Tree Stand Life
Bear hunting isn’t going well. Remember when I had so many bears coming to the barrel? Except for one bear, they are gone. Blackberries are abundant but starting to dwindle as they ripen and fall off, are picked by people, and eaten by the bears and other animals. There were substantially more mushrooms than usual after decent rain in September. If hyperphagia has started the bears aren’t coming to our bait barrels to gorge on food. Chubby shows up off and on now, often walking past the barrel on his way to somewhere else. I’m living a tree stand life these days and loving it most of the time. This leaves me with a lot of time to think, plan, and observe the natural world around me.
I was able to watch Eastern Wild turkeys the first two days of tree stand life but after being “busted” on day two, they haven’t been back. Turkeys have excellent vision and the biggest tom spotted me in no time. One alarm call and they were off, not to be seen again so far.
Whitetail Does and Fawn
When the wind isn’t blowing I can hear what’s going on for miles around me. Early in the season I listened to two deer walking slowly up the gravel road behind me. Ten minutes later I heard cracking in the woods and feet scuffling in the dry leaves this time inside the tree line. The deer slowed its pace as it approached stand. It came out of the dense woods into a clearing that’s filling in with wild hazelnuts. Deer stomp when they’re alarmed or angry. It stood 20 feet from my stand and stomped non-stop for two or three minutes, and then blew so hard I was startled. I laughed to myself. It’s like knowing the toaster is going to pop up and jumping when it does.
A big doe, so big that if she were a buck people would say “nice buck,” blew 103 times in the first 15 or 20 minutes. She startled me twice because I thought she was done. Listening closely, I could follow her movements without seeing it. Eventually I knew she was far enough away that I could slowly turn my head to the left and strain my eyes in her direction. After bursts of 17 to 20 blows at a time, she gave up on finding what (me) she knew was there but couldn’t see. She “got” me on Monday when I was looking for a bear at the barrel instead of paying attention to all that was around me. A sudden noise made me think a bear huffed at me, and it took a second to realize it was her blowing as she ran away.
Two days later, while sitting behind the ground blind, cracking in the woods to my right caught my attention. A doe and yearling browsed 100 feet away on grass and raspberry leaves. I could see parts of them but never their entire bodies at once. This time, the deer didn’t know anything was “off.” It was easy to watch them, and good to know I could sit so still they didn’t know I existed.
Barred owls start hooting each afternoon at 4:30, give or take a few minutes. I can almost tell the time based on the owls. Steve can do the same from his stand. One or two barred owls start hooting there at 6 pm. Some days it’s only one, other days there are two. And one day, a great horned owl started to hoot leisurely at first, then frantically for quite a while. I wanted to know why but of course, sitting on the side of a tree no where near the owl, I’ll never know.
Mobbed by Birds
Chickadees mobbed me many times. Dozens of chickadees surround an offender, flying between trees and hopping among branches until their curiosity is satisfied or they’re convinced the threat is over. The mob got me in the first week of the season. It started with noisy blue jays and grew to chickadees and other small songbirds I couldn’t see without turning my head. Were bears close enough to hear the ruckus? mmmm…I don’t know. After a while I moved enough to use my phone and record the racket.
Skunks & Squirrels
The Three Skunkseteers keep me amused part of most days. Each skunk is different. Three sizes, three stripe patterns, three personalities, three feeding patterns. The largest skunk balls up something with its front paws and then scrambles backward, rolling whatever it is it has across the forest floor. I can’t tell what it has even after inspecting the ground where this happens.
Red squirrels are a big part of tree stand life whether you’re hunting bear, deer or something else. I’ve watched chase scenes that would make Hollywood envious, fights that make bar room brawls look like child’s play, and a little sex, too.
Bears do show up while I’m living the tree stand life. They’re imaginary. As the sun drops and moves to the west the shadows change. I strain to see the large black spot behind the barrel, the black space that appears for a few minutes as the sun is behind a large balsam tree. As the sun fades the black space grows. Movement? A bear? No, just the breeze blowing a hazelnut bush to the right of the barrel, along the trail Chubby uses when he shows up a7 9:30 pm and again after midnight. By the time I have to climb down and make my way through the woods to gravel road the imaginary bears are gone, too dark to exist.