Mueller: A quiet start to deer season

WELCOME, Md.

When the hunt for North America’s most popular big game beckons, an alarm clock isn’t necessary. Deer season is under way, and long before southern Maryland’s roosters open their eyes, Bob Rice is wide awake, pulling up warm socks and adding well-worn hunt clothing. Aromatic coffee perks on the kitchen counter, sandwiches are made and a thermos bottle is filled with the scalding-hot liquid. It is only 4 a.m.

At the same time, a stone’s throw from the dark waters of the Port Tobacco River, veterinarian Peter Malnati munches on a homemade muffin as he slips on boots and warm clothes, then checks out a 12-gauge shotgun that will soon hold four or five rifled slugs.

At my house, a brief distance from the river, virtually the same routine is repeated. It has been this way for many years.

The one difference with me is that in decades of deer hunting, the food supply that will be carried high up into a deer stand is always crowned with a drumstick cut from our Thanksgiving Day turkey. What can I say? It’s tradition.

While my hunting partners, Rice and Malnati, enter their chosen woodland spots, I’ll walk through a dense stand of windblown, nearly bare, hardwoods and the always green, prickly-leaved holly trees that pose a challenge. However, even without a flashlight it can be accomplished with a minimum of stumbling, but now and then a curse is stifled when unseen, low-hanging beech branches slap me in the face.

I’ve never favored shining lights to find my way in a dark forest, because deer are far more nocturnal than we daylight-loving humans expect them to be. They don’t appreciate seeing things that are not part of their everyday natural world. Besides, with all the preseason scouting that our little group has done, locating a certain ladder that leads to a platform that has been wedged between several oak trees ought to be possible with closed eyes.

Malnati certainly will not encounter difficulties, because he’ll hunt from a pitched-roof tree house at the edge of an open field, but Rice’s trek into a dense pine thicket where he hunts requires patience and slow movements.

Once my deer stand is located and safely climbed, the still-unloaded shotgun pulled up with a rope, its sling pulled over a sturdy hook that has been embedded in the tree for a number of years, I will slowly lower myself into a cloth-covered foam rubber seat pad and more often than not also will instantly rise. Why can’t I ever think to check the seat with bare hands to see if it is wet? Heavy rains, after all, have been steady visitors in the past two weeks.

Just as sure as the sun rises in the east, as soon as I finally settle down there will be a faint rustling in the leaves below. The noise might be made by a deer or a raccoon, but it happens every year. I know that it can’t be a squirrel looking for acorns because it’s too early and too dark for a little creature that prefers daylight.

Eventually, the skies slowly begin to brighten. Without fail there will be the thunderous report from a 12-gauge going off in the distance. It could be one of the guys across the river at Chapel Point State Park’s public hunting area. Some folks don’t mind starting their deer hunting even when identifying the target clearly remains a challenge. A case in point is the recent shooting of two people by a Virginia deer hunter who obviously did not know precisely what he was aiming at.

Back in my tree stand, it is time to raise small binoculars and “glass” the woods all around.

Just as soon as there’s a deer hanging in the backyard, its body cooling out, and fresh venison begins to appear in the family freezer, I expect to file a report on what happened.

So far, things have been quiet. But that will change. It usually does.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Mueller’s weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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