- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2009

On the final day of the Maryland deer hunting season for users of modern guns, the sun came down slowly and blindingly bright. In the southern Maryland woodlands where I sat, it was cold enough for gloves, long johns and insulated outerwear, but not so cold that a body would be miserable.

I sat in my roofed tree house up in a massive oak tree and contemplated the things that matter in one’s life.

A doe had been shot earlier that week. My landowner-benefactor, veterinarian Peter Malnati, outshot and outbagged all the rest of us as concerns putting delectable venison into the home freezer. I believe his number, when a previous black powder hunt is counted, came to four whitetail deer.

Bob Rice and our family physician, Dr. Howard Haft, each shot young bucks.

As far as the deer hunting was concerned, all was right with the world because even more of the prolific animals could be converted into steaks, roasts and stew cubes.

As I peered down onto the floor of the forest I was flabbergasted to see at least 15 bluebirds all together in a group, sifting through the leaves, scratching for some kind of food. Later, a friend said the bluebirds might belong to a bunch that was preparing to move to a more southern climate. I don’t know enough about these pretty birds to disagree, but I do recall having helped them. Earlier this year, a bluebird couple apparently approved of the little house I put up for them on the corner of our deck’s railing. They raised a fine clutch of young.

Meanwhile, back in the forest, when the birds finally flew off it was the local gray squirrels’ turn to provide entertainment. It all began when one of them - unaware that I sat in the tree house - came through an opening and nearly touched my hat as it leapt to the opposite side. The little fellow nearly passed out when I waved to him. He took off like a rocket.

Smiling about it all, I thought about the previous day when a doe appeared not far away, a fine buck trailing closely behind her. He apparently had love on his mind, and she didn’t object. She probably was in estrus, a sure sign that she was willing to mate. Even more astonishing was the sight of four - count ‘em, four - well-antlered bucks that in an instant appeared out of nowhere. Those four Romeos also had designs on the lone female, but something alarmed the deer and they scrammed before decent aiming with a 12-gauge slug gun was possible.

“What a tramp that girl must have been to attract five suitors all at once,” Bob Rice said later on, tongue-in-cheek, smiling like the Cheshire cat when he heard what I’d witnessed. “What a hussy,” said Rice, laughing.

Oddly, the crowning minutes of my day while up a tree, so to speak, were the appearance of five wild turkeys. They came toward my hiding spot, quickly crossed an open field, slowing down only when they reached the hardwoods, where they scraped the leaves aside, looking for anything that might be edible. That can include acorns, half-frozen worms, beetles and other insects - even the shielded young growth of forest greenery that sometimes peeks through a dense layer of fallen leaves even in the cold months.

All five of Ben Franklin’s favorite bird were males - finely bearded gobblers that were safe this time of year because in Charles County one may shoot wild turkeys only during the spring season, and then it is only the toms that are at risk, not the hens.

In all, the gunning season was a success, and there are still black-powder muzzleloader days ahead.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Mueller’s blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.

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