"Diehards"

Hunting late season archery in Minnesota requires dedication. Holiday season events nibble at our availability, the deer are educated, and the weather can be so brutally cold and windy that a warm cozy bed seems like a much better bet at 5:30am than shivering in a tree stand. But there are those of us diehards who continue until the last days of the season. My hunting partner on this trip had back surgery just six weeks before and I was in the middle of a few personal disasters of my own. We both had teenager issues as well, but nevertheless we were back in the woods in pursuit of whitetails with no excuses.

I set my reading glasses and writing notes down on the arm of swing rocker by the fireplace, and rose to pad across the dusty pine plank floor. The room glowed amber from the gaslights and the fire. Still shaking off the chill of the evening hunt, I cradled the hot cup in my hands and sat down on the floor with my back to the fireplace, curling my back like a cat. Hunting gear was strewn about in organized confusion, some drying out above the heater, and some poised already for the next morning’s hunt. My friend Janice would be arriving shortly. I checked her room, removing yet another dead mouse from the trap there.

I had scouted before the hunt today and saw wood shavings and bark shredded off several trees and scattered atop the fresh fallen snow. A porcupine had killed a number of trees in the last three years, and I had missed at least two shots at him last year. I scanned the treetops but he was not around. Deer droppings and trails were everywhere and the snow covered food plots were still being worked. I scouted an area for Janice to hunt in the morning and headed back to camp to warm up my coffee.

Janice and I had each gotten one deer and one bear in Minnesota already, so the pressure was off. We didn’t need to be here, but the woods beckoned and we each had open tags to fill. We both wanted another deer. She had been hunting in a ground blind due to her recent back surgery, and was just now able to lift her hunting gear and set up the blind herself. She had dragged her gear into the woods on a sled. I love this woman’s positive attitude in the face of such adversity. She is a true diehard. 5:30am came, and while it was unseasonably warm at 34 degrees, wind gusts and drizzle meant it would be a cold morning hunt. We were each hunting food plots on different sections of my property, and as the woods became light at dawn, it became clear to me that the deer were nocturnal. Resigning myself to simply enjoying the sunrise instead of arrowing a whitetail, I sat back and relaxed my attention. However, in scanning the woods, I caught something falling from above out of my peripheral vision. I look skyward and there was a porcupine in another tree, 75 feet off the ground and 60 feet from me in my tree stand. His droppings littered the ground of the tree next to mine. He was curled up in a ball and was a target begging to be skewered. I nearly knew this critter by name. He had left a trail of destruction as he killed trees by gobbling their bark and wood. This same critter had been systematically chewing on the few evergreen trees I have on this property, and had killed several. I had previously checked with the DNR about harvesting this nuisance beast and it was legal to do so. The bow shot was a steep 60 degree angle straight up, but I had plenty of time to get my form and sighting right. I let my first arrow go and watched it disappear in what center of the critter, or so I thought. He jerked, looked around and curled up again. Dang! I must have missed! I heard my arrow land in the woods a hundred yards away and I was incredulous that I botched such a ‘gimme’ shot. I nocked another arrow and took a second shot. The critter had the same reaction again and stayed put. Okay, so I hadn’t practiced a lot lately, I thought to myself. Thankfully, there were no witnesses to my seemingly suspect shooting skills. Nocking a third arrow, I shot again. This time, the porcupine shinnied five feet down the tree and locked a leg and arm in the crotch of branches, and held tight. I was sure my shots were right-on and I could not figure out how I missed. As I was getting ready to eat some humble pie back at camp, I again saw something dropping from the animal, so I got out my binoculars and discovered it was blood and that there was a considerable amount of it under his tree now. I decided to head back to camp and check on the situation later on my way to hunt a different stand location that evening. When I returned midday, the porky was now at the foot of the tree, and amazingly, was still twitching, albeit ever so slightly. I let him be and went elsewhere to hunt again.

Neither Janice nor I saw deer or had shots the whole weekend. The neighbors were feeding the deer now and out of pity had offered to let us hunt trails leading to their feeders. However, this was a bit too much like hunting over bait which is illegal in Minnesota, so we passed. I went and checked for the porcupine the next morning and he was done, so I dragged him back to camp. We took a few photos and even though he was missing most of his quills, I was still proud of him. Janice was as excited as if I got a ten point buck. She really is a great encourager. That porcupine was the most diehard critter I had ever arrowed and was a big boy at over twenty pounds. My neighbor Ken dropped by and was delighted to see that I had arrowed the destructive critter.

I have to admire those diehards who never give up, whether they are a friend, or a critter in the woods. I am not easily dissuaded by circumstances or adversity either and I respect those who are equally tenacious and who, like that porcupine in the tree, keep hanging in there until the game is over.

 
© January 2004