by Johnny Blackmon
(Belle Chasse, LA)
A look at the thermometer shows it to be 29 degrees out. A look out the window reveals a serene picture of a moon lit night illuminating the area around the camp and the pond causing a near daytime illusion as the moonlight is reflected on the snow covering the ground and surrounding forest. For the moment I am mesmerized, transfixed on the view, trying to drink it all in. Then as I continue to stare out the window, for some unexplainable reason, I am suddenly feeling a strange sense of warmth from the new fallen snow.
Quickly, I am brought back to reality by the crackling of the fire in the heater and realize that if I am going to go hunting, I need to stop daydreaming and get ready. The thought is preparation for extended cold as I start to don my cold weather hunting gear. A step closer to the heater and a look at the warm bed that I had just vacated came close to changing my plans for the morning. I know that I have always wanted to hunt in the snow and passing on this chance was not in my plans. Still, 29 degrees out and 62 degrees in the camp with the eventual cup (or cups) of hot coffee and bacon, eggs and pancakes that my wife and I would share continued to weigh in the back of my mind as I slipped on my boots to go.
Out the door, gun in hand, backpack loaded with essentials and I am on my way! I am going to finally hunt with the area completely covered with about 2 inches of freshly fallen snow!
Now I know that all of my buddies that hail from the northern states are probably grinning and laughing at my enthusiasm right now but, you have to understand that this situation does not happen that often in Kentwood, Louisiana!
As I stepped off the porch on to the snow and ice covered steps I reminded myself that I would need to take extra precautions as I walked due to the extremely slippery surface but, being from the south, I figured that it couldn’t get much worse than wet mud on some of our hills and I should be okay.
It was cold, no doubt, but surprisingly not that cold. To say that the area was beautiful blanketed in the snow was a gross understatement. Trees were bowing down under the weight of the strange white stuff that seemed to cling to their branches no matter what angle they bent toward the earth. The footing was like a soft carpet that seemed to cushion each step you took as you passed through the area.
Then it came to me, the something different that seemed to envelope the entire area, unobtrusively, without revealing it’s presence but still there. The something that seemed to have you in its grasp but was waiting for you to understand that it was there, to respond. The lack of noise was deafening, the silence was screaming and I could hear nothing else! No crickets, no birds, no coyotes, nothing made a sound! The weight of the silence bore down on my shoulders just as the snow was causing the mighty trees surrounding me to bow in submission.
My first thought was to say something, to speak but that would be futile. I suddenly realized that there was something bigger than just hunting happening this cold December morning. The thought of my insignificance in relation to my surroundings was unbelievable! I could talk, shout or even fire my weapon and break the silence but then what? Once the vibrations of my voice or the sound of the shot had passed, no one would even know that I had been there, or cared for that matter! I came to the conclusion that for all my attributes and armament, I didn’t really matter much at that point in the grand scheme of things!
Finally, I have reached my stand, put my rifle and backpack on their ropes and hook up my fall protection to start climbing the ladder. As my hands feel the ladder rungs covered in snow and ice, I am glad that I took the time to install my fall protection earlier in the season. I will have to be especially careful ascending the ladder today.
After making the climb to my stand, I carefully maneuvered my equipment in place, sat down with weapon in hand and prepared to wait for whatever would happen. It didn’t take long to reap the benefits of my efforts! The view was spectacular! The new fallen snow covered the food plot like an expensive Moroccan rug that had been tailor made to fit every twist and turn of the area it covered. The trees sparkled in the moonlight and seemed to move as the lighting changed everything as sunrise approached. And then the explosion of daybreak hit the eastern sky and lit up the snow laden trees as though some strange force had draped millions of sparkling Christmas lights throughout the entire country side! Beauty has no bounds when nature formed by the hands of God is displayed! And all I could do is sit, breathlessly wait. For what I had no idea, knowing only that the moment demanded both silence without and jubilation from within. The wait was at the same time both exhaustingly intense and unnervingly calming. So I just sat.
The minutes and hour after sunrise passed ever so slowly with nothing moving but a soft, cool breeze blowing powdery showers of snow from the limbs of the surrounding trees. Then, as if on cue from some hidden alarm clock, the wildlife seemed to stretch, roll out of their warm beds and come out to meet the day. An occasional bird calling attracted my attention at first but none were in sight, none were attempting to fly or move about.
Then the squirrels started paying their regular morning visits to my feeder. Their route of entry to the feeding area seemed strange for some reason. I then realized that their normal routine of running from limb to limb like the trapeze artist intent on defying all laws of gravity (and good sense) had been laid aside for the safer confines of large limbs and tree trunks. They were doing almost all of their traveling on the ground and even that looked odd the way they were bouncing high in to the air to elevate themselves above the snow. Their low center of gravity and the fresh snow did not seem to lend itself to their comfort zone.
I could not help but ponder the thought of the changes in the actions of the wildlife in front of me. The birds refused to fly, the squirrels had totally reworked their routine, all of them had adapted rather quickly and efficiently to their new-found environment, something that was totally out of their control. Their world had changed overnight but they were coping and with little fuss. Each of them had recognized the perils of the day and had taken immediate action to either stay put (as had all of the deer that I had expected to see today) or alter their routine to cope. I could not help but parallel their actions with mine that morning and have certain doubts as to who should be given the title of “intelligent creature”! They had adapted, I had gotten out of a warm bed and climbed a tree filled with snow and ice in 29 degree weather! You can decide whom you think should be dubbed the smarter. I don’t really want to think about it.
After several hours of sitting in the stand I came to the conclusion that this “hunt” would end as the vast majority of my hunts would end with no game in hand but a huge collection of great memories. After all, my excursions are never about the killing or even about the hunting for that matter, it is about living and enjoying the beautiful boundless world that God has loaned me for a while. As I start to collect my gear and climb down from my stand, I suddenly catch the smell of wood smoke from our camp heater and almost convince myself that I smelled the aroma of the fresh pot of coffee that Theresa is brewing at the camp. My pace quickens! No it’s not about hunting or killing, it’s all about the living.