If You Pay Attention
It is the shoulder season, between deer season’s closing and the lion season’s beginning. It allows a hunter to shift their gaze to sights and scenes that they might have been missing. Our senses are highly attuned but our spouses can attest that at times, we develop tunnel vision. A sharp eye has many uses and is always needed.
For example, I discovered that new neighbors were setting up shop in the middle of the latest blizzard. You would think that getting out of the weather would have been foremost on their minds, but even from a distance, I recognized a conversation that married men everywhere have experienced.
“No, not there, here. Six inches to the right. My right (stupid) not your right!” I added the stupid. I couldn’t hear it through the wind, but I recognized the look.
The fact that the young couple were a pair of bald eagles redecorating an old hawk’s nest did little to alter the imagined discussion in my mind. I watched one eagle hop repeatedly with a branch from the north edge of the nest to the south. They were planning their expansion for young birds that would be roughly twice the size of the chicks that had been raised in the red-tail’s nest for the last decade.
Eagles are among the predator species that have prospered over the last three decades. In 1990 there were no nesting bald eagles in South Dakota. By 2004 there were thirty nests and twenty successful pairs producing chicks. By 2015, the state estimated up to 150 active nests and they have been removed from the threatened species list.
Eagles have been known to build several nests and this might be just a vacation home but I always feel blessed when I discover that one of the rarest of God’s creatures wants to share my view.
My next discovery was in the hay yard. The bitter cold and early snows have brought the deer and elk in for handouts. At least they would be handouts if they asked first, but normally they sneak in after dark and take their fill.
I set out two round bales for them early, hoping that it would keep the deer from damaging the rest. What was once a five-foot-thick bale of alfalfa set on end, now looks like a pyramid. They have slowly pulled down what they liked and trampled the rest until it resembles a prairie-grass teepee.
This time of year, the bucks have finished their last cycle of the rut. The antlers atop their heads are no longer of use. The arctic chill set about a shedding of antlers that normally might have been postponed, but now every trip into the yard requires a sharp eye. A shed antler tine can easily pop through the sidewall of a truck or tractor tire. The drifting snow can hide the threat until it is too late.
The first I found was of a thick five point. It had been polished smooth and darkened by the sap of pines. Mahogany in color, it still retained the blood stain around its pedicle that clearly showed where it had once attached to the skull.
The second, was an almost.
It had been run over and its longest tine snapped off, yet it had landed tines down and did no damage. I only discovered it in hindsight after the damage was almost, but thankfully not, done. That tire has too many plugs in it already and would take little urging to give up its attempts at holding air.
The most important thing to keep your eyes open for are those in need. Hunters can be among the most observant people. Keep your skills sharp during these harsh temperatures by looking for those stranded, stuck, or in need of the game you harvest to help feed their families.