Archery and small game hunters surely have an advantage over those of us who enjoy the scenery from our cars. To be in the woods, right in the middle of autumn at its best, to see hear and smell nature's finest show, well, it is special indeed.
How many hours have I spent in a treestand, surrounded on every side by brilliantly colored trees and bushes, waiting expectantly for a deer to come mincing by? The wild, haunting sound of a flock of migrating geese overhead, swarms of songbirds that occasionally descend right where you are to feed for a moment before flying on, the rustling of falling leaves that puts you on alert but turns out to be a few turkeys or even chipmunks or squirrels busy foraging for acorns or beechnuts.
It's been in the archery season that I've had many confrontations with black bears, one that decided to lounge for a couple hours beneath the small apple tree in which I was posted. This experience I've always treasured in my memory but have no desire to experience again.
I've heard the scientific explanations of why leaves dress in their "Sunday best" in October but I subscribe to another theory. I think the October color palette is a gift from God, giving us almost more beauty than we can drink in, to sustain over the dreary days of winter.
For hunters, autumn means the cackling rise of a pheasant from a cornfield or the explosion of a Ruffed grouse from a thorn apple thicket. It's the whitetail buck, beginning to feel frisky, testing his mettle by sparring with small trees. He's king of the mountain at this time of year - at least for awhile.
It's walking along the trout stream, seeing the foliage hues reflected in the glittering water and realizing that here and there the red spot in the water is not a reflection but a brilliant brook trout, dressed in its spawning colors. Even the wan stocked trout of last April, that has somehow survived until now, has become firm and gorgeously hued. Every person with something heavy to contemplate ought to do it beside a creek.
The sights and sounds of autumn are a virtual kaleidoscope for the senses. Squirrels and chipmunks compete for acorns and make plenty of noise doing it. The hunter sneaking along the forest floor will get plenty of shots at squirrel and enjoy some squirrel potpie at home.
One of the primary ways to locate a flock of fall turkeys is to pussyfoot slowly along the ridges, pausing occasionally to listen for the distinctive sound of turkeys scratching for acorns, grubs, insects, cherries and other goodies.
Black bears are on the move now, gorging on anything edible they can find, but especially on apples and corn much to the farmer's despair. They sense the urgency to pack on as many pounds as they can to tide them over during their winter sleep. Many an archer has a few tense moments when a blackie strolls by their deer stand.
To be in the woods in autumn is to see life patterns and cycles continuing on as they have for eons. No matter what mayhem mankind may devise and inflict upon itself, the woods seem a world apart. The hunter, too, is restless responding to deep, intangible urges. As the largest predator in the food chain hunters understand their part in nature's plan of survival. And they go about it with anticipation and satisfaction. I enjoyed some venison that was graciously given to me by a friend who bagged a deer just a few days ago.
But as always, wherever humans are, there is ugliness too. This is also the season when the most poaching (illegal killing of wild game) takes place. I have no sympathy for poachers. There is no justification for shooting deer and letting them lie there to rot. It is a thievery on the resource that belongs to every citizen of the Commonwealth.
It's worthy of note that more and more sports persons are rising up to fight against illegal killers of wildlife. There is no longer a romantic aura about someone who sneaks around to poach off a deer just before season. There is no longer a need for folks to kill deer illegally to "feed his family." A poacher is now looked upon as the slob he is and increasingly these days, these jerks are getting caught because people are turning them in.
Well, I'll get off my soapbox. Try to find some time to just enjoy autumn offerings. Notice the smells, colors and sounds endemic to autumn. It will calm your heart and lift your soul.