White Oak Mountain Ranger: 10 Points

  • Tuesday, November 28, 2023

“Fishing too long a fly rod on a small trout stream is like driving a greyhound bus down a deer trail.” - Jimmy Moore

“Your growing antlers are proof of your intimate place in the forest — for all of the things that live and grow, only the trees and the deer shed their foliage each year and replace it more strongly, more magnificently, in the spring.” Felix Salten

First light came slowly. Faded and subtle, a classic November “gray” day was unfolding. Gray November days are eventually common topics to be discussed with hollow eyed, chain smoking, and hard drinking middle-aged, Northern women. These are refugee women who likely have spent more than a good deal of time in the most remote country that adjoins the states adjacent to the Canadian border.

Sooner than later, they’ll all tell you that it was the endless gray days of winter that drove them south. How the lack of sun on the land, for days and days and days on end, finally broke their spirit. Broke their spirit like green broke, wild mustangs, penned and captured, spiritless and lonely.

They inevitably, listlessly, gaze off in the distance while they’re recounting for you, the horrid gray days. They sadly recount how the gray lonely days begin every November in the North Country. They say that by February many of their lonely, weaker, sisters are hard into the bottle or have considered eating their pistols. The lucky one’s migrate south. A good many I am told, the lucky ones, the ones that can still reasonalby function, generally migrate south between Christmas and New Years.

There are now so many of these migrated refugees among us that I expect any day to see a new non-profit established. Something like “Migrating Yankee Women Forever” or, “Gray Day Survivors Unlimited.” “Send your tax deductible charitable donations now to save all the Yankee women.”

This particular November gray day was an Appalachian-kind of a gray day. Gloves and thermal underwear were optional on our local kind of gray day. The sun never shone, but thankfully, this gray day was a good kind of southern Tennessee gray day. This one morning was Good-to-Great, even by almost any Yankee girl standard.

The squirrels knew it was going to be a gray day today. Yesterday afternoon, every squirrel known to man on the mountain fed, clattered, caroused and cussed one another like it was their last chance to experience life to the fullest. For hours on end the squirrel community managed to make the mountain so noisy that it began to fray your last nerve. At 1600 hours they all abandoned the ground, the noisy leaves, and took to the tress to loudly discuss the things that all squirrels decide need discussing. This strange symphony went on for about twenty minutes and then they all charged back into the leaves and repeated the leaf scattering until dark, finally, graciously, sent them to bed.

Apparently, they all knew that the next day, today, was going to be a gray day. On this gray, poorly lit morning, only three, maybe four squirrels ventured about. Maybe it was the gentle breeze that kept them asleep this gray morning. The large majority of overfed squirrels of yesterday were sleeping it off, making it quiet enough for keeping the side of the mountain optimal for hearing the footfalls of the deer in the dry leaves.

At 08:30, the lone buck showed up somewhere between 80 and 100 yards down the mountain where a pit stop had been taken earlier in the climb. This was not where the buck was expected to appear. The pit stop had been sprayed with a healthy aerosol driven dose of $9.99 doe scent to cover the pit stop scent. It was never expected to work, but, when you gotta go, you gotta go. “Improvise-overcome-adapt,” as they say in the Marines.

You could tell that the buck’s nose was confused. He lingered long enough so you could twist around in the tree stand and catch a glimpse or two of the rack he was sporting. Not long enough for a shot, but long enough to get frustrated, as he stepped away down mountain.

The grunt call raised his head. It wasn’t all that loud and it was amazing that he picked it up and turned back up the steep mountain. The buck then moved closer one agonizingly slow step at a time. In and out of sight, lost in the trees, added to the ramping frustration levels until he suddenly, inexplicably, came into focus in the scope. The scope had suddenly grown a little foggy. The naked eye confirmed that he was centered in the scope. In the gray reality of the morning, he stepped a little up the hill.

Maybe he would have come closer. Maybe he would have bolted. When the 7X57 Mauser barked, he bolted, tail up, out of sight, down a brush covered ravine. That’s the point that the ears begin to play their tricks. Did that sound mean he was down? Or did that sound mean he was out of range for damaged ears? A hit or a miss? That call will have to wait. No luxury of a replay booth exists in this tree stand.

Now to relocate the spot of the shot. Exactly which tree off in the gloomy distance was he standing by?

How easy is it to forget the one single tree’s location when one tree looks like every other tree? How does this mental lapse happen? The frustration level is now compounded exponentially by a new additive of pure angst. Gray November day angst, explained by hollow eyed Yankee women, comes to mind.

The spot of the shot, if you really think you actually found it, shows nothing. Large circles in the leaves, show nothing. While you’re calculating the last visual spot you thought you saw the buck disappear, big doubts show up. Big, tall, hairy doubts show up.

Plan B is rolled out in the midst of the big hairy doubts. Follow the last noise down the ravine. Maybe your half working ears were lucky. Maybe the lack of a trail to follow means a clean miss. Blame it all on the lack of sunshine and lack of practice with the 7x57. Start over. It’s only 08:49.

While the ears have been known to lie, the eyes are still fairly functional. There in the distance of the deep brush in the ravine lays the camouflaged back of the buck. Invariably you’re drawn to counting the points on the big animal. Then you recount the points for some reason you can’t quite explain. You admire the animal and the wonder of it all. How many times has this kind of luck happened? How many gray days of November has this sort of good fortune played out? It’s easy to lose count, but somehow, another thing you don’t quite understand, you remember them all. Not too sure how, but you remember them all.

Rumor has it that all local deer processing facilities are badly overwhelmed. Calling around confirms coolers and processing staff are knee deep in good fortune. Frequent flyer miles help in situations of abundance.

Standing in line in the full waiting room of the Go-to-Guy; we begin to recount recent hunts that were bountiful. One youthful hunter explains that this was his 22nd day of hunting. Most had been unsuccessful, he allowed but this one gray November day had been an 8 point winner. Another guy in line said he had a “half a deer” in the truck. One side with what he figured was 4 points, was missing. He was still elated.

The lady taking our deer locked the door after hanging a sign that read: ‘FULL’. We were all thankful there in line in the waiting room. She was about beside herself. Over the years I’ve noticed that gray November days seem to do that to some extent, to most women. Even women down south seem to be affected by it from time to time. I wish I understood it better, but understanding just why, eludes me most of the time.

We traded stories of shots missed and shots connected. We discussed in vague terms where we were when we hunted gray November days and how many acorns we had seen in the deep leaves. There was some general questions about rack scores and weights, but we all agreed that we weren’t too sure about scoring meat by inches. Most of us shared pictures on our phones while we waited, and no one that day ordered shoulder mounts. The facility owner moon lighted as a pretty good taxidermist, but on this November day, we all seemed happy with a picture on a phone and some soon-to-have meat for the freezer.

Appalachian November gray days are good for that.

WOMR Notes: I hope your Thanksgiving was memorable and the gray days of November were good to you.

Send comments to whiteoakmtnranger@gmail.com

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