Saturday, January 24, 2009

Scouting 1-18-09

For the past several days Wytheville Virginia had been gripped by a cold front unlike anything residents had encountered in many years. For some areas the single digit temperatures may have seemed like a warm front but for those of us that live here it seemed like we had packed our bags and moved North. Most of the days had been fairly calm but when the wind blew, and the chill moved in to the negative, our bodies felt something that we were not accustomed to. Scouting had not been something on my mind until earlier in the cold spell when my girlfriend informed me that she and my son would be visiting some of her family Saturday morning. Knowing it would be very cold I wasn’t necessarily excited about traipsing around on a ridge top where the wind would be constantly blowing but when you work a full time job and have a family you don’t have always have the option to pick and choose when you’ll scout, you just have to be ready to hit the ground running when the time becomes available.

The extreme cold front that had swept through the area for days had finally moved out and the day of January 17, 2009 had warmed up to a blazing hot 11 degrees. The first chance I would have for post-season scouting was going to start out with acceptable weather and I was happy for it. A lot of people would be wary about heading to the woods on a day that would not be exceeding 20 degrees but I knew if I kept moving and layered correctly that I should be able to stay warm enough to get by ok. The Ford F150 started after a crank and a groan or two but didn’t seem to be too happy about it. I cranked the heat up inside it and went back in to the house to finish my final preparations. After sufficient time for the truck to warm up I headed down the road to get to the area I was going to scout. Upon arrival I readied my gear, took a deep breath, and then hit the trail moving as fast as I could to warm up my body temperature. Knowing I wouldn’t set foot back on the property for quite some time I wasn’t worried about spooking the wildlife, they would have plenty of time to settle back down before next hunting season began. Being as the weather was so cold, I guess, I was lucky that the trail was entirely up hill for the first half a mile or so. By the time I had reached the ridge top that I would be walking and scouting my body had warmed up and most all of me but my cheeks were fairly warm. I had forgotten to grab my balaclava from the truck so my cheeks were going to have to endure the wind throughout my entire time there. It was time to get tough or get out.

The old trail that runs across the ridge top is a mixture of the clean and neat, and the wild and unkempt. Walking along I searched for any and all sign of how the deer were using the area. I looked for rubs, scrapes, droppings, and anything else I could find that would help me understand what the animals were doing. As I looked for sign I also tried to imagine how I would react to things if I were a resident of the area. Would I cross under or around a fallen tree, would I go through the over grown brush to the left of a certain rise or to the right. Knowledge is the key to unlocking the secrets to the wildlife kingdom and while I was out I wanted to glean as much of it as I could. Another reason for the trip was to document as much of it as possible with photographs. Recently I had bought several new camera accessories that would allow me to do so and I was excited about giving it all a try. A lesson learned is a lesson learned though and I learned that all of the cool accessories in the world are useless when you forget to pack spare batteries. After I had taken just a few pictures I realized that documenting the trip the way I wanted to was out of the question.

The path itself is a road that seemed to have been cut through many years ago. My belief is that it was cut and well maintained for many years but over the years whoever maintained it started maintaining less and less of it until no one was currently keeping it up. The first half-mile to a mile of the path is pretty clear and easy to travel but as you go back further it gets thicker and thicker until the trail completely disappears. It’s a pretty hot location and I know that I’m not the first person to discover this as there are countless old and dilapidated stands scattered throughout the landscape. The newest one is an older ladder stand that was probably put up in the late 80’s or early 90’s but I could be way off base. I haven’t had a chance to talk to the actual owner of the property so almost all I know about the area is from scouting and guessing.

While the trail may be starting to grow up a bit it’s still beautiful in the way it cuts through the landscape and beautiful in the way it shows a lot of wildlife use! There are a enormous amount of large rock formation on the top of the mountain and the way the trail winds through them and the way the trees hug the trail creates many postcard type scenes. Again, I would love to have the pictures to prove it but it just didn’t happen on this particular day. As the trail grows thicker the buck sign grows thicker as well. However, I wasn’t too pumped up about it for two reasons. The first reason is that all the sign indicated smaller bucks. That is not such a bad thing though as smaller bucks can become bigger bucks if they are allowed to grow. The second reason is a little tougher, the wind is pretty constant in the way it blows and it’s going to make it very hard to hunt. I have a few ideas on how to handle it but to be honest it’s going to take a little luck. I may have to just leave the area alone and only hunt up there during the rut.

Traveling for about two hours I had covered quite a bit of territory, had frozen cheeks, and a lot of information to use in the future. Then it was time for one of the outdoors greatest pleasures, at least in my opinion. Lunch. That’s right, lunch. One of my favorite things is going deep in to a secluded area of the woods and sitting down to eat. Nothing tastes as good indoors as it does out of doors, and nothing tastes quite as good as it does until you’ve had a long walk before eating it either. A tree had fallen over in a clear spot and it provided me with a perfect place to sit and lay out my lunch. The spot I had found was also shielded from the wind and it allowed me to lie out all of my food and not worry about chasing it all over the mountains as well. As I sat there eating and thinking about my life everything seemed so perfect! My family is great, and healthy, and I’m living out my dream! I’ve always loved the out of doors and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Everything seems to be coming together so well in my life and I count my blessings for sure! The meal went down so well and the Vienna sausages, crackers, and water may as well have been a gourmet dinner!

With lunch out of the way and time ticking away until I had to be home I headed back toward my truck. The scenery was no less beautiful on the way out and to make sure I learned more and kept from getting bored I took a slightly different route out. I really didn’t learn much more until I got nearly back to the field that I had entered through. I elected to take a shortcut out and discovered several deer trails that I never knew were there. I really don’t feel that they are being used much late in the season but I wouldn’t be surprised to see deer using them as the year goes on. I got back to my truck and enjoyed hopping inside its wind shielding, comfort. I drove slowly out of there very happy with the fact that I had braved the elements and had a great time learning more about an area that I will be hunting again next fall.

The walk had been a lung searing, leg pounding adventure at times, and a leisurely stroll at others but it was constantly fun. There is nothing like getting out of the four walls that constantly seemed to have us trapped and going for a stroll. It doesn’t have to be a mountaintop or even in the country. A walk around town can sometimes be every bit as liberating as traipsing trough the deep woods. Walking does something magical to the mind, it seems to somehow bring all of life’s problems in to focus and I often do my best thinking while my legs are moving one in front of the other. A walk is always a thing of beauty and I recommend that everyone take one as often as possible. That reminds me, I think it’s about time for another walk of my own.

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