Late Fall in the Adirondacks:
There's more to fall than pumpkin spice lattes...
To me autumn is equal parts wonderful and frightening. The onset is marked by golden days, so brisk and bright you almost believe the dog days of summer were a lifetime ago. But rather quickly the nights cool down measurably, and as Jack Frost begins playing his games on your pre-dawn window panes you feel that gut clench that accompanies the winds of winter. Did I split and stack enough firewood? Will my waterline cough and sputter through the frost again in mid-February? Time will tell. Forget the pumpkin spice lattes and candle scents of dubious origins, the real excitement generated by this short season is obvious to any passerby as they notice a gun-toting, camo-wearing, bearded fellow head into the big woods before daylight. Deer season is upon us.
Before we really get started, a disclaimer is in order. I am by no stretch of the imagination a gifted hunter who has spent years fine-tuning his hobby under the watchful eyes of old-time Adirondack woodsmen. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of local men better suited to write this article, so I hope to do the subject justice and properly represent the mountain pedigree from where I draw my inspiration. I am a wet behind the ears rookie who has discovered a pastime I am powerfully passionate about. "Practice my grunt call while my coffee brews" passionate - or as my wife would intone quietly under her breath, "crazy."
The bottom line is that in recent years I have devoted serious amounts of leisure time to hunting, scouting, and researching the gray ghost of the forest... whitetail bucks. I have read every book on the subject that I could beg, borrow, or buy... many of them 3 or 4 times. I spent not a few freezing cold winter days tramping around my hunting area patterning winter deer, and have continued my scouting into the spring and summer (one epic scouting adventure resulted in my buddies and I bushwhacking almost 9 miles in a day). I have topographic maps laying out my waypoints along with daily entry points and designated hunting areas for every possible weather pattern and wind direction. My wife has strict laundering instructions for my camouflage, and I have a cedar chest set up with my gear for strict scent control. When I close my eyes at night I see a monster 12-pointer. And I am very excited to share my new found craziness with all of you in the hopes that I can do my small part to keep the storied tradition of Adirondack deer hunting alive and well (and I get paid to boot).
In our business (excavating) the phone doesn't stop ringing from April through December. The memory of lean winters is easily recalled, so we always make sure to answer that call. Even in the heart of the Adirondacks, a place most suburbanites would deem simple, the modern world continues to stretch its tentacles of technology into our lives, trying its damnedest to make us just another cog in the machine. It's so easy to give in, and spend your days as a slave to progress. Hell, half the time I never even take a second to look around at some of the arresting views the job drops on me. The realization was swift and hard... I need a hobby; one that takes me deep into the woods, over the mountains, and through the bogs. I needed time alone with no deadlines, terse business conversations, and absolutely no cell phone. Hunting was just the ticket.
After a sleepless night, opening morning of the 2014 rifle season arrived ushered in by a hurried cup of coffee as I left the house a little before 5 am. On the side of the state road I shrugged the rest of my gear on and loaded my Ruger 7mm08. Excited? Yup! Nervous? You bet! The distant yips from a band of marauding coyotes did nothing to quell the butterflies, and I found my grip tightening on the wooden stock as my thumb found the safety. By 6am, I was over a mile deep and settled in for dawn. The darkness gave way to gloom which eventually faded into a visual of immense white pines. A thin film of dried sweat on my face, cold steel in my hands, and a feeling of peace and tranquility my soul had not known for a long time overtook me. I was hooked.
After the flurry of squirrel and bird activity at dawn, the forest settled into its quiet and plodding daily routine by shortly after 8. I was on the move. My best attempt at slowing my pace was quickly overpowered by my deep desire to see over the next ridge, and the next one after that. By mid-morning I was skirting the edge of a significant beaver swale, and noticed my first sign of previous human occupation. A couple of large pots and a few tarps stacked neatly on a homemade shelf hinted at a backwoods campsite. As I continued South patches of expansive blue sky in the pines implied at an impressive opening in the forest canopy.
That's when I found my spot. A small pond, unmarked on any map, lay at the base of an impressive elevation change. Three distinct granite fingers stretched towards the water, with two small streams servicing the valleys between. Waist high swale grass crept down to the edge of the murky water, and a sprawling beaver dam on the northern end kept up the status quo. To the west a dense stand of conifers swept up a steep overlook which then faded into a 180-degree panorama of beech and maple clinging to the bedrock at the base of the mountain. A quick glance at the GPS showed topographic lines inching tighter and tighter if I decided to start climbing to the South. A tight-knit blowdown to the East provided good cover to survey the area.
I immediately set up a watch, and while I didn't catch a glimpse of anything particularly noteworthy I spent the remainder of the morning counting the trips the beaver took as he went about his daily routine, and listening to a porcupine wreak havoc on a stand of large maples. My fascination with this particular area is rather puzzling. Whether it is by some genetic predisposition, my affinity for water, or a character flaw, I found myself drawn again and again to the shoreline throughout the season. It was the perfect backdrop for taking an Adirondack buck on an unseasonably warm Sunday in November as a light mist fell on the mountains and the thermals pulled lackadaisical tendrils of fog up through the hemlocks. But that's a story for another day.