Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chasing Ghosts

I have been chasing a ghost for awhile now.  Well, let me clarify a little.  I have not actually been chasing a ghost, more like a deer that just will not show when I need him to.  And by awhile, I mean since the second weekend in September.  A pursuit this long usually ends with one party or the other finally making a mistake or giving up.
When the rut kicks in, the old wise alpha bucks tend to lose their sense of survival.  So after a little over two months of sitting in the stand, a hunter knows the mistake may finally happen.  I missed a weekend of hunting, and I was anxious to get back in the tree to see if my ghost, my opponent so to speak, would finally let down his defense and give me the opportunity I have been waiting for.
My ghost, he has not been invisible to me.  In fact, we have grown to know each other well over the last couple of months.  I patterned him early in the season.  My first day hunting had me realize he had outsmarted me.  I knew he would go through one area, only to have a gut instinct that something had changed.  Sure enough, I moved my stand that evening and the next day I spotted him.  I found out he would hit the area early.  Real early.  3:30am early.  He would stay until daylight.  But for me to get in the stand and have a shot at him in daylight, I would have to beat him to the area.  This meant I had to be there before 3:30am.
So, the chess game stepped up a notch.  I moved my pawn, he countered with a knight.  I attacked with my rook; he placed his bishop in a defensive position for protection.  In other words, I would get in the stand at 3am, and he would come in at 4:00am.  Only he would leave about 30 minutes before shooting time.
The full moon tested my patience.  His entries into the field gradually became later and I followed his lead and would get an extra 30 minutes of sleep.  But oh that full moon.  One morning I must have been in the stand for over an hour without even hearing an owl hoot.  The darkness can cause you to see things that aren’t there, and make you miss things that are.  It was approaching 5am and the clouds would occasionally open up just enough to make shadows move.  I knew nothing was below me, but I could see the light colored dirt in the field for 60 or 70 yards.  I would catch a shadow move in my peripheral vision and slowly turn my head and widen my eyes to gather all the light I could.  Then I would figure out the shadow I saw move was the same shadow that had been there for the last hour.
The full moon then blew through the cloud canopy.  Having grown accustomed to the low light, it seemed as though I was looking at the field in the middle of the day.  I spotted a large off-white object way out in the field, maybe 150 to 200 yards.  I wondered if it may be my ghost, but figured it had to be just some brush reflecting the moon beams.  I looked behind me and the tree I was in to see a raccoon waddling about 15 yards from me.  At first I could not make out whether it was a raccoon or an opossum, but as he neared I could make out the bands on his tail and his burglar’s mask over his eyes.  I watched in amusement and curiosity as he neared the corn pile, walking circles around it for about 30 seconds before leaving.
I remembered the brush and looked back in that direction…only to see it in a different location.  I was able to watch it walk across the field toward me.  I knew immediately this was my ghost.
Part of me grew excited for getting the chance to confront this adversary once again.  The other part of me knew it was much too early for this game to play out to my advantage, as he did not look like he was in the mood to visit for any amount of time.
He approached the feed pile.  I gazed at him trying to see if I could make out individual tines on his massive crown of bone.  I could not.  What I could make out though was whatever he was wearing was wide and tall.  It nearly glistened in the moonlight.  And his body…my, what a body.  It was huge.  I had seen several does from this stand over the hunting season, and this bruiser was definitely not one of those.  As I figured, he had no intention of hanging around.  In fact, he never lowered his head to the bait.  He just stood there, looking at the horizon (in my direction, although I was nearly 25 feet high).  He then turned and walked toward my left, then behind me, and finally to my right.  In other words, he came straight to me, circled my stand, and exited the field on the other side.
He won.  The pursuit would continue.
So this weekend I had another chance to go after him after a brief reprieve.  The stand was almost like a sabbatical from the daily grind of real life.  The cool wind offered freshness that my lungs and mind gripped wholeheartedly.  Then I heard a loud crash behind me.
I came home from the hunt, unlocked the door, and walked up to my wife.  “How’d it go?” asked Susan.
I paused, wanting the right words to come out.  I took a deep breath.  “Well, he came out.  I watched him for 30 minutes.   No further than 10 yards away.”  I could see Susan’s eyes widening.  “I waited for the shot to present itself, as he was behind a limb.  Finally, he stepped that one extra step I needed.  I slowly gripped the bow and hooked my release to the string.  I flexed my fingers on my bow hand, conscious of the fact a white knuckle grip would cause me to miss the shot.  I slowly drew the string.  The 70 pound pull was non-existent with the adrenaline flowing.  I held it back for what seemed an eternity, although it was roughly 30 to 45 seconds.  Then I let off the draw.  I eased it down.  I couldn’t take the shot.”
My daughter who was listening in held her mouth agape with the revelation of what I had just said.  My wife asked “Why?  Why didn’t you shoot?!?”
“Because, I was worried if I had shot that squirrel, the deer I was after would never come out.”
So, as for me and my ghost, we will continue to taunt each other during the season until one of us makes a mistake or gives up.


  1. Great article...and I feel your pain. My deer have changed pattern significantly over the past two weeks. I have been seeing deer, just no good size bucks. Granted I haven't spent a ton of time in the woods either. However, last night the squirrels were out in force. It sounded like a herd of bears breaking through the undergrowth.

  2. You had me going and I should have known. Great writing there, Bill. I sure hope you are able to bag your ghost because I would love to read that story, too!

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