Even when all's right, game may remain afoot Long wait brings a deer to behold


December 08, 1992|By PETER BAKER

The hardwood and loblolly along Piney Branch in Caroline County were losing limbs and tops in the high winds late Saturday afternoon, and it seemed prudent to settle down where the oaks were thick in the trunk and the pines were low in stature.

That there were game trails leading through the forest to the edge of a field sprouting new growth was an advantage. But, inside the wind-swept wood, few animals were moving.

Here and there, squirrels rummaged, a rabbit or two ran for cover, small birds moved among the tangles of greenbrier.

In all, judging from the cars parked along Eveland Road and the sign-in sheet at the maintenance yard in Tuckahoe State Park, there may have been a dozen deer hunters spread through 1,000 acres.

The wind would have had the deer close to their beds or at least in the sheltered areas of the wood, where their senses would be required to respond only to the changes in their immediate surroundings.

But it was our expectation that, almost like clockwork, an hour or so before sundown, the deer would start to make their way

toward the edges along the field.

A band of small pines fronted the field, with the game trails leading in from the northwest and out of a mixture of hardwoods and conifers. We set up within the wood, with a good field of vision across perhaps 40 yards and five trails and with the heavy wind in our faces.

Just beyond a low rise to the northwest, a stand of low, thick pines seemed a potential bedding area. The trails leading from it toward the field were regularly used, judging from tracks and recently broken small branches and nibbled ends.

The question was not whether deer would work down the trails to the field, but when.

By most estimates, deer usually are compelled to feed at dusk and in the first couple of hours of darkness before returning to their beds to regurgitate their rough food and chew their cud. They will feed again later at night, perhaps several times, and then be on the forest edges again to feed at dawn.

About 5 p.m., with some 15 minutes left to the end of shooting time, a deer edged out of the pines and began moving tentatively toward the distant field.

As the deer moved closer, it became apparent that it was less than a year old, dropped as a fawn in late March or early April, and we waited perhaps five minutes to see if the youngster would be followed out by its siblings or dam.

When only the fawn carried on, we stood and waved, and it was quickly gone.

Judging what effect strong winds or hunting pressure might have on the movements of the deer is a guessing game. And we had set up right, downwind from a bedding area, along well-used access routes to feed, and at the right time of day.

In our case the guess was right, but the target was wrong.

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