Hunter’s Moon Daybreak Buck

Born a Cancer moon child on the last day of June, I am deeply influenced by full moons.

How many times have I, on my way home from an eventful night – be they good, bad or just, plain peculiar – noticed a bright full moon illuminating the after-midnight sky and thought, “Why, of course, I should have known…”?

This narrative is based on one of those, spawned of lunar influence even though our most recent full moon was, at time of the occurrence, hidden deep behind cloud cover. It was a totally appropriate sighting driven by the Hunter’s Moon. A powerful force minus somber moonlight and the long, soft shadows it casts.

There was nothing remarkable about that morning’s start. After lying there awhile in dark silence, thinking, listening, I heard a car from the western hills pass from Brook Road. It told me the downstairs tall clock would soon strike six.

It gets light late these days – too late for early risers. Frankly, Daylight Savings can’t come soon enough for me. Not complaining. Just saying. Daybreak walkers like me are vulnerable hoofing dark roadways.

On my way to the fan-stairs leading down through a closed stair closet to the front door, I peered out a south window to the dark front yard, which appeared to wear a frosty glaze. Hmmm? Our first autumn frost?

I’d know the answer as soon as I got out there for my daily two-mile walk around the sleeping neighborhood. A robust pace completes the task in half an hour. Not bad, I guess, for a battered old warhorse with many dings and dents. At this point, not far off from a demolition-derby rig or glue horse.

My agenda before exiting the house includes a few essential chores, mostly directed at the woodstove. First, I open its damper and door on my way to the kitchen for two anti-inflammatory Ibuprofens. Then, properly medicated in modern American tradition, it is back to the stove to remove spent ash and build the first hot fire of the day – one that removes any potential overnight creosote buildup.

By the time I return from my brisk walk, the fire will be booming to a temperature above 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Then I’ll add a couple of bigger chunks and allow them to fully ignite before closing the damper to a controlled, soapstone burn I manage throughout the day.

Maintaining a good, efficient wood fire has become a lost art – one I still take great pride in.

By the time I stepped outside to walk, it was just after 6 and still dark under overcast skies. A barred owl was hooting from the western woods. Another answered from the north. Not unusual: Owl hooting is common where I live. Those familiar with barred owls know their cadence well: “Who cooks the stew, who cooks for you awwlllllll.” Gotta love it. As a turkey hunter, I huffed that identical call from a hollow, wooden owl-hooter to start toms gobbling from the roost.

Outside, I discovered that dull glaze on the lawn was, indeed, our first frost. Not a hard, crunchy killer-frost, but surely hard and crunchy enough in some pockets to kill uncovered tomatoes and peppers. Even at that point, I cannot say I was aware of a full moon. Had it been there, it would have been embedded as a first and lasting impression. I never miss a full moon. Clouds must have rolled in overnight.

It was still dark as I crossed the bridge over Hinsdale Brook and leaned a hard right with Green River Road, barred owls still saluting the new day. I soon passed three dying soft maples with notices posted on their trunks. I had seen the signs the previous day, but couldn’t read them from the road. This time, curious, I walked right up to the third one and could read “Tree Removal Hearing” in big, bold, black 60-point letters.

Interesting, I thought – maybe the town’s going to remove them. Seems whenever I need a tree work I pay through the teeth. I must be doing something wrong… and getting taxed to death in a town known for its high residential rates…

On my daybreak walks, I often bump into wildlife. In recent weeks I have encountered a doe and her two fawns several times, crossing the road through people’s yards along Punch Brook. It’s all about timing. The first time I saw them it was too dark to tell what they were, but I suspected deer from the movement. Since then, I’ve seen them four or five times at the same crossing, clearly the same three deer heading to beds in the wooded wetland base of Smead Hill. A big doe and two little skippers. Likely the same deer I saw in a field behind the old Schmidt farmhouse on Plain Road. Neighborhood deer learn to live on the edge and skirt people.

Walking that same half-mile stretch of road daily, many other daybreak critters have crossed my path. Thus far, I’ve seen raccoons, woodchucks, foxes, a skunk, and a bobcat. Maybe even a fisher, its dark, sinister profile moving too fast to positively identify. No bears, yet – which doesn’t mean they haven’t seen me. Many neighbors have seen bears. I usually bump into one somewhere along the way, but thus far, not this year.

Approaching a modern home on the corner of Nichols Drive, sold last spring by an old Recorder colleague of mine cashing in on the hot real-estate market, something drew my attention. I must have detected motion, but it happened so fast that it didn’t register; it was still pretty dark. Perhaps 30 yards in front of me, a big, antlered buck bound across Green River Road. He was right there in my face one moment, then gone, vanishing like a ghost between two homes on the north side of the road.

Alone and likely establishing territory for the upcoming rut, he must have been feeding on fallen, protein-rich acorns from the twin red oak under which he was standing. His tall, wide antlers and long tines were visible in the dimmest of morning light, as was his extraordinary body mass, grace and agility. He was what is known in hunting parlance as a “racker” – the kind of buck many hunters never get a good look at.

I checked to see if he had stopped to look back, as fleeing deer often do, but I never caught another trace.

I do believe that buck cleared Green River Road in one powerful bound. What’s that? Twenty feet? Thirty? No challenge for such a beast. At least three years old, he’s survived previous deer seasons, and will likely make it through another.

With the scent of hunters in the woods and the sound of their shots echoing off distant ridges, smart bucks go nocturnal, finding safe daytime refuge in dense swamps and shallow pockets of brushy woods bordering rivers and neighborhoods. Yeah, sometimes they do make fatal mistakes, especially when hot on the trail of a receptive doe. But you gotta be there: a simple right-place, right-time formula.

I have seen similar bucks in my travels, including hunting scenarios with gun in hand. But I’m no threat now. My hunting days have passed. For the first time in more than 50 years, I didn’t even buy a license, and don’t intend to – not even for pheasant season, which opened Saturday. Not interested. Hard to imagine, yet true. I’ve moved on. Not unlike my exit from the baseball, then softball diamonds to which I clung far too long.

My strong, primal hunter-gatherer instinct lives, but now I hunt information or the right word – pursuits I find equally rewarding. Yeah, I will miss the exercise, the handling of enthusiastic gun dogs chasing scent through crisp air and wet, thorny tangles. I’ll miss the cackling flushes, the difficult, twisting wing-shots, and hunting camaraderie with wing-shooting pals.

But why kill if I’m not hungry? I guess that’s where aging has led me.

So here I sit, sharing introspection inspired by that majestic buck that crossed my path under a hidden, full Hunter’s Moon, the influence of which spun my wheels into a pensive place of reflection.


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