Rick's Journal

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seeking Deer, Finding Strength

I am a hunter. I mean no offense to those of you who are vegetarians, for any reason, and I can understand, both rationally, and emotionally, that decision. I honor anyone for that.

However, I am a hunter, usually, just for deer. I also fish, when I get a chance, to feed my family and connect us to the natural world. I hunt to connect with the spirit of the deer, like hunters have done for millenia, to hunt and seek and test myself and stay strong. My awareness changes from that of a teacher and director to something more, something that fills me with wind, brush, autumn smells and cold air flowing down the mountain.

At this time of year, I walk through the forest, through the fields and old orchards, enjoying the flowers, the crisp blue sky and the smell of freshly fallen apples, but I am looking for any and all signs of the passing of deer. Tracks. Nibbled browse. Pushdowns through the tall grass. Piles of brown pellet scat.

The other day, I saw where the deer had moved from an open meadow to some thicker brush. I bent down and peered along the narrows where thin legs had passed. Just being in that place, looking in that way, I had the sensation of something wild inside of me coming alive. I saw hair pulled and stuck on a sharp stick, scraped off at shoulder height. I could almost feel the scratch in my own shoulder.

Even as I looked at the trail, I was seeing the whole landscape play before me, like an aerial camera. The swamp, the tangle of apples, the raspberries, the open maples, the ferns and grass, all of them with their options of concealment and vantage points. Where was this deer going? Where would it stop? Where would it lift it's nose and try to catch the scent of whatever was following it?

I stopped myself. The trail was days old, the story unfolding before me ancient history to this deer, who was probably up on the hill, bedded down for the afternoon, dozing in the warm sun and chewing last night's browse. Part of me shifted back to the 'rational me' but the native hunter part, the primal part, didn't want to let go of being alive, awake and in control. Even in just minutes of release, it felt good. My body felt good. I shivered, and walked on.

When I scout the trails and fields, I look for deer trails with heavy use. Frequent use. Which direction are they headed? Up or down? I find the feeding areas, the brush that has been browsed in the past few days. I look for oaks, with their dropping acorns, and I look for apples that have been crushed by molars, bits and pieces falling out of narrow mouths.

Deer need three to five pounds of browse, (read: woody, shrubby buds and branches, not grass) for their stomachs and digestion to work correctly. They can't just eat corn, or alfalfa, or clover. They need cover, to hide and break up their outline to predators, and they need places to go for water. They need solitude, even if it is just areas where humans almost never tread.

If there is an area where you never go because it is too thick with brush, brambles or general tree thickets, you can bet that is where the deer are spending a lot of time. Along with a lot of other animals....

Scouting these areas, I start to get a picture of what is going on this year, this season. Deer are creatures of habit, but they also don't waste energy and time. If there is a change in food sources, they will move to those sources. And change trails. You have to do your homework, pretty much all of the time.

At Hawk Circle, we have lots and lots of woods, cover and food. It is tough to hunt sometimes, because the deer can be literally anywhere, and they are difficult to predict. Which makes it a challenge. Some people I know hunt active farms, and there are more fields and meadows, with predictable lines of cover and trails, where deer have fewer choices in movement and bedding. In those cases, your scouting is a lot quicker.

I will be taking our Fall Earth Skills Semester students out to find these trails, scout the areas and explore what is going on. Usually, by the end of the day, they are very pumped to sit out and 'hunt', even if it is just with a camera. Some actually hunt, but it is very difficult with a native style bow for beginners to get close enough to even take a shot. But that doesn't keep us from trying and feeling that ancient hunter inside that makes us feel strong and alive and awake!

See you in the woods.