THURMONT — THURMONT -- From beneath a lone, large pine near the top of the lower ridge, perhaps 400 yards of valley could be scanned on a clearer day, the field of view including the conifers along the creek bottom and at least two game trails wending along the hillside.
Last Wednesday, visibility was greatly reduced. Since an hour or so before first light, a strong northerly wind had been driving snow down and across Hunting Creek, and the face of Cunningham Falls State Park was changing.
The game trails were disappearing beneath the snow. The sounds of distant rifle shots were accompanied by the snap of breaking limbs and the thunder of an old oak transformed easily to deadfall.
There was, of course, a method to the fine madness that had brought us into a small snowstorm in Frederick County during the middle of deer firearms season.
Larry Lease had had success here in years past, in firearms and bow seasons. His theory for firearms season was that hunters entering the park beyond the ridge would get the deer moving, driving them toward us, either up around the ridge or along the creek bottom.
But even within the relative shelter of the lone pine, there were moments when the madness seemed not so fine a thing.
The wind was 20 to 25 mph. The temperature was in the low 20s. The wind-chill was somewhere between zero and minus-15 degrees -- cold enough to make brass statuary fracture.
The forecast had been for snow showers and temperatures in the low to mid 30s. The wind was 10 to 15 mph above forecasted strengths. By 8 a.m. there was an inch of snow; by 10 a.m. there were three -- and without the high wind the day would have held great promise.
A few inches of snowfall seems to have little effect on deer, but it has a great impact on hunters, who benefit from the better sightlines a solid white background offers and the tracks deer leave in the snow. Hunters also seem to move more in colder conditions, and when hunters move, the deer move.
As it was, the wind put deer and most hunters down.
Well before the light was full, more than a half-dozen hunters had entered the woods from the same parking area along Route 77 and worked their way along the lower and upper ridges.
Two hundred yards east of the lone pine, a hunter in a tree stand sat stoically. Below him and perhaps 30 yards west, a companion huddled at the base of a tree large enough to block the wind.
Well beyond the hunter in the tree stand, Bill Ward would by now be working up the ridge line, keeping his chest to the wind, his eyes scanning through the blowing snow.
Ward, a small, lithe man, planned to still hunt to the top of the ridge, where the ridge top opened into a flat feeding area rimmed with stunted pines and bramble.
Near Cat Rock, Ward said he scared up a buck, which fled east into the storm before he could get off a decent shot.
Along the creek bottom, Lease had found a windbreak in a stand of bankside evergreens, where a mink clamored for squatting rights and in warmer times trout would have been sipping flies nearby.
Neither Lease nor I saw a deer before noon, when the three of us packed up to leave.
Through the morning, more hunters had been arriving, and all departed empty-handed.
As Lease said afterward: "But that's deer hunting. Even on the bad days, you still gotta love it."
3' Brass statuary excluded, of course.