Bill Marchel: The view from up here: Memories from the deer stand go beyond deer
I’ve spent more than a few hours poised statue-like in a tree stand waiting for deer to pass and, like most deer hunters, that idle time has afforded me some unforgettable views into the natural world.
A deer hunter’s elevated stand offers a unique opportunity to appreciate nature.
I thought about this last week while perched in an ash tree 17 or so feet above the ground. It was late afternoon, the air cool and dry, and a light northwest wind commanded just enough muscle to shudder the colorful fall foliage.
My deer hunting affairs had begun more than four decades ago. Thus, I’ve spent more than a few hours poised statue-like in a tree stand waiting for deer to pass and, like most deer hunters, that idle time has afforded me some unforgettable views into the natural world. To me, the white-tailed deer is the greatest animal on earth, but last week, as I watched from my lofty perch, I remembered numerous events that, although didn’t involve shooting a deer, will still remain with me forever.
I’ll never forget one particular early season bowhunt. I watched as the sun set over a pond — the afterglow a radiant yellow-orange — when a great horned owl flew from the depths of the forest and landed atop a dead tree. Moments later several bats appeared. The winged mammals flew randomly about during their insect gathering forays, and the owl followed their every move, its head swiveling back and forth signaling its intent.
“No way,” I thought. “A large, cumbersome great horned owl would not have a chance of capturing a radar-equipped bat on the wing.”
Suddenly the owl sprang from its perch. The big bird-of-prey flew directly upward toward its intended target — a bat winging several yards above its head. I watched in amazement as the predator/prey confrontation unfolded, silhouetted against the brilliant orange sky. Upon reaching its intended victim the owl swung its large feet upward and, with needle sharp talons, snatched from below the clueless bat.
The owl returned to its original perch where it downed the bat in one gulp.
Another memorable natural moment occurred on the opposite end of the bowhunting calendar during a late December hunt.
On that grey day I was situated high in a big bur oak that offered a commanding view of a large lowland sedge meadow surrounded by alder and willow thickets. Shortly before sunset a doe and her two fawns appeared about 200 yards away, dark brown bodies against a backdrop of white. The deer were content, and I watched them through my binoculars as they began browsing on dried goldenrod leaves that clung stubbornly to their stalks.
Suddenly, the doe became alert. She laid back her ears and walked in a cautious manner toward a willow thicket. Then, without warning the doe rushed forward flailing with her front hoofs, but the focus of her attention was out of my sight in the tall grass and willows.
Now my attention returned to the doe. I could see her occasionally as she flashed between clumps of willows, but whatever it was that was worrying her remained a mystery.
Then a bobcat bounced in the open with the doe in pursuit. Around and around they went, neither animal seemed particularly frightened of the other. To the casual observer the event might have appeared to be a game. But, when the doe closed on the retreating bobcat she would strike with her front hooves and the bobcat always stayed out of the doe’s reach.
Sometimes a relatively common occurrence is enough to make a deer hunters’ day. How many times have we tipped our chins skyward when we hear geese or swans overhead, their anxious cries seeming to announce to the world below its time to migrate in preparation for the coming cold. We know we should remain still — a buck could be nearby — but the urge to spot the high-flying waterfowl is too great, so we shift our focus to the sky.
And will we ever tire of watching a ruffed grouse noisily flutter among aspen branches as it gathers its supper? Or what about the weasel that on a frosty morning entertained us as it hunted among the snow-covered branches of a windfall, its amazing snow-white cryptic coloration compromised only by its dark eyes and black tipped tail.
While bowhunting from a ground blind a few years ago, a curious weasel sat on one of my boots. When I shifted my foot the startled little predator jumped into my open backpack. I don’t recall if I saw any deer that evening.
What deer hunter has not been thrilled at the sight of a fox, a coyote or a passing timber wolf, which, like us, were seeking prey, maybe the very deer we were hunting?
And that’s the view from up here.
BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.