Sadly, another hunting season is rapidly coming to a close. Heavy rains that I wish would have been snow finally subsided long enough for me to get out for the last day of Maryland’s late 3-day firearms season. I have one deer in the freezer taken during the early muzzleloader season. A nice mature doe taken just before dark while she feasted on acorns with several of her friends. I still remember it like yesterday the fire and smoke erupting from the barrel creating a mad dash of alarmed whitetails bounding off in every direction. There were more deer around me than I thought! I watched my target on her death run through the smoke as she ran out of sight off to my right. I held my breath and waited for the sound of her hopefully crashing to the ground. A few seconds later I exhaled and smiled as the sound I was hoping for hit my ears. A bit of redemption after blowing my chance with a nice buck a few weeks prior. That bruiser busted me as I tried to position myself for a shot with a crossbow at 15 yards. Shaking my head, I looked down at my trusty hand me down 30-30 recounting another treasure trove of good memories from another season gone too soon. I ran my fingers along the smooth wood stock realizing that it had been several years since I had taken a deer with my favorite gun. The crossbow and muzzleloader had received most of the action the last several years and I longed to raise and fire her on an unsuspecting deer. I remember how heavy she felt as 12 years old and how light and comfortable she felt now some 40-plus years later. I loved working the lever to eject a smoking shell while loading another that I hoped I would not need.
The afternoon sun suddenly hitting my face provided a burst of warmth and brought me back to the present. Scanning the woods for the thousandth time, I noticed the perfect shadow the sun was creating below of me sitting in my tree stand some twenty feet up. I playfully verified the shadow was me by shouldering my gun and watching the black silhouette in the brown leaves below mirror my moves. Pretty cool. Just another one of the neat little things you see and appreciate when spending countless hours outdoors. The woods had been active today after the rains had wiped the slate clean. Squirrels, birds, a fox, and a few deer had wandered by me so far; their noses and beaks exploring what the rains had covered or revealed. With meat in the freezer, I was hoping to see one of the bucks I captured on my trail cam earlier in the week. I have resisted the urge to get the live-action intel provided by the fancy cellular trail cams. I preferred the anticipation of pulling the SD cards and checking the images one by one on my laptop. Crazy to think that is becoming old school now. My latest card pull revealed four mature bucks were still frequenting our woods and hopefully I had myself positioned correctly for one of these wall hangers to cruise by in range. The deer that had passed by earlier did not fit that description, but I felt confident I wasn’t detected. As the shadows grew longer and longer (I could no longer see mine) my chances to work that lever action were fading fast. Except for squirrels doing their best to sound like a deer, that final afternoon faded to dark without a buck appearing. I gathered my gear and descended the ladder with absolutely no disappointment. It had been another entertaining and relaxing day in the woods. I might still be able to get out one more time with the crossbow before the season ended in a couple of weeks, but it didn’t matter. If the season ended today, I would still be happy and appreciative of the opportunity to be out here.
Safely back on the ground, I cradled the 30-30 at the base of the tree about to head back to my truck when a deer snorted at me from maybe 50 yards away. I chuckled a little in the darkness to acknowledge the deer’s announcement of my detected presence. I stayed and listened in the dark until the snorts faded in the distance while the deer put a safe distance between it and myself. Incentive to try and get out one more time; not that it was needed. I worked the lever on the 30-30 to unload the unused bullets. That action and the sound it made always made me smile. After I gathered the ejected bullets, I patted the old girl on the stock and told her “Maybe next year, maybe next year”. With me and my other shadow now slung over my shoulder I made my way out of the woods to a cut cornfield where walking would be a bit easier. Once there I gazed up into the clear night sky at the first stars that had appeared. “Beautiful,” I said out loud and took in a few deep breaths of the cold, crisp air. Another one of my favorite parts of a day outside lay before me. A nice long walk under the stars back to my truck. I couldn’t be happier.