First, for those who do not know it, Mudge and Mrs. Mudge are two of the very best people. Anywhere. They have settled on Virginia's Eastern Shore, and though I've known their estimable qualities for over 20 years, what drives it home for me is the manner in which the two of them have become intertwined with even the longest term residents of a part of the country that does not see a lot of strangers move in, at least not ones not associated with the agriculture industry. Folks from Onancock to Cape Charles know and love the Mudge's, and the affection is heartily returned.
I showed up a little early on Friday. I was supposed to show at 2PM, but got there around 1:15 to a sight that bore some explanation. As I knocked on the door, all I could see were the Mudge's splayed out on the floor in what appeared to be an amorous pursuit. As my knock was coincident with the shocking sight before me, I reasoned quickly that my early arrival had caught them in flagrante delicto, and began slowly to turn away. Mrs. Mudge got up and greeted me warmly, explaining that she and her mate had been using their bodies to press the remaining air out of an air mattress. Whew. I could have been scarred.
Mudge and I set out for the hunting ground. He has acquired a decent bit of land around him, and on one of the plots he has worked over the years to create a veritable playground for local deer--and hunters. Some really wide paths and a number of very comfortable (and safe) deerstands adorn the land, and after gearing up, we walked to my stand and I climbed up, loaded up, and began the wait for the inevitable hapless quadruped to meander past my stand to meet his buckshot hastened end. On this day (Friday), only bucks were allowed to be shot.
It was a cold afternoon, not frigid, but cold. I was less prepared than I should have been--only one pair of socks, not enough layers, and no gloves. But it was only a few hours until sundown, and so by the time Mudge came whooping toward me (a way of making sure he was not shot at--along with a light on his head and the required blaze orange) at around 5:30, I was cold, but not frigid. Neither Mudge nor I saw any deer Friday afternoon, but it was a great day to be outside. We packed up and went back to his house.
Within about 30 minutes of sitting my big butt in a recliner, the dinner bell rang. A delicious venison chili was served, which required a second bowl for me to be quite sure I had had enough. Delicious cookies were served as a follow-up, and the Mudge's and I sat amidst their three Dachshunds to discuss the world, our common friends, and our lives. By 9PM, both Mudge and I were exhausted, with the prospect of a 0430 wakeup in order to meet our friend Nevin the following morning at 0500 at the hunting ground.
We were there on time, as was Nevin and his son. After exchanging pleasantries, we took our places in our stands to await the rising sun. There are few places in the world quite like the woods on a cloudless, cold night. It was still quite dark, and sitting in one's tree without much to do (except keep still) the thought of heading back to sleep never quite leaves one's mind. A few years ago, we had been up quite late the night before, and I definitely nodded off a few times. Not this time, though. I manned my post efficiently from 0530 until 0800, when the influence of the prior evening's Chili could no longer be ignored. I had feared that my venison-chili induced flatulence might scare away deer, but then realized that perhaps they might recognize the remnants of one of their old friends in the waft. I climbed down to head back to base, there to grab Mudge's truck for the two mile drive to his house for a sanitary break. Once at the camp, I saw Mudge and Nevin's son near where we hang deer for cleaning. I had heard three shots earlier, but not knowing from whose stand they came, it was great to see them there, thinking that they had one hung. But the closer I got, I realized there was none there. They had looked quite a while for it, but had not found what Nevin Jr had shot at. When I told Mudge that I was heading back, he decided he'd come to and grab one of his Dachshunds to see if they could get on the scent of the deer Nevin Jr. shot at. After the necessary trip, I headed back to my stand.
Once up there, for some odd reason, I had a sense that something big was coming my way. My senses sharpened. I knew I only had about an hour and a half left before we'd conclude the morning hunt and head to breakfast (I would be leaving, they would be returning for an afternoon hunt), so I had to make the last bit of time count. Though the picture below was taken Friday afternoon, by 1000 or so on Saturday, it was lit similarly.
|The view from my stand|
As if on cue, about 80 yards down the path a buck slowly moved onto the path from the right. I could tell he had antlers, but not how many points. Here was the moment I had waited all my hunting life (4 years) for--a shot at a buck. Truth be told, I had gone over this moment scores of times in the previous two days, even going as far as practicing slowly and silently picking up the gun from the resting position, shouldering it, aiming and firing. I had no idea how I would perform. Would I simply get overexcited and rush my way through? Would I take too long trying to be too quiet and lose the shot? I got the weapon at my shoulder as he meandered across the path, sighted him in and pulled the trigger before the tip of his nose went out of view on the left. It was definitely a long shot--again, about 80 yards. After shooting, the buck turned a full 180 and bounded back across the path in the direction from which he came.
I really couldn't be sure if I hit him. As I sit here typing this today, I tell myself that next time, I won't take that shot, because he was too far away. Mudge got a buck a few weeks ago about ten yards further away with muzzle loader (scope equipped), which he paced at 91 yards. We put the dog on the trail. There was no blood where he pivoted or where he entered the woods, and no blood along the way. He also didn't piss himself, as the dog would have picked that up too. No, I just plain missed him--and for that, I am glad. Better to miss and not wound, than to hit and only wound--leaving him to a slow and painful death.
What did I learn? I learned that I didn't act like a fool and rush things. I learned that I need to be a little more patient and let him get closer. I learned that I one should avoid chili the night before deer hunting. And I (re)learned the value of a wonderful friendship.