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The Hunt

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

or so and wait to see what happens. Maybe we would see other wildlife. I had told Jennifer to bring a book along to read if action was slow, so she reaches into her day bag and pulls out a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. We wait.

Fifteen minutes pass. Nothing shows-not a squirrel, not even a titmouse or chickadee. Enough of a wait for a young hunter. I lean over to Jennifer and whisper, "Let's move."

We gather gear, but before leaving the woods, I motion to Jennifer to wait while I sneak to the edge of the field to see if any turkeys have come in from behind us. None have. We quickly walk to and set up at calling site number two-a wooded ridge about 300 yards from where we have just been. Flanked by two fields, the ridge intersects a 60-acre patch of cut-over timber on the south side. We don camo gloves and face nets and check the shotgun's safety. To our right, I detect the rustle of rapidly approaching footsteps, not turkey-deer. A mature doe bounds by in front of us at 30 steps, tail held high.

"Cool!" Jennifer exclaims.

"Don't move!" I whisper. "Others are coming!"

More rustling follows, and a mature doe and two yearlings trot into view. Stopping 25 yards from us, they turn heads and check their backtrail. Something has spooked them. The mature doe turns and looks directly at us.

"Don't move!" I warn again. "The wind is blowing from them to us, and they can't smell us. If we sit stone still they won't know what we are." The doe stares hard at us then bobs her head once, then twice.

"What's she doing that for?" Jennifer whispers.

"She's trying to figure us out. Keep still, we'll fool her."

Crunching leaves to our left catch my attention. Over a small rise, the doe that had first run through comes sneaking back. She sees the other doe and two yearlings and trots over to them. A round of tail flicking follows.

"Why are they doing that?" Jennifer asks.

"I'm not sure, but I think it's an everything-is-OK signal. Watch."

One of the yearlings relaxes and begins nibbling acorns, moving slowly our way.

"Don't move, Jennifer!"

The young deer continues feeding our way, nibbling here, nuzzling there. Overhead it spots a leaf suspended by a strand of spider silk and playfully twirls it several times with its nose.

At 12 steps the deer finally spots us and stops, bug-eyed, ears erect and muscles tense. Instinctively, it raises its right front leg, then stamps.

"What's it doing that for, Dad?"

Jennifer whispers, "Is it mad?"

"No. Just watch-and don't move."

Having had all it can stand, the yearling throws its tail in the air and bolts toward the other deer, which also spook. With white tails high and waving, all bound out of sight.

We peel face masks. For a moment Jennifer stares in silence where the deer had stood, then she turns to me, eyes full of excitement and exclaims, "Dad, that was one of the neatest things I've ever seen! Those deer were right there and didn't even know we were here. The little one that came so close, I could see its big, brown eyes-even its eyelashes. It was beautiful!"

We collect gear and move to the lower part of the ridge, talking of deer and deer sign. We find tracks, rubs, scrapes, beds and deer droppings-lots of deer droppings. I kneel by one of the beds we find and touch the flattened leaves. Jennifer does the same. The leaves are cool but still tight to the ground

"Dad," Jennifer asks. "All the deer droppings we've been seeing-why do they come out in little pellets when deer are big like us?"

I smile and nudge her shoulder. "I don't know. But you've been mulling it over, haven't you!" We both laugh.

We hunt for another hour or so and find no turkeys. Though Jennifer wants to stay longer, I think it time to head back-best to save some enthusiasm for next time.

As we crest the last hill on our way to the truck, my mind is drawn again to the near century-old photograph of great- and great-great grandfather after their successful quail hunt. Jennifer and I today shared the same love of the outdoors, time together and friendship.

For that, I give quiet thanks

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