( ORCC )
Gasping for air, he paused on the steep, rock strewn mountainside. The climb had been a long and slow one. He had been here before, on a cold Fall day, several years ago. Deer sign had been everywhere. The memory of the mountaintop had stuck in his mind, surfacing from time to time, in a haunting kind of way. He remembered how the South side of the mountain, just below the summit was different somehow. The “old timers”, he had learned, called these special places “rich woods”. Protected from Winter’s blast and facing Southerly at just the right angle, the rich woods survived winter’s onslaught in a better fashion. The North side of the mountain was a gradual slope upward to the summit and the cold North wind seemed to build velocity as it passed up and over the mountain.
Although the timber on the north side was large, it seemed to have grown much slower and was more gnarly looking.
Feeling the wind on the back of his neck, he had to remind himself, “It’s just the eddying air currents on the lee of the mountain”. “My scent will not travel all the way to the top”.
Long streaks of fog flowed up through the ravines on both sides of the “finger” of the mountain he was climbing. Above he could see that the top of the mouintain was covered in a heavy shroud of fog.
As he climbed higher it kept getting a little darker the higher that he got. Moisture was condensing on everything. Sounds of his climbing were muffled by the heavy moisture laden air that began to swirl around him.
Strangely, it was warmer up higher in the fog. Pausing to catch his breath he had to shed a layer of clothing. Laying his old Winchester lever action carefully down, he pulled off a long sleve shirt and put it in his day pack. He noted that his sandwich was starting to look somewhat “compressed” and checked his water bottle to be sure the cap was on tight.
Shortly he was entering the rich woods. Trees just a few feet away were erie shadows. The North wind could be herd above as a gentle rushing sound. It was as though the fog was causing the mountain to “sigh”.
Sitting at the base of a giant white oak tree he laid his old 30-30 in his lap, thinking, ” I will have to put that shirt back on as I cool down”.
Soon the subtle sounds of the forest began to filter through the fog that swirled around him. The wildlife were actively feeding ahead of the cold front that was approaching from the North.
The constantly shifting fog made the shadows of the trees seem to actually move before his watchful gaze. The only way he could think of to describe what he was seeing was, “Surreal”.
Then he herd it, a low grunt that deer make to communicate with each other. They were close, very close. A couple of yearlings followed by an older doe fed their way past, then two other deer came by at a brisk walk. One was a smaller six point buck that was looking over his shoulder behind him.
Breathing quicker now, he cautioned himself, wait, wait, they can’t hear your heart pounding. Can they ?
Then he appeared, slowly, looking cautiously.
He was a heavy beamed eight point buck with a large neck that was swolen from rutting activity. Walking with the seemingly stiff legged manner of a large white tail buck in full rut.
Closer the buck came as the Winchester came to bear on the target.
When the report of the shot happened, the surreal beauty of the moment was ended, and the work had began. Dressing out the carcass and the long drag off of the mountain with frequent stops for rest took well over an hour.
Near the end of his long haul back to the pickup truck he herd his hunting buddy coming up the mountain to help. “Hey that you ?”, ” I herd ya’ shoot !”
“Yeh, you’re gona’ like this’un !”
“Wow ! You going to have him mounted ?”
” Nah, I’ll likely euro mount it myself”.
“I guess there is no reason to go back up the mountain tomorrow !” His buddy had said.
Grinning inwardly, he didn’t say anything about the much larger buck that had whirled away and dissappeared into the fog at the sound of the shot.
Thinking to himself, “I’d climb up there just to sit and watch even if there were no deer ever there !”