He paused just under the crest of the ridge. For a long time he stood completely motionless. Only his eyes moved. After several minutes, he moved again; seven steps then stop. Behind him, a thick cedar tree blocked his outline and he stood, almost invisible, perfectly camouflaged.
Below him was a wide panorama. At the end of the sloping point, 100 yards below his position, was a creek bottom. Across the creek, now shallow and even dry in places, was a thin band of greenbriar and just past that an old, abandoned field, grown thick with broom sedge and briars. His eyes scanned slowly from left to right, taking in the entire scene.
From his left, walking slowly, they came. One tall. One short. Their bright orange vests and hats caught the thin morning sunlight and reflected it brightly. They moved through the creek bottom a few yards apart, walking slowly, searching. At one point, they climbed a large sand hill and scanned the terrain, the tall one’s hand on the short one’s shoulder. He saw it all from his hiding place.
Ahead of them and across the thin band of briars, near the edge of the field was a lone doe. He saw her too. She saw the hunters and melted into the thick growth. The short one passed within 35 yards of her hiding place. He watched as they moved out of sight around the bend of the creek. Overhead, silhouetted against the blue sky, a red tailed hawk wheeled and screed at something. He noted the hawk but did not look at it long. His attention was on the creek bottom.
The wind was light and from behind him but that didn't bother him. He moved again, seven steps and stop, seven steps and stop. Each time he stopped, it was with some sort of cover behind him or around him. Each time he stopped, it was for a period of time that allowed him to completely scan the country ahead and below him. Each time, it was in the shadows, hidden from sharp, prying eyes.
Near the bottom of the sloping point, just before he reached the creek bottom, he paused for a longer period. In a tangle of greenbriar, at the edge of a blown down treetop, he stood for nearly 15 minutes. His eyes were constantly moving, listening to all the sounds of the woodland. He heard the pileated woodpecker. He saw the small wren as it flitted from branch to branch. He heard a hen turkey yelp twice and saw the fox squirrel when it moved from the hickory to the white oak. The frost that covered the trees that morning was melting now and he heard the soft plops as the droplets fell to the leaves. Across the creek bottom, a chipmunk was boinking away. He stood very still.
Quickly he moved through the open strip next to the creek and once he was in the cover of the far side, he stopped again.
Here where loggers had left treetops and lopped off branches, he lowered his profile until he was again almost invisible. Here he waited for several minutes, watching for movement or just a shape in the wrong place.
Finally he moved again. He went through the band of greenbriar following an old deer trail. As he approached the old, abandoned field, he stopped again. Here beneath a low, spreading cedar, He lowered himself to the ground and stretched out with his head just at the end of an old log. He watched the field, eyes constantly scanning, ears tuned to the rhythms of nature.
He saw the outline of the old, decrepit house on the far side of the field. He picked up the glint of sun off the car parked there. After a bit, he saw the sun reflect off the vest of the hunter at the end of the field. He watched without moving when the hunter stood, stretched and moved toward the car. He was still watching as the hunter opened the car door and a few seconds later, he heard the thunk of the car door slamming and the engine starting. The car left and the glint disappeared with it. Still he lay motionless, his camouflage, a perfect blend with the surrounding cover.
Unconcerned, she came. The doe. Carelessly she moved into the field, meandering through the fallow growth. He watched her carefully as she stood, head high with her tail cocked to one side. He correctly read the signs and the body language. Once, when the wind swirled a little, he thought he could smell the scent of her stressful time. Beneath his warm coat, his muscles bunched once but still he remained motionless.
In the dead sycamore tree that provided shade for the old house, two crows lit and looked things over. Even they didn't see him and after a few seconds, they flew off. The doe was closer now and this time he could clearly smell her. In one fluid motion, he rose and moved to the edge of the field and stood, watching the doe.
Slowly, he took two steps into the field. Something solid hit him hard behind the shoulder, tearing his coat. The doe was running.
At the end of the field, 12 year-old William Robert Thomas, sometimes called Bill-Bob-Tom by his close friends, shakily pushed the safety back on the .308. He looked across the field to the now motionless 10-point buck. Dad was right, he thought.
Dad was right. Deer can’t count.
Contact John L. Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org