The day before Thanksgiving I was in Alabama, hunting, my new favorite reason to go visit the in-laws. It was dark-thirty in the morning, and I had made the short walk by flashlight to the tree stand where I was going to sit, where I’d seen deer the year before, where I hoped to see a buck this year.
Upon climbing up the wooden ladder into the small tree stand, I learned there wasn’t a chair in it to sit on. The stand is a small tree-house kind of thing, about 4 feet square and 5 feet tall, with open space on all sides, and canvas sides below the open space.
So since I couldn’t kneel for hours, and wasn’t about to walk back out, drive back to get a folding metal (not terribly comfortable anyway) chair, then come back and climb up again… I decided to sit in the front opening of the stand, legs dangling over the ladder. This means I could see the field in front of me, but nothing to either side.
After a long while in a tree stand, listening to hoot owls, birds unique to the area, rustles of leaves, wind blowing through tree boughs above and wondering how long it’ll be till the deer start moving, you start to imagine you’re hearing things. People talking quietly. Things moving just enough that you think they might be there, but not enough to be sure. Deer, just out of sight.
In the woods, when there’s nobody around, and it sounds like a person walking, it’s probably a deer. And after listening to it get louder for a minute or so, I decided I wasn’t imagining it. Something was walking toward the tree I sat in, from behind my back. My hands tensed around the stock and barrel of the rifle sitting across my lap. I started to try and breathe quietly, and concentrated on not twitching in the least.
I wanted the deer to walk out in front of me. To eagerly trot, gigantic rack in full display, to the field of lush green grass laid out before us both. A few minutes into his breakfast I’d get a ringing in my ears, he’d get a hole in his chest, and I’d have gotten my first buck.
Instead, the footsteps stopped next to me. It sounded exactly like a person, walking through the woods, folding a map. And then the bush next to me, a good 10 feet tall and still below my dangling feet, started shaking. Not like the wind, but as if someone were trying to knock something out of it.
I leaned forward and peeked. Couldn’t see anything. Thought I might wet my pants. A BUCK was shaking this bush. Does don’t shake bushes. Nobody’s out walking here in the early light.
The footsteps walked away from the bush, toward my backside again, but not by more than 6 feet. I could have turned around, but surely I’d have made too much noise. My clunky, only-wear-them-once-a-year hunting boots that aren’t broken in would *thunk* on the wooden floor as I contorted my overweight frame to the side to kneel, then stand to see out the side of the stand. My knees would crack. The buck would bolt. No, I’d sit still and wait.
The wind had moved my tree (stand, and me) front to back earlier in the morning, and I’d gotten used to the subtle sway of it. Now, without any wind, it SHOOK. Holy crap, whatever was down there, that I strained forward to see and could not… was rattling my tree. Not a little, skinny on top tree — it was a good foot in diameter some 20 feet up. And being shaken.
It became apparent that I very well MIGHT wet my pants. I wasn’t convinced I had complete control of the matter. My heart was pounding, and I bit my tongue to keep from panting or jumping out of the tree entirely.
“DON’T MOVE. Maybe it doesn’t know I’m here yet. If I wait till it steps away, I can get up and aim.”
By the time its footsteps had receded to the point that I felt safe to try and turn around, it was gone from sight. Then from earshot.
I have been TEASED. Called out, pointed at, challenged, and ridiculed. Of course, I’m pretty sure the animal teasing me had no idea I was in the tree, and I’m glad it doesn’t know I almost peed myself instead of getting to my feet and firing at it.
My cousin Josh gave it the name Treeshaker, mocking me in a way that got me over my own embarrassment enough to laugh at it. I’ll probably get teased about it for years. That’s okay.
Next year, deer. See if you can get away with that twice.