November 17, 2009

First day in the woods...Morning Hunt

October 31, 2009

Halloween. I LOVE Halloween. I love it almost as much as Christmas. I think it's the decorations and the chocolate. It's the one day of the year when you have permission to be someone else. It's the day that we have permission to try on a new persona. I can't think of a better day to start hunting.

It's also a time to be scared. Or in my case SCARED!

4:00 am I awake to the smell of bacon. You'd think this would make me happy as I am a true fan of the other white meat, you'd be mistaken. It's 4 in the blessed morning. I decide I truly have lost my mind. I'm wondering if it would be bad form to forgo the morning hunt. I decide that it would probably not look great and force myself out of my warm, comfortable bed. Why, oh why is your bed most comfortable as you are swinging your legs out of it???? It's truly one of the crueler jokes the universe plays on us.

After a breakfast of biscuits, eggs and bacon we start gathering on the front porch. I feel like an impostor. The other ladies confidently gather their gear and joke with the guides. They discuss angles and where the deer are going to be coming in. They gather their climbing stands. I'm trying to figure out which is the front of my damned safety harness. It isn't pretty. I hope that my fear didn't show. The NHB's had the grace to overlook it if it did.

The Nomadic Hunting Babes (NHBs) are what this group of ladies call themselves. They've been hunting together for about 6 years. They are an amorphous group with different ladies coming to hunts according to their schedules. Tes is the one that calls them for the gathering. She'd probably disagree with my evaluation, but she's a beacon. I feel like I've been drawn here by her and this group. I've heard Billie speak of Tes and the NHBs so often that they'd almost become mythical creatures. I will find over this trip that they are amazing women. Funny, smart, self deprecating and serious hunters from all over. There are members that I've yet to meet and if they are half a wonderful as the five I have met I can't wait!

David Trotter, or Trotter as he prefers to be called tells me "you're with me." Linda, Billie and I load up in his Tahoe and head out. It's still dark. I'm thinking I should be in bed.

We make our way to the stands. We pass through a clear cut, the slick red Alabama clay wet in the rain. The sky is "spitting" as a friend of mine would call the uneven drizzle. I mentally note that I have a slicker suit in my backpack. It smells like the cheap PVC that it's made of. It was a last minute, afterthought purchase.

Lesson One: If this hunting thing is something I decide to take up, I'm probably going to need something waterproof to wear that didn't cost $4.99.

Billie and Linda are the first to be dropped off. Trotter gives Billie directions to her stand and last minute advise about where the deer have been moving. She quietly shuts the door and disappears into the dark woods. We repeat the same routine with Linda 5 minutes down the road. My stomach is doing flip flops. I'm beginning to regret breakfast. It's uncertain whether it's going to stay down.

Trotter and I continue down the road. He takes a right and we start down a slick, hilly trail. Once I'm certain that we are going to get stuck in the mud. Trotter simply backs up, guns it and we slide up the hill. My stomach is on spin cycle at this point. If Trotter notices, he doesn't mention it bless him.

We come to a stop. I wait for directions, but notice that he says "we're going to go down here about 25 yards and take a right"

We? He said we. He's going with me.

I don't know whether to shout for joy or cry because there will be witness to my humiliation. I'm thinking about the 12 foot stand that awaits me at the end of this trail. Do I REALLY want to go up it? If he's there I have to. If he doesn't walk me in, chances of me finding it at all are slim and then I can postpone getting airborne a little while longer. Fear is pretty much all I'm feeling at this point.

We start walking. The narrow road cuts through a pine thicket. I can't see over the next hill and am terrified that I'm about to bust my ass and slide down the one that we're trekking down. The rain has finally stopped, but the result is that everything is wet and slick. I'm clumsy on a good day. Loading myself down with a backpack and a bow, encasing myself in layers of camo and hunting boots hasn't changed that. Frankly, it's made it worse. I try to keep a smile on my face. Does it look like I'm about to cry? I hope not.

We arrive at the stand. It looks about 40 feet in the air. A metal behemoth taunting me from the trees. Trotter makes his way to the stand and I gamely follow him. He tells me where I can expect the deer to come from. I don't really hear him. All I can hear is my heart pounding in my ears. I'm concentrating on not throwing up and not crying.

Trotter takes my bow and ties it to the haul rope. I stand in front of the stand. One foot at a time. One rung at a time. This will become a mantra for me over the next few days.

I find myself hugging a tree and securing my safety harness. I haven't looked down. It will be the breaking point. If I do, I'll never stay up. Harness secure I take a deep breath and duck under it and sit. I open my eyes and see the tops of the pine trees in the thicket we've come through. I'm situated in the middle of a group of hardwoods at the edge of the thicket. I can hear a creek gurgling behind me. Beyond the far edge of the thicket I can see the hardwood forest begin. The golden and rust colored leaves are beautiful. Fall colors as far as I can see. Gods palette is awe inspiring.

I remember that Trotter is still waiting on me below. I look down and he's patiently looking up at me.

"You ok?" he asks concerned.

"I'm good" I reply and it's not a lie. I'm up a tree. And it's pretty fantastic.

He comes up and helps me get my gear situated. I'd probably still be figuring out what to do with my backpack. I've never been so grateful for someone's help. Trotter leaves me and I attempt to get situated.

Mishaps and lessons learned:

I drop the hook I'd brought to hang my backpack from. I remember that I forgot to pee before we left. I remember that I forgot to take my zyrtec, so now I'm worried that I'll start sneezing. I remember that I didn't bring toilet paper with me if I DO need to pee and furthermore I forgot to ask how far away from my stand do I need to go if I need to go. I remember to put an arrow in my bow about an hour into hunting.

The learning curve is starting to look more like a summit climb.

I don't see anything except squirrels. I will hear rustling on the other side of the creek at various times but nothing comes my way. I'm sure that I made enormous amounts of noise. I'm sure that I moved around entirely too much. I'm sure that I made pretty much every mistake a new hunter can make. It didn't matter. I had a squirrel on a limb by me going about his business at one point. I watched the forest awake. It was amazing.

About 20 minutes before the pickup time I gather everything up and make my way to the pickup spot. I want to get out of the stand and get there on my own. It's a matter of pride. I'm not a helpless girl after all. I've been in a tree stand. I'm a hunter. I'm waiting when Trotter and the ladies come around the curve. I casually get in the truck. I'm trying to be cool, but inside I'm shouting for joy.

I just hunted. I conquered my fear of heights. Ok, maybe not conquered it but I circumvented it!

I am awesome! And I can't wait until the afternoon hunt.

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