Every great adventure usually starts with a small and rather innocuous thought. My grand adventure started the same way. With less than 30 days to get organized, the thought culminated in the hay field next to a world class equestrian facility that I had managed to get permission to hunt on. It's October first and the deer season will officially start with the coming of the dawn.
The world is nothing but sound and smell in the darkness of the rural fields. In the distance was the thump of the horses as they rattled impatiently in their stalls. I could appreciate their eagerness for the day to begin. The wind blows gently from the west. It's a good wind for the tree stand I'm headed to. The world is in muted silence as it holds its breath waiting to burst forth with the sun. I quickly change into my hunting clothes and make a note that standing on the dew soaked ground is NOT comfortable and maybe the next time I come out I should plan to deal with that. I make some final adjustments to my safety harness, strap my fanny pack on and sling my bow over my shoulder. With a certain amount of concern and anxiety about the correctness of my decision I chose a route and head for my tree stand.
The tree stand hasn't been in for very long. This farm has, in memorable history anyway, never been hunted and the other gentleman who is going to hunt the shotgun season showed me how to build it. We did that only a few days in advance. I climbed the overly engineered ladder that was my contribution to the construction portion of the plan. I'm not the world's best carpenter and I didn't want it to break under me as I climbed it. For this reason I made sure there were enough nails in the steps to make a compass swing wildly at 20 feet. I settled onto the little homemade stool we had installed and waited.
The wait for the beginning of your first day of you first hunt is a stressful thing. It's a lonely moment when you are in a tree trying to decide what you might have done wrong or what you need to do next. Was I quiet enough? Did I use enough spray? Will they smell my underwear? Those darn underwear I never know how to make, and keep scent free like the rest of my clothes. Should I have crawled across the hay field? Would it have made me look like a deer instead of someone looking to hurl a pointy stick at them? If I scratch my nose can they see me move in the dark? Are they standing behind my laughing and pointing at the new guy? What if they walk right by me because I fell asleep? It is still early and I haven't been able to have my morning coffee. We aren't hunting Columbian deer so I suspect the smell of a dark roast on my breath would seem a little out of place.
I'm in the tree stand plenty early. I have a little more than an hour before the legal shooting time. In Ontario that is 30 minutes before the official sunrise. I hear nothing significant yet. The forest behind me is quiet. It's predawn slumber is only interrupted by the occasional rustle of the wind through the tree leaves. I can see a faint glow on the horizon as the sun creeps closer. I begin to hear the occasional twitter as the local birds begin to wake up. Their voices gently coaxing the sun closer. As I sit motionless on my stool listening to this, basking in the sublime majesty of my existence, I have one overpowering thought. The stool is too damn hard and my ass is going to fall off before the day is out. Another thing to deal with along with the dew.
Eventually it happens. In the murky light of the early morning I can hear it coming through the bush behind me. This is perfect. It was coming in the manner and direction I had hoped it would. This was going to be awesome. My heart started to race. I froze as I listened to the approaching footfalls in the leaves. I mentally prepared myself. Visualized the deer and the shot in my head so that I wouldn't freeze. I needed to be able to concentrate and focus on where I had to put the arrow. I could taste the venison in my mouth already. I had only been deer hunting a grand total of about an hour and I was going to accomplish something they say only 10% of hunters do every year. I could hear it coming. I slowly started to turn my head so I could prepare for my shot. My eyes searched the gloom for the monster buck that had to be making those footsteps. They paused, moved, and then paused once more. Trying not to move, my eyes probed for the sound. The footsteps moved again and I locked onto the monster. There, staring up at me in an unconcerned fashion was a squirrel. A stinking tree rat. I'm convinced that if he had opposable thumbs he'd have found a shed and rattled at me just to aggravate me even more. Stinking tree rats. Doesn't he know he's edible?
In the end I didn't get my deer that day but was proud of the fact that I saw one. I heard a grunt and turned to see a doe slipping through the trees as a buck followed her 15 or so yards behind. She slowly and daintily picked her way up to me. She paused about 15 yards from me in a perfect spot for a shot. She seemed to know that I didn't have a tag for antlerless deer. The buck never got any closer and was around the back of the very wide tree that I was in. He never gave me a shot. She nibbled some branches and gave me a good look. She might even have winked although I can't be sure. After a few moments she turned and slipped back into the bush. I'm pretty sure she just wanted to let me know that they were there. That I would have to prove myself more worthy than I had so far if I was going to take one of them home. In the end I checked it off in the win column with a caveat. I packed up my gear and headed home. Maybe by the next hunt I'll have found a good squirrel recipe.