My friend Bill and I go way back to our child-hood days when my family had a cottage several doors down from his on Round Lake in Northern Minnesota. Years later we still gather at his cabin for our annual ‘Round Lake Bow-Camp’. We share many memories growing up together and it is a blessing to still have camp-fires on the same beach, fish on the same waters, and bow hunt in the same woods we grew up enjoying.
“The Christmas Trail Buck”
The forest floor was covered in the seasons first snowfall. I stepped over fresh running tracks as I followed Ruby’s Road out to my morning sit in muted light of the pre-dawn timber. Bill had dropped me off at the trail-head in his old, open-top Willy’s Jeep, before he headed up the Swamp Road to the Hundred Acre Slough and his favorite stand. The snow was soft and quiet. I felt like a shadow. It was the last weekend of October and the first day of the 2017 Round Lake Bow Camp.
The opening hours proved uneventful despite abundant deer sign. I was set up in a natural ground blind just beyond a stand of Norway Pines near Sucker Creek.
After sitting for several hours I poured myself a steaming cup of coffee. I followed my normal routine and readied myself for a still hunt. Back on the trail I moved slow, paused often, watched, listened. I was headed toward The Christmas Trail which Bill and his brother Mike named to honor a perfect young Conifer they had discovered while blazing the new path. The young sapling has since grown into a teenager… if you count in tree years.
I stopped behind cover on the edge of Ruby’s Slough and spied a Doe and Yearling along the far tree-line. Their dark silhouette popped against the snow. If I had my Remington semi-auto the Doe would have made a nice two-hundred-yard shot. I waited till the pair moved well out of sight before moving. I took in the beauty of the moment and soaked in the late morning Sun before traversing an old Beaver Dam which connected to the opposite bank. After crossing the dam I settled up against a dead-fall and kept a watchful eye. I always love coffee and a sandwich in the woods, it gives me time to plan the next part of my hunt, give thanks to God for the blessings in my life and take in the solitude of bow-hunting.
A still small voice suggested I sit on the East side of Ruby’s Slough. I have taken many nice deer over the years listening to the Fathers guidance! I gathered up my gear, made my way to a little knoll between two grassy out-cropping’s and set up on a log with a gentle West wind across my face. A thick wall of brush hedged me in from the back and my forward sight revealed an open draw and hardwoods dotting a large gradual hill to my left. I leaned into my bow which was set up-right on the ground, closed my eyes, became like a tree, and waited.
It was a bright quiet day. The forest floor reflected a fluorescent glow. A couple dreamy hours passed when I noticed movement to my right. A deer emerged like a ghost from out of the swamp about sixty yards away. Relaxed in its posture, the animal turned and plodded up the small incline. At first glance I thought it was a Doe, but soon noticed it to be a young buck. Now the visitor was ten yards directly in front of me. Broadside. My heart pounded. In that moment I rehearsed my options. It was a fine offering for the freezer, but I continued to watch. I did not have Buck-Fever but a deep admiration and awe at God’s creation. As the young warrior came to my boot tracks he stopped, flinched, turned his head, and looked directly at me. I felt like he would see me breathe or catch my eyes blink behind my sunglasses, but we simply stared at each other.
The Fork-Horn’s whiskers sprouted from a young face that had not turned gray from winters of eluding prey, eyes that searched, his brownish black hair a masterful blend of woodland camo glistened in the Sun and ivory antlers stretched up over attentive ears. Time halted.
After several long seconds the forest-dweller dipped his head and grabbed a mouthful of leaves. He glanced my way again and decided I was not a threat. I decided too. I decided to be an observer. Many great quartering shots were available as he continued, but for the next five minutes I had a front row seat to the way of a Whitetail grazing in the forest.
The buck meandered, stepped on-to the Christmas Trail and followed. I watched him angle up and disappear over the hill, leaving only silence, his tracks, and a life-long memory behind.
‘Christmas Tree’ Photo Credit: Bill Berquist