It’s 4:01 p.m. on December 17, 2011, and preparations for the 2012 bow hunt for whitetail deer start now, the second after the sun has officially set over Vly Mountain in Catskills, New York, and the season is over.
Before the arrow rest folds down for the last time and the arrow gently settles in the quiver for its winter hibernation, the thoughts and planning for next season are well on their way.
All senses are collecting information that will be logged and stored for 2012, in the hope that maybe next year will bring that hunt of a lifetime, the one you will tell your grandchildren about.
Fast-forward to September 31, 2012.
It feels like summer. I’m walking around outside in a pair of jeans, a T-shirt and sandals. It’s sunny and 77 degrees.
The bow is getting the last check and tune up, and clothes and boots drying are out drying after a much-needed wash, not only because of the stale smell of winter storage but, equally important, to wash off last season’s less-than-successful hunts and very limited harvest.
Darkness to light
The night has little sleep to offer, as is usual the night before a hunt, and I am up, dressed and ready to go by the time the alarm goes off.
It is pitch black outside. The crickets are playing their early fall symphonies that fill the night with music that would blow away any acts at the Met in New York City, only two hours but a world away.
As I take the first step into the dark forest, my heart rate increases and I feel the adrenaline pumping.
It’s fueled by the anticipation of the hunt but also from the eerie feeling you get when you enter the dark forest where you are not the top predator.
It’s a steep 45-minute hike to my stand and it’s still dark.
As I start climbing farther and farther up, the sky to the east is changing colors; dark blue gives way to a lighter blue with beautiful orange and purple tones.
Settled in my stand, I can see a good 150 yards out in all directions and I’m 20 yards away from the trail that’s frequently used by the area’s deer and bears.
I have spent a few mornings in this tree-stand over the summer to scout, and every morning I’ve seen 6–12 deer and sometimes bears, coyotes, mink, raccoons and turkeys, so very I’m hopeful.
The sun is rising behind me and the tallest trees are getting the first kiss of the morning sun, on the very tip of the highest leaves.
The sun’s rays reflect and send colorful laser beams through the forest.
It’s quiet, there is no wind and you can hear everything that’s going on — or at least you could, if anything was going on…
But it’s strangely quiet — dead quiet. Normally I would see squirrels, chipmunks and woodpeckers in full swing by now, but nothing…and no deer in sight.
I remember having experienced a few of these mornings in the past. The mornings where everything looks perfect and beautiful and you can’t help thinking that if you were an animal of the forest, this would be a perfect morning for a breakfast foraging stroll through the woods.
But there are no sounds, no movement, like someone stopped time.
I keep looking in a 150-degree angle to my right. There is trail that starts from the other side of the mountain. That area for some reason always draws my attention, but I have never seen anything coming from there, deer or any other animal for that matter.
An hour goes by and suddenly the silence is broken. In the otherwise dead-quiet forest, it sounds like something big, maybe a bear…but I can’t see anything in the direction of the noise, nothing.
But the sound of dead leaves being pushed around continues. It’s coming from an area with a big dead pine tree that succumbed to the last storm and has now found its final resting place on the forest bed.
And then I see it…from in between big, dead branches it sticks its head out…a red squirrel! A squirrel!!!! Really! How can that little red rodent make so much noise that you think it’s a bear? It had my heart ready to pop right out of my chest.
Another hour goes by and now the forest is full of activity. All the animals are out foraging and collecting in preparation for the winter soon to come.
Every single sound is treated as a potential deer sound and I feel my heart constantly pounding and drumming away under my four layers of clothes.
In the midst of all the activity the sound of strikes through the dry and dead leaves from somewhere behind me makes me quickly turn around to my right.
A hundred yards out comes a deer, walking on that trail that had drawn my attention for two years now, the one I’ve never seen any animal use.
Without taking my eyes off the deer I reach around the tree with my left hand to lift off my bow from its hook.
As I do, the bow accidently hits the stand and makes a noise and the deer immediately looks up towards me and I freeze.
With my left arm fully stretched and holding my bow in a 110-degree angle behind me, I try not to move but my shoulder is burning and hurting and I’m starting to shake.
Come on deer, please move, nothing up here, just a little squirrel in a tree making a strange noise…on your way now….
It sniffs a few times to make sure there is no danger, then lowers its head again and nervously take a few steps forward.
The deer is coming right up the trail as my sixth sense had told me it would. There are only a few seconds before I’ll get the perfect shooting angle.
When the deer passes the tree between the trail and me it’s my only chance to draw back the bow unnoticed.
Almost there…three, two, one, and I pull back in one smooth motion.
The deer pauses for a second and then comes out from behind the tree.
It’s only 10 yards out and I have my sight set on the heart. I follow it as it takes a few steps forward until it’s at a perfect shooting angle.
I give out a little yelp that stops the deer and I let the arrow fly as everything goes into slow motion….
I know it’s a good hit, confirmed by the sound of the arrow impacting.
The deer sprints for 25 yards, stops and falls over dead.
It was a perfect hit that went straight through the heart, through the deer and the arrow sat nailed into the ground.
For two years my sixth sense had been telling me about this hunt and now it finally happened.
Next time I’m sitting in a taxi in New York City and I instinctually turn and make eye contact with a person staring at me, I’ll remember where and why we developed this ability. We all have it in us; we all carry it around.
Despite our modern lives, we are still primal and no different than the other wild animals we share this amazing and beautiful planet with.