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The long way out.

Seasort's over. The time on my watch tells me so, even though the moon and the snow combine to keep the woods lit in a grey light.

Thankfully, I uncurl my legs from beneath me and stand, feeling the blood rush back into my calves and feet. I pull my fleece facemask down and feel my breath begin to freeze in my beard as I put my arrow back in its quiver and gather my gear. I jokingly claim that the grey in my beard is a result of all the freezing and thawing. It's been a long season, but I don't want it to end.

Slinging my pack on my back and grabbing my bow, I stand silent for a few minutes, just soaking in the close of another season. Life is uncertain, and you never know when the things you take for granted, like another bow season, are no longer going to be there to enjoy.

As I reflect, I spot the legs of a deer through the brush and snow. The silent whitetail is heading my way, and I watch as the lone doe passes unaware at a mere 10 yards. I wait until she moves out of sight and then follow her out into the cut been field. It's amazingly bright out here, and I can see deer feeding far beyond in the field.

I take off my pack and pull out a trail camera. The buck IVe been hunting had been using a particular trail here, and I hang the camera in a pin oak, hoping to get a picture of him before he sheds his antlers for the year. The season's over but the hunt isn't, and I know 1x11 be back in the coming weeks, searching for sheds, tweaking my existing stand sites and preparing new ones.

Crossing the creek where the deer do, I glance in the direction of a nearby stand. I can't see the deer when they cross here, but I can hear their hooves clatter against the shale as they cross this shallow stream.

Walking across the ice, I think of how the temperature this last week of the season is 100 degrees colder than it was during the first week.

I continue up out of the valley and into another field. I can see deer here too. They are in the direction I need to go to get back to my truck, but I'm not headed there yet. Ducking back below the hill, I walk along the timber's edge to my next stop.

I think back on the season, recalling opportunities come and gone, things I've learned and all the wonderful sights I've seen.

Reaching my destination, I pull another camera from my pack. I have a stand in this big locust tree, and the deer use the branches hanging over the field edge as community licking branches. I never put a camera here during the season because this is a spot I hunt from and I don't want to alter the habits of the deer that pass through here. A new scrape opened up here two days ago, and I notice all the recent activity on the chewed branches and bits of broken twigs lying on the snow.

Cresting a hill with the wind in my face, I see another group of deer feeding in a field. I watch them, comparing body sizes and demeanor. I know a lot of these deer just by the way they act, and I wonder where the buck I've been hunting is at this moment. Catching movement along the field edge, I immediately think "deer," but I'm wrong. It's a coyote. I watch as he walks along and then freezes.

Although I can't make them out, I know his ears are perked forward as he stares at the ground. He suddenly pounces, burying his face in the snow. I can picture the fluffy powder stuck to his muzzle. It seems he's missed whatever critter he was after, and I watch as he moves off, disap-pearing into a dip in the field.

I look again towards the deer--and my truck--and see that even more have joined them. The deer are having to work hard to fill their bellies with all the snow on the ground. I'd hate to spook them and force them to exert extra energy, so I slip back below the crest and circle down wind.

I'm not in a hurry. It's with mixed emotions that the season has come to an end. On one hand, I'm almost thankful that the early morning wake-ups are done for now, that I can return home before sunset, that the countless hours of uncomfortable positions and weather extremes are over, but on the other hand, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

I've about worn out a pair of boots this season with all the walking I've done. Making this detour to avoid a few deer is definitely extending my hike that much longer, but I don't care. I'm stalling because I don't want it to end. And with the moonlight reflecting off the snow, I think that on an evening like tonight, I'll just take the long way out.
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Title Annotation:TRAILS&TAILS
Author:Cerone, Nick
Publication:North American Whitetail
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2011
Words:868
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