Even though the forest canopy shaded the hot summer sun, the thick humid air caused sweat to run down my face and sting my eyes.
My deer season has begun. Instead of a bow, shotgun or rifle, I carry a compass, map, and water bottle.
The state land I plan to archery hunt this upcoming season is a large track of timber with the only open field being located in the middle of the property about a mile and half from the parking area and is about 20 acres in size. The field has not been worked in a few years and is overgrown with knee high weeds. There are no large fields of corn or soybeans to draw the deer.
Before starting the detective work to find the old bucks I feel are lurking in the forest, I consider the things I do know. A deer's primary concerns are three things, food, shelter, and safety. For me to find the deer, I need to find what the deer are eating, where they like to bed and where they feel safe and secure from predators.
Food sources change with the seasons, so I scan the forest looking for acorn bearing oaks, persimmon trees, and other likely edibles. These are the things I feel the deer will be focusing on during the early part of archery season and during much of the fall.
Understanding that deer are considered edge creatures, preferring to live and travel along places like thicket edges, field edges, less obvious edges like differing aged forests, and changes in terrain such as stream beds and valleys, I began my search along these areas.
I started from the one and only parking area on the property and followed the old eroded fire road deep into the forest. My intent was to follow the trail until I reached the overgrown field. At which point I planned to hike off trail back to the truck through the woods exploring the forest, learning the general lay of the land.
My plan was to focus on the big picture before getting caught up in the details. All too often I find myself, grabbing onto the first decent deer trail and picking a good tree for my stand. Instead I attempt to focus on why and when the deer are using the trails instead of just setting up on the trail and hoping for the best.
On my first exploration of the property, once I reached the overgrown field, I found clover hidden under the taller weeds growing in a corner of the field. The old road leading from the parking area faded into hardly discernible paths forking in different directions before reaching the field.
I jumped four separate week-old fawns as I traveled through the forest. I discovered a likely bedding area thicket including a tunnel leaving the thicket a short distance from where I had found the clover growing in the field. Walking across the knee-high weeds I jumped a bedded young buck.
My search for the old homestead and apple trees that I once hunted a long time ago was unsuccessful. The barns and old house have been razed and the forest has reclaimed the ground. I make a mental note to return and continue my search hoping to find the apple trees still there thinking it might be a good place to ambush a buck early in the season when the apples are dropping.
As I stood along the field edge in the shade, I think back to those 25 years ago when I last hunted this area. What seemed like just yesterday, was a long time ago.
A lifetime has passed since those early years of my life.
I stood there and remembered all that has come and gone in my life since I last wandered this forest and fields. But even through all those changes, my passion and connection with the natural world remains. As much as I did yesterday, I still feel most belonging when in the woods.
I left the field and with a compass bearing began to walk in a straight line the mile and half back to the truck. I wanted to dissect the property cutting a line of discovery.
Where are the thickets, streams, oak stands and other unknown surprises?
The terrain dropped in elevation from the field until bottoming out at a stream. I crossed the creek and climbed up the other side. Large beech trees grow here with little underbrush. The forest is open. Once on top of the slope, the timber is younger and the green briers made for harder travel. I picked up and followed a deer trail.
Before dropping into another valley, I discover a large white oak standing tall with very little undergrowth surrounding it. I stopped and scanned the area. Buck rubs on the smaller trees of various ages surround the large white oak. The green briers are heavily eaten back.
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I noticed two deep ravens, one on each side of where I stood and both quickly rose and end a short distance ahead of the direction I am traveling; thus creating a kind of natural travel funnel. This area had a "bucky" feel to it.
I pulled out my map and marked the spot for future investigation and discovered that ironically I was standing exactly in the center of the property and the farthest spot in any possible direction from any road or parking area.
I have returned one other time since that first walk of the property. On the second visit, I parked the truck at a local school and rode my bike a few miles back the tractor road that lead to the fields and spent the evening watching the overgrown fields. I watched several does meander across the back corner feeding on the clover and I watched two mature bucks rise from their beds out in the low valley of the field and wander off into the woods.
It will take several more scouting trips before I feel I have a good grasp on the lay of the land and can begin to think of stand locations.
But that is OK with me, I'm enjoying my time exploring and learning the woods.