Up The Tree
And So It Begins
My good friend T (Yes, just T. He has a little difficulty with spelling so we keep the nicknames simple) is always there for a little creative adventure. Sometimes this is a motorcycle trip, a night of just chillin with some beverages, or a little camping adventure. The year in question, it was deer camp. We will define deer camp as a camping area in the general vicinity of deer even if they aren’t seen.
At the time, I owned a small travel trailer that served as a great self contained weekend getaway. So, we hooked up and headed to the mountains of Webster County to try our luck. In West Virginia, rifle season comes in the Monday prior to Thanksgiving and anyone with any smart would scout their hunting area well in advance of this date. Neither T or I were overqualified in this area. So, we chose to head to an area we hadn’t hunted before on the Saturday before.
The property where we planned to hunt was owned by the father of one of my co-workers and adjoined a National Forest. The roadside area where we chose to setup camp was beautiful, offering a great view of the rolling hills and forests that completely surrounded us. We leveled the camper as best we could, gathered some firewood and with dinner roasting over the hot coals and a cold drink in hand, we enjoyed our first night.
Sunday hunting isn’t legal in most areas of the state and, unfortunately, this included the land where we would be hunting. However, we spent our second day hanging out at camp but also walking (without gun in hand), around the intended hunting area, trying to get our bearings as best we could. By the end of the day, we enjoyed another hot meal and cold beverage happy enough with place that T and I had both selected as potential ‘hot spots’ for the next morning.
Monday morning, deer camp, beautiful mountain area. Do I wake to the smell of roasting coffee, perhaps the sound of our gas furnace kicking on to fight off the chill of the November mountain air? No, what greets my ears is the relentless sound of a downpour of rain and sleet as well as wind that I know is going to make hunting difficult. While tempted to roll over for a few more winks, the thrill of opening day gets me moving enough to roust T and prepare breakfast.
After a hot breakfast and a few minutes of final discussion of plans for the day, we head off into the woods toward our intended stands. Soon I move off to the right following the path that lead to the tree I have selected and T migrates further down our original path toward his destination. I find my tree in the dark early morning and ascend in my climber to a height that I believe will offer me the greatest vantage point for the day. It is windy, wet, and cold.
Now, I have spent many hours in a tree stand and I am not one that doesn’t understand that you have to pay those dues to get success. But, this particular morning was miserable to say the least. I couldn’t stay warm, I was soaked from head to foot, even through clothing that I believed was fairly waterproof, and even though the rain had let up some by noon, I had simply become exhausted with the entire situation and to make things worse, I had neither heard nor seen a single deer all morning.
I decided to do the unthinkable and return to camp for lunch, dry out, and hopefully resume my efforts later in the day.
I quickly radioed T, told him my plans and began to prepare myself for the descent down the tree. I first lowered my backpack so that I wouldn’t be bothered by it as I climbed and then unloaded my rifle which I slung over my back. All of my important worldly possessions for the day had been placed in the bag. This included my cell phone, wallet, my knife, some water, and most importantly the snacks and lunch that I had planned to consume while perched in the tree top. Food which was not sealed overly well.
As I finished lowering the rifle and turned to adjust my climbing rig, I heard a small rustling along the ridge top that I had made sure was within my field of vision. I quickly looked in that direction and waited for my eyes to adjust to the rainy blur. I now saw the shape of a large black dog playfully frolicking along the top of the ridge and then beginning to descend the hill toward my location. I hate (for many reasons) to see a dog in the woods while I am hunting so I guess I was glad to find as it came closer that it was in fact, not a dog at all but rather another West Virginia native. The black bear.
Now, as I sat watching the bear, a funny thing occurred to me. I had only moments before lowered my cell phone and wallet in a bag that contained nearly open snack foods that I am sure gave off a smell that a hungry bear could not help but find enticing.
I ran through the mental plan of how I would need to explain to one of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resource officers how I had found it necessary to shoot a black bear out of season that had attempted to escape with my only form of communication with the outside world and method for purchasing gas to get myself home. I calculated the fine that I would face and weighed my options. I decided to be patient and see what would unfold.
After several minutes, the bear had made its way to only a few yard away from the base of my tree and the bag of snacks which I am sure was very interesting to it. In a stroke of sheer luck, what I believe the bear smelled rather than my backpack or it’s contents was the aroma of a wet, haggled, and nervous hunter a few yards up the tree above it’s head. Me. Luckily, it chose this as a sign that it should possibly vacate the area and quickly scampered away not to be seen again that day.
After several moments to make sure the bear had truly moved on, I decided to return to my original plan of lunch and some dry clothes and turned to descend. I quickly radios T again and explained what had happened. He said he wasn’t having much luck himself and was also cold and wet so he thought he would join me back at camp. I said “ok” and began to lower myself down the side of the tree. As I moved, I heard a crackle from my radio. I keyed the talk button and asked T to repeat himself. After a brief pause he commented from the comfort of his own tree stand- “Hey, which way did that bear go?”