The most elusive of creatures are found amongst the shadows. Dusk through dawn, slipping along the thickest of thickets, is where the kings of the forest reside. In late spring, when their guard is down and the stakes are low, bachelor herds of mule deer amble from meadow to meadow in search of the first few blades of fresh, young grass emerging from the earth.
These carefree habits continue until late summer, when with the mature bucks recede to the bushes. Young bucks tag along with the does and spar with one another, oblivious to the fact that soon their place in the pecking order will fall.
As fall progresses, and sharp, gusting wind blows leaves to the ground, this is when you may find a glimpse of the kings of the forest tucked in along the tree line, maybe even just beyond the crest of the hill of a rolling alfalfa field. It will seem like your mind is playing tricks on you – are those just wispy shrubs along the top of the field? Are those just thick branches growing from that willow? So you will throw up the binoculars, fiddling with the focus to find that no, that’s not just willows and shrubs you are staring at.
This continues for weeks, catching glimpses here and there and almost always where you, the hunter, are unable to hunt or the shot is impossible or when you are on your way to work, early in the morning. These fleeting encounters occur over and over, replaying in your mind as you lay your head against your pillow at night.
The thing is, those kings of the forest will haunt your dreams forever. In the moment, and for the extent of the season, you will rehash these encounters in your mind – that early morning with fresh snow and a heavy fog settled near the Earth and, for just one moment, you are sure he appears for a split second, only to recede back into the shrouding mist. But you can’t be sure, and that moment is burnt into your memory.
Despite the maddening frustration of it all, how special are these encounters? These blink-and- they’re-gone moments, snippets of hunting season tucked away… because after all, not all hunting trips end with a deer on the ground.