Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Feb 02, 2015

The morning couldn't have been better. I had six inches of silent powder that had fallen overnight to stalk through, and the morning was offering up a hint of what warmth "could" feel like as the sun glowed through the overcast sky that was still offering up a light flurry. It was muzzle-loader season, and my hands were enjoying the warmth of the Hawken rifle's hand-rubbed walnut stock cradled in the crook of my arm. I was easing along behind five sets of fresh deer tracks, expecting to catch a glimpse of them at any moment. My hunt today was strictly for holiday jerky, with only a doe license in my possession. With no wind, mild temperatures, tracking snow and fresh tracks; things felt good.

Easing through some sparse Mountain Laurel, I could begin to hear the sound of the stream I knew was growing close. The tracks had begun to disperse a bit just before the laurels, and with hemlock up ahead bordering the stream it told me they were stopping to fed along the stream. Pausing to listen, my thumb found the hammer of the reproduction rifle with a re-assuring thump. It would be soon. Slipping forward a step at a time the hemlock flat came into view and I stopped in mid-step, cautious not to jerk my leg or stop to sudden, as 50 yards ahead of me they stood. To my right fed an average doe with two yearlings, while directly to my front stood a large old doe and a 1-to-2 year old doe quartering away feeding along the creeks edge. The rifle came up slowly as my front sight post settled on it' mark. An instant later the sound, smoke and scattering of deer was over and the old doe was down and still. She lay on the crest of the high-water -mark as I knelt next to her, slipped a sprig of laurel into her mouth and gave thanks for the gift.

Taking a seat in the snow next to her, I reflected on the hunt and took some time to rest a bit before dressing her out and beginning the drag to my truck. My initial thoughts had come to fruition. It had indeed felt like a good morning. Glancing upstream at the glass-like run to my left, I found myself staring at a rise-form. As I watched, there were several more trout feeding as the small flakes settled straight down on the water. With the overcast sun and no wind, I had a beautiful view to watch the hatch. I could not see the trout on the bottom, but once they were a foot or so from the surface they would come into view in perfect clarity for an amazing display of feeding. They all appeared to be browns of about 10 inches, and they were feeding on a dark tannish-dun midge in the size 22-24 size range. Each time, they would let the floating midge pass them by, then rise to the surface in trail to take the insect from behind. They were hunting! I wondered what their view from below was like with the windless glass surface and light flakes settling on the water? I got the sense they were experiencing the same feeling that I had so recently felt, as everything had been coming into play so perfectly when the tracks had exited the laurels. Did they "just know" that with conditions so perfect that a hatch was certain to show up? I watched them feed for quite some time, completely still and in awe of what was on display. I had not seen a rise for about 5 minutes when I realized that in my concentration the snow had dusted me white from head-to-toe. 

Standing and dusting myself off, dressing the doe was quick and easy and before I knew it I was done and she was tied to the dragging rope. As I turned to head towards the truck which was about 400 yards away, I looked up to see a Great Horned Owl sitting on a branch about 30 feet up and off to my left. I looked back at the remains in the snow and back up to the owl who had most likely been there watching the entire time. "It's going to be a good day isn't it?" I said out loud more as a statement than a question. The owl simply canted his head slightly and hunched its shoulders, but remained on the branch despite the sound of my voice. I guess he agreed.

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