A deer in the snowy pines
Standing over the deer, it was then I realized how basic and raw the hunt had been. (Andrew Aughenbaugh photo)

The snow this weekend reminds me of a snowy deer hunt from a few years ago.

The snow was a powdery 24 inches deep. I opened the back of the Jeep and grabbed my rifle. There was no need to take my pack. I planned to walk a few hundred yards, check for deer signs and look for a place to set up my tree stand for the afternoon hunt.


Deer tracks punched the snow across the old wooden bridge. The deer have learned to keep their feet dry and out of the stream by using the bridge. Interesting, I thought. The snow on the other side of the bridge was littered with prints. More than just a few deer have walked these woods. Some tracks old, some seemingly fresh with sharp edges. The hunt was turning positive.

The pines stood 10-15 feet tall, planted following the logging operation. I followed the worn deer trail filled with tracks into the pines, entering the stark world of white and green. Snow covered all, except for the green boughs of the pines. The quick look around had become a hunt. A few hundred yards in, I stopped and thought over what I was doing; second-guessing my drive to enter into the thick of it, or back out and return with my tree stand.

I decided to still hunt up the mountain slope through the pines. A final check of the wind proved the direction a good one. I prefer to still hunt over sitting in a stand. I enjoy the active method over being stationary in a tree.

The sky was a heavy stormy grey with little wind. The day had warmed to almost the freezing mark. I had left my coat in the truck and was wearing only my heavy wool shirt. I still wore my winter hunting fleece pants; mainly because the deep snow had frozen the cuffs, making it too much of a chore to remove the pants after the morning hunt. Extra rifle rounds hung on my belt next to my knife. Besides my rifle in my hand, the rest of the hunting gear was back in my pack in the truck. I am continually amazed by the paraphernalia we deer hunters caring in the woods. I was stripped of all of the extras. I hunted with only rifle and knife.

Snow crunched underfoot. I followed sets of deer tracks up the hill, picking my way around the pine tress, taking only a few steps at a time, scanning ahead, looking for parts of deer hiding. The hill was steep. I began to heat up. I was moving too fast. In our daily lives, the pace is quick, instant; quickly completing one task and moving on to another. Still hunting is an art, one I envy, but find hard to practice. Patience is paramount in keeping the pace slow. I fight the urge to rapidly push on.

To my left, I saw a break in the pines, an opening of sorts; a break in the terrain — a small drainage swale. I took three steps in that direction and stopped. Partly hidden behind a pine tree, I scanned the open depression of a spring head and the beginnings of a small stream valley. In the white of the opening, along the background of the straight green edge of the planted pines, I saw the familiar out of place horizontal line.

Deer! The body was huge. Its head hidden behind a tree. The deer raised its head, no horns.

It did not matter. The primal basic code of hunter drove my actions. Later when I reflected on the killing of this deer, I cannot recall the final tasks it took to complete the job. It was a natural act. My hunting instincts took over. I was successful and the bullet hole in her shoulder told the story. She fell dead a mere five feet from where she had been standing seconds earlier.

Standing over the deer, it was then I realized how basic and raw the hunt had been. My bag of hunting necessities was back at the truck, along with my portable tree stand, shooting sticks and all the other things we as deer hunters rely on. With only a rifle in hand and knife on my belt, I walked into the deer woods, using only my hunter's instincts. Not the ones we learn from elders, or watching hunting videos, but those that come from deep within.

I cut the rear leg tendons, broke a stick of the correct length and slide it through the legs. Using the make shift handle, I dragged the deer the half mile back down the mountain.

Standing at the truck I took a long drag from a water bottle. Sweat matted my hair. Blood dirtied my fingernails.

Snow froze to the legs of my hunting pants. And a winter worth of meat lay at my feet.