Outdoor Adventure: Hunting against the odds
Seeking success in a November snow storm
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
I woke in darkness to the sound of the wind. The wind-sound was muffled as if under a blanket or distant as the howl of wolves over the horizon.
We’d heard wolves on Saturday, close to the shack. How close? Quarter mile? Close. Their mournful howls rose in the darkness of early night and we stood on the small porch and listened to them. When they stopped the night seemed darker and when we went inside to the heat of the wood stove I felt a chill that was from more than the November air.
Now, Wednesday, the wolf-wind moaned in the treetops and the morning was dark as a vault. Inside, the soft ruby glow of wood stove; nothing else. I lay still.
After a few minutes I stood and fumbled in the dark for a box of matches; reached above, turned valve on gas lights, held flame to mantle. The flame caught, the lamp came to life.
I opened the door; outside, snow, fresh and deep, covered the world. It was coming down heavy, angled by the wind.
Over the propane stove I boiled water and made coffee, hot and strong. I sat under the yellow glow of gas lights, drank coffee and thought things out.
“I went because I love to sit in big weather, feel the chill of the restless wind, see the land under the blur of heavy snow.”
The storm had been predicted for days. It had grown large and burly over the wide open western plains and come east to northern woods. The forecast held that it would snow all morning and the wind would blow hard until night fell. It was the fifth day of deer season in late November under weather more fitting for October, a boring run of mild days and temperate nights. Hunting had been pleasant in terms of sitting. It had been sub-par in terms of seeing deer. Now, storm.
We’d seen deer, no mistake about that. But only two smallish bucks mixed with does and fawns. We’d hoped for more.
Reports were of slim success across the north. The two of us had done nothing to change that narrative.
Now, on the morning of the fifth day, I was alone and the storm had come and every deer in northern Wisconsin would be hunkered down in deep cover waiting it out. There would be no sense in going out into the wind and the snow; deer do not move in storm, everyone knows that.
I went anyway.
I did not go in spite of the wind and the snow; I went because of it. I went because I love to sit in big weather, feel the chill of the restless wind, see the land under the blur of heavy snow. I like the wildness of storm; I love the mystery of a world where the borders are shrouded in snow and what is familiar becomes mysterious as snow falls like a curtain, lifts briefly, falls again.
Once the white-gray haze of the storm thinned enough that I could see more than a hundred yards, I left the shack. I stopped at my truck, opened the door, grabbed a tape measure and measured the depth of the snow on the hood; nine plus inches and more coming down. I walked into the weather.
I cut track five minutes out, two deer, both big, moving north; fresh track. I thought, “This is interesting.” I looked north but all was lost in falling snow. I moved on.
One hundred yards later I crossed the tracks again. They were moving toward my stand and I followed them out of curiosity. Why were they moving? To where? It was odd, a pair of deer that had not read the book that says that no deer move in the storm.
In the deep snow I could walk without sound; the wind was in my face. I was puzzled and I was curious and I was lackadaisical in my approach.
The buck and I nearly ran into each other. He was coming back on his track, hidden by snow covered pine. He rounded a pine thicket from the south as I did from the north. We met face-to-face, thirty feet apart!
I have the image in my mind as a photograph: white world, rich brown of deer, cream colored rack; eight points. He looked at me in shock then turned in an instant and was gone into the whiteness.
And all I could do was laugh. All I could do was stand with rifle in hand and snow in my eyes and laugh out loud at my good fortune.
That morning, I saw three does and fawns. And the wind blew and the snow fell and I sat in the November storm and took it all in. I was content.
I had seen deer from that stand this season. But more. I’d seen a coyote in early morning light, stunning in its beauty. I’d seen pileated woodpeckers, a pair, their red crowns vivid against the snow. I’d seen chickadees and ravens. And on a quiet morning I’d seen four deer burst from cover running in panic; a minute later a wolf, moving in the thickness like a drift of smoke and ash, pausing for an instant, then gone.
No complaints. I sat with unused tags. I felt no remorse.
Mid morning I walked back to the shack, made bacon and eggs and took a nap. In the afternoon the snow had let up but the wind still blew. A friend texted me, scoffed at the notion I was going back out; deer don’t move in that weather.
I am not sure if it was the same buck. I don’t think so. The morning buck was bigger, the rack whiter. This one came out of gathering shadows and I killed him under the sound of the wind that carried the echoes of the shot into the November clouds.
I dragged him out as the gray light of dusk gave it up to dark of night and the wind sounded a dirge.
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