One Saturday it was 70 degrees. The following Saturday I awoke to snowfall.
It makes one feel a little anxious, knowing that the summer’s projects risk becoming next summer’s projects.
The snow is a call to action.
So I laid in bed, looked out the window, and watched the flakes sift gently through the branches of our apple tree.
I figured I didn’t need to ready the snowblower just yet.
My mind drifted outdoors as I watched the flakes, even while my body continued to protest the thought of leaving the bed. My mind does have a tendency to wander.
It wandered, shortly, to first snows of the past. The excitement of being able to more easily track the movements of the elusive game I pursue and the way it seems to spur animals to action.
Deer become active when that first snow arrives. I don’t know if they, too, worry about their incomplete summer projects, but that first snow really gets them moving.
Maybe they’re excited, like snowmobile owners anxious to hit the trails. Maybe they’re aware that their dark bodies have suddenly become more visible against the lighter background. I guess I’d give that some thought if I was continuously pursued by animals with canine teeth — many of them toting guns or bows.
I’ve long known about this tendency for heightened deer activity to coincide with the first snow. I’ve even switched plans just to make sure I was on a stand for it. Sometimes with success.
It can also be the first snow in a while. A second or third “first snow.”
If the ground is bare for a stretch and is suddenly covered with snow, the deer get up and move. Conditions such as wind and even hunting pressure are unlikely to cause a deviation from this norm
For me, this was firmly established at the tail-end of gun deer season 18 years ago.
Wind and rain were abundant for the 1994 gun season. Temps were mostly above normal. Out at our camp, Muutka Lodge, our crew struggled to even see deer. And it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Still relatively youthful overall, we hit the woods and hit the woods and hit the woods. We were fools.
I’m not saying it’s foolish to hunt whenever you can, despite the conditions. You’ve only got so much time to hunt — by all means, keep hunting.
Our foolishness was giving up early on the last day of the nine-day season. Our crew of seven had seen only 17 deer the entire season and only one of those, shot by my brother Chris, was actually swinging from our meatpole. It was a dismal showing.
The last day dawned with the wind blasting and a forecast that called for snow. The ground had frozen at this point, but had not seen snow in some time. Not at all during the gun season.
Most of the crew pulled out early, eager to put the season in the rear-view mirror and get back to civilization before the snow hit. My dad and I remained at camp a bit later.
Snow started coming down heavily around noon. Dad decided he would forgo the afternoon hunt in favor or “battening the hatches” at camp. It seemed like a logical choice. I hem-hawed, but decided, at least initially, to hunt the final afternoon.
The wind was whipping snow, pounding my face and, I think, even screaming some obscenities as I trudged out to my stand that afternoon. The woods seemed void of activity, except for one life form of singular stupidity.
“What am I doing?” the life form of singular stupidity wondered as he got into his stand.
I spent about a half-hour squinting my eyes against the wind and protecting my rifle from the elements before seriously considering other things I could be doing.
I had work looming, stuff to organize at camp, a truck to load and the perils of driving back to civilization through a significant snow to look forward to. I left my stand.
The walk out had me feeling a little like I was playing hookey, though. Leaving a deer stand when I could stay always leaves me a bit uneasy.
Dad and I finished gathering stuff up and readying the shack to be left on its own. As always, its sadness was palpable. Ours too. Especially after the drive out just past the close of legal shooting hours.
As we slid our trucks down the dirt road that leads back to civilization, we cut numerous sets of deer tracks. All fresh-looking, and the snow was still coming down.
Of course, some of the tracks were heading in the direction of the stand site I had abandoned early. Likewise near where Dad hunted. The wind, the purely nasty conditions and days of the worst hunting pressure the herd sees each year had not stopped the deer from moving in response to the snow.
Ah, life and its missed opportunities. A lesson learned. I hate when a golden opportunity for free-range meat goes by the wayside anytime there’s space for such in the freezer. And there was. Scavenging from the grocery store is OK I guess, but it’s nice to stock some of your own.
This past weekend, a shot of cold air from a slightly open window and several shots of coffee were the proper invigoration for me. Not specifically to hunt the snow, though. The Saturday snow cover disappeared as fast as a case of beer at hunting camp. That’s good, because it means there will be another first snow.
Some did take advantage of the “first” first snow as long as it lasted.
A friend of mine took his 10-year-old son out for the youth gun hunt that Saturday morning and watched him kill his first deer. It was early enough in the day that the snow was still on the ground. Another first snow success story. And the pictures from the hunt look fantastic.
Congratulations, Conor Pequet.
I went scouting myself. By scouting, I do mean driving around the woods — a somewhat frivolous pastime considering the cost of fuel, but fun and a great way to look at a lot of country.
My friend Charlie accompanied me for the look at lots of leaves and trees. Not bad at all. Wind and time have done some damage, but in many places the fall colors were still bright.
We took time out of vehicle-scouting to check Charlie’s bow stand and his trail camera. The pictures revealed that there were deer there when he was not. I guess that’s what trail cams are for, though.
We also briefly pursued ruffed grouse. Charlie bagged a couple of branches during the attempt, but no grouse. We consider ourselves primarily carnivores, so the woody browse that Charlie slayed was left in the woods for the animals.
We saw a number of deer moving well before dark and kind of had that feeling like we’d missed a good bowhunting opportunity. Not unlike that leaving-early, playing-hookey feeling.
Sunday, I awoke to no new snow. That’s great. Summer projects back on track. Of course, they could wait a little bit. I had to do something at one of my deer stands and take in a bit of televised football.
I hadn’t really taken advantage of the season’s first stick-to-the-ground snow, but there will be another. As long as there’s still enough warmth to wipe the slate clean in between, there could be several.
Don’t let the snowfall get you too excited about snowmobiling, or too worried about completing your summer projects.
There are uses for snow other than snowmobiling and there’s always next summer.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org