer, they all stood completely still, and all at once they stared up at him in unison. John felt a warmth flow through him, a comforting, embracing warmth. He could not even function physically at that moment, it was like nothing he had ever experienced, ever.
As it had begun, out of nowhere, it ended. The animals dispersed, and as they disappeared into the thicket, the warmth left him, and he collapsed into his seat. He remained there, simply gazing to the skyline. Eventually, John came to and was clear of his surroundings once again. He stood, gathered himself, and began the descent to the ground.
For reasons unknown, John had no fear of being at ground level, no fear of the one and a half mile journey ahead of him. When he reached the remains of the buck, he kneeled and stared for a few minutes. It was unreal, there was nothing left aside from bone. He dragged the remains to a gulley a bit away from his stand and let it fall out of sight.
He began his hike back. His mind wandered. He simply could not wrap his head around what had happened. What had he just experienced? Something made him stop walking, and a figure appeared from the thicket just ahead of him. The warmth returned to him, and he was unable to move again.
In front of John stood the animal that had first looked up at him. Was this the leader? It was the largest of them. Its beautiful black and silver coat shone in the midday sun that cascaded through the tree branches. Somehow, John was not scared, the warmth gave him peace.
The animal stared up at him with eyes like he had never seen before, so deep, so bright. It stared for some time, turned its head to the side, and disappeared into the thicket.
John dropped to his knees, drained of all the warmth, and physically exhausted. But, he was at such peace.
He carried on the remainder of the way to his vehicle.
John loaded his equipment and sat in the driver’s seat. He stared into the woods, still mesmerized, but slowly coming out of it. John understood that was, most likely, a once in a lifetime experience, probably not equal to any he has or ever will encounter. He felt extremely lucky to have been part of such a majestic occurrence.
He left it at that.
When John arrived at home, he acted as normal as possible. He had prepped himself for this moment the whole ride home. He met his wife in the kitchen, and when she asked him how the day went, he answered as nonchalantly as possible.
“Didn’t get anything, but it was still nice out in the woods.”
John could not help but smile.