I am invisible.
You cannot see me.
You cannot smell me.
And, apart from my growling stomach, you cannot hear me.
I am dressed in camouflage, covered in scent-killing spray, perched about 17 feet off the ground in a tree stand near the Delaware State Forest in the Poconos woods of Pennsylvania.
It’s late October and my guide to all things deer hunting is find here, sports editor for the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa., and a lifelong sportsman.
I am an urban urchin who grew up in New York City. My outdoors experiences were limited to visits to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, a few overnight campouts with the Boy Scouts and one memorable camping trip 30 years ago with my About Men Radio crewmates.
I am a mere Padawan to Mike, a Master Jedi of the outdoors.
On this day, Mike is hunting deer with a compound bow. Me? I am armed with a smartphone and a recorder.
This time of year is the beginning of the “chase” season. It’s the prequel to the full-on, raging-hormone-fueled rut in which male deer will range for miles seeking a one-night stand.
Before we set out, Mike inventories various noise-making devices, including a bundle of sticks in a bag that he rubs between his palms. The noise, which mimics the sound of two bucks banging antlers for territory, is designed to arouse their curiosity and draw them closer.
As Mike outfits me in a camo jacket, he explains that he washes his hunting gear in special fragrant-free detergent. He sprays us, including the bottom of our boots, with a scent-killing spray.
“The key to deer hunting is beating their nose,” he says.
The sounds of our feet kicking through fallen leaves and the sight of our breath, illuminated by our headlamps, are the only things disturbing the predawn stillness of the forest.
We stop and Mike takes out a long cord called a drag rope. At its end are thick strands that he dips into a small bottle of pungent deer estrus.
I drag the rope behind me to mask our scent and leave an inviting, c’mere-big-boy smell for bucks. The aroma of doe pheromone faintly clings to my clothes.
I learn a lot about deer habits from Mike. It’s all very “Wildlife: CSI.”
He points to telltale signs of deer activity that I walked right past: a clearing where bucks scraped away leaves and dirt and urinated to mark their territory or where one rubbed his antlers against a tree, stripping away some of the bark.
We’re in our perches by 6:22 a.m., a solid hour before sunrise. Although we are above the sight and scent lines of the deer, “it doesn’t mean you can sing and dance up there,” Mike says.
So I try to remain as still as possible. Hunting is not for the fidgety.
I hear the thrum of traffic from nearby Route 402. I also swear that several times I hear the heavy movement of leaves, as if something was approaching, but nothing ever appears in my line of sight.
Mike tells me later that with the way sound travels in the stillness of the woods, a deer or bear a distance away could have been passing through and it would have sounded like it was over my shoulder.
After about three hours of sighting nothing but chipmunks and squirrels, we head back.
But Mike is brimming with enthusiasm about the morning’s outing.
Hunting is not always about the kill, he says. (What he does successfully hunt goes to the butcher. Some he keeps and some he donates to Hunters Sharing the Harvest.)
Hunting is about being out in nature, he says. It’s about the chance to hear owls talking to one another, or seeing a bear or watching a fawn get milk from its mother.
Indeed, the experience is extraordinary.
The stars fade to pinpricks of light as the black sky gives way to a bluish hue and the outlines of the trees become more pronounced.
As I take it all in, I have a deeper appreciation for the grandeur of nature and the wonders of the universe.
Yes, I am invisible as I sit in the tree stand. But watching the changing sky, I am also infinitesimal.
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