The buck emerged through the thick trees wearing his broad antlers not as a showpiece but as an afterthought. Lumbering my way, with his head down and headgear swaying, he followed his nose, driven by an urge to breed.
This was about 8:30 Monday morning, not far from the Twin Cities, and I was 12 feet up in a tree. You don't see a good buck like this every day, I thought, and I positioned myself for a shot, bow in my left hand.
The peak of the rut hereabouts generally occurs Nov. 9 through Nov. 12. Weather can alter those dates, and other variables weigh in. But year in and year out, pretty much that's it, those four days in November.
Elsewhere on Monday, other sporting types also were hunting the rut, or soon would be, including wildlife photographer Bill Marchel, who lives near Brainerd.
Bill would hunt the evening only. But already now as I watched my buck approach in the morning, he was considering wind direction and where he might best set up in late afternoon.
Also hunting Monday, my older son, Trevor, and his friend Jordan, in the still-dark of early morning, were crossing a cold Montana river and soon would hike into the mountains beyond, looking for elk and deer.
• • •
Among the world's oldest traditions, hunting in many ways remains as it always has been: a personal quest. But it's true also that hunters today are connected as never before: by phone, text and e-mail.
So while I was in a tree stand alone on Monday, in a grander sense I was part of a group of hunters, widely scattered.
Watching my buck, and preparing for a shot, I assessed distances and landmarks around me. As I did, I couldn't know how this would turn out. What would the future bring? It's a question we all ask. But we can't know, and even if we could, it's unlikely we'd be better for it.
Had I, for example, on Monday morning been able to envision accurately Bill climbing into his stand later that afternoon, about 3:30, and barely settling in before a big 9-point buck appeared, what could I have done about it?
And in fact a buck did appear near Bill's stand, about 35 yards distant, a chip shot for him.
Drawing back his bowstring, and soon releasing, he threw everything he had through his peep sight, onto his arrow rest and beyond, toward the deer.
Only to watch the buck "jump the string." Meaning it crouched instantaneously upon hearing the bowstring slap, allowing the arrow to sail over its back.
Bill wasn't alone in his frustration.
Trevor and Jordan about that same time were tracking a buck Trevor had shot earlier in the high country. Working its way into lower elevations, trailing the two young hunters, the buck would finally bed down.
But darkness wasn't far off, and about 5 inches of snow covered the slopes.
• • •
Just about everything is amazing in the woods, something hunters often find doubly true.
Picture Bill, for instance, in his tree stand, dejected by his missed opportunity.
Picture also, just then, a fawn appearing near Bill's stand, and behind it the same buck he had already missed.
Again Bill came to full draw, and again he let his arrow fly.
Monday evening, I would hear from Bill how his buck shortly thereafter slumped to the ground, and would hear also from Trevor, who jumped his buck on the banks of the same river he and Jordan had crossed that morning, and killed it there.
But those stories would be told later.
Monday morning, when my buck stepped into a clearing between two trees, and paused, I loosed an arrow that flew away invisibly fast.
Twenty-nine yards was the distance I had configured from my bow to the buck's heart.
In fact the separation was less than that by a few yards, and my arrow flew over the animal's back by an inch or two.
I could have kept that story to myself.
But Monday evening when Bill and then Trevor called to relay tales of their hunts, I laid it out there for what it was.
"You don't see good bucks like that every day," I said.
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org