The deer came with the night, riding the crest of darkness like a surfer in a pipeline, as the wave of evening swept down upon the woods drowning the landscape in ever diminishing sepia. It came as a ghost in the wake of the last shaft of light, now extinguished, which so recently had streaked the heavens. Fletched in crimson and crested in pinks and blues and soft yellows, the shaft had marked the final volley of the west setting sun into the encroaching eastern darkness; I had noted the beauty of its passing. The deer also came out of the west.
I had encountered this particular deer before. In fact, this hoped-for meeting was the culmination of more than a month’s worth of spare time spent studying the ground, working tracks and guessing times. It would be the third such encounter in as many days. This place is not a loitering spot, no deer droppings reside here, but it is a spot transited regularly. Early in the bow season while ground hunting close-by, a deer had come within a few feet, passing on the backside of the tree against which I leaned. It stayed to heavy pine sapling cover behind me and did not venture onto the watched, often frequented, game trails of previous seasons.
There was no shot; no way to round the tree in the post Hurricane Irene, limb-littered woods without making tremendous noise. I could only watch, and did, as it walked slowly away—always staying with the pine saplings.
Three years ago this general area was a super highway of deer track and sign, two years ago on the same Thanksgiving weekend as this, only a hundred or so yards away I had stalked into a group of yearlings–three doe and one buck–being watched over, as it turned out, by a monstrous matriarch. (I knew her well, having been within inches of her one morning on my dark walk into the woods on a previous season.) Last year there was less sign–much less–still, a nice buck (young and rather too curious in the ways of men to last through that year’s upcoming gun season) frequented the area and was perhaps the same yearling, now grown older, I had previously encountered. This year however, only one deer claimed this area as habitual territory. This is Screaming Mimi’s place.
Whether this deer and the pine sapling deer are one and the same is of no consequence, except to note that both preferred to transit the area in the glooming. This deer, now approaching, and I have definite history, as they say, unrelated to pine saplings. Our introduction, a singularly terrifying and blood-chilling occasion, took place Columbus Day weekend and is the event from which the Screaming Mimi nickname derives.
This is the deer that, in the pitch black of a predawn morning, had walked from its night bed as it lay just beyond the blinding white light of my headlamp and screamed the most gut-wrenching scream into my face–twice–then had beat retreat with pounding hooves as another scream rent the darkness!
I was certain this was Screaming Mimi. On the previous evening that scream had again been thrown in my direction and now, for the third night in a row, I was on Mimi’s route.
It leaves its day bed with the sunset to pass by here just before the end of legal shooting hours, always holding to dense cover. Friday night Mimi had come in behind my treestand, perhaps twenty to twenty-five yards out, but passing diagonally behind me rather than coming into my little glade. A couple of soft grunts just stopped it dead and caused it to make a big circle around me. Saturday morning I had gone back into the brush, found Friday’s tracks and had set up on the ground in a small pine sapling grove. All that day, the wind blew into my face and up the slope behind me toward the spot from whence the deer would come; despite being freshly washed with scent-free soap and attired in clean gear gently touched with autumn wood cover scent, that deer made me about 60 yards out and had taken off screaming (indeed, my old friend from the great woke-up-the-deer fiasco).
It was now Sunday, and I had had that Screaming Mimi within ten yards–again it had ghosted the sunset and again it had come from my blind side. I was on the ground in the pine saplings, set up to cover everything from seven o’clock on my left to two o’clock on my right; the direction that deer had followed on all previous evenings. This night the deer came from my back right stopping directly in line with my hanging quiver at approximately two-thirty.
True to form, Mimi was sticking to dense cover and was invisible, although not bashful about making noise. I knew where it was and am certain Mimi knew exactly where I was seated. It was an impasse, a Mexican standoff; we faced eyeball to eyeball neither daring to flinch. The tension was palpable. Right on cue the local villagers broke for cover—two red squirrels leaped from the ground in front of Mimi to the trees above and went scrambling noisily for the tops. Thinking to use this small diversion as cover, I gently took down the quiver. Unfortunately, two arrows’ fletching touched ever so slightly as I lay the quiver at my feet. Hardly was the sound distinguishable from that of the squirrels, yet the deer had exploded out of there, heading back to the ridge top, letting out three tremendous screams as it went.
Thus, for a third time, I had tangled with Screaming Mimi in close quarters and had come away, once again, with only a scolding for my trouble.
One might ask about the treestand and why I did not attempt going airborne again; in fact, I did. I left the area alone for four days and then went in at noon with the climber. It was Thursday and shotgun season was due to open in two days, this was my last chance. It was cold and windy with the temperature hanging at freezing. I picked a pine overlooking Mimi’s last transit, cut branches and climbed. By one-thirty I was seated well above the saplings, the woods again quiet. Evening crawled into the forest, held back, no doubt, by the gusts that tore the heat from my hands and feet. Finally, inevitably, the watch strapped to my quiver indicated sunset. Witching hour! Off to my left Mimi could be heard leaving the bedding area, but the sound moved away not closer. Mimi was using the side door to an exit trail that would bring the deer out perhaps a quarter mile north of my stand.
I waited until full darkness and came down. After loading up I turned my headlamp on high and found the woods decorated for Christmas. So many reflective tapes had been hung during the four days of “rest” that the entire area resembled a Christmas tree. What fool had been tracking up the woods and leaving scent on every twig while preparing for the BIG HUNT I can only guess. That he had driven off the object of his quest to safer routes was the only comfort I found as I worked my cold stiff legs in preparation for the walk out. Screaming Mimi, perhaps, will survive the guns of autumn and perhaps we will dance again.