When in the woods, patience in priceless
The doe froze, legs slightly splayed after coming to an abrupt halt not 15 yards to my right.
Dry oak leaves scuttled past, carried by a light west wind.
She stared at me. I stared back. Neither of us daring to make the first move.
"Just take a step," I thought, scrunching my brow and using my best Jedi mind trick. "Ignore the man in the blaze orange jacket. There is no hunter here."
But alas, the jig was up. In a flurry of hooves and fur, she gave me the whitetail rendition of a middle finger and sped away - her long, white tail held high for all to see.
It was Sunday of North Dakota's firearm deer opener weekend and I was running out of time. The countryside's acres upon acres of standing corn combined with unseasonably warm weather had led to the least amount of deer our hunting party witnessed in years.
Not a good sign for a poor outdoors writer with an empty freezer back home.
To top it off, the band of drivers combing the cattails and buck brush nearby had effectively spooked every deer within four square miles thanks to their loud war-whoops and volleys of gunfire.
For Pete's sake, were they hunting deer or herding cattle?
At times like this, when the chips are down and your hand is empty, it's easy for hunters to get discouraged. They think, what's the point? The sun is high in the sky, so chances are deer are bedded for the day - at least those still around. Might as well pack up and head home. Heck, leave soon enough and you'll catch the football game on TV.
But you never know when there's an ace in the hole - and getting lucky helps, too.
After nearly two days of hunters afoot, all wildlife, it seemed, was feeling the pressure. Even the chickadees flitting through the trees were noticeably quieter than when I first entered the woods Friday.
But Papa always preached patience, and this boy ain't no fool.
I decided to stick around, at least for a little while.
First thing first; a change was in order. Twice now a doe had spotted me in my chair: once while I was lazily munching on dehydrated apple chips, the other while trying to glimpse collared snow geese in the flocks that squawked and honked overhead. Both times I might have had a chance at filling my tag if I had been sitting in a different spot - or paying a bit closer attention.
Where I sit every fall is a classic funnel. Trails from the prairies and fields nearby eventually come together on the back side of an oak-covered hill. My original plan was to set up in the middle, smack dab between the high trail and the low trail.
For some reason, these does kept coming on the high trail, and when they did, they'd spot me and hightail it out of Dodge.
"Enough of this foolishness," I thought.
I moved my folding canvas stool nearly to the top of the hill, effectively forcing all deer to run below me; much like an impromptu tree stand.
The change in venue sparked my optimism.
So I waited - and waited.
After another two hours, movement from the south caught my eye. A doe was sneaking through the woods, ninja-like in her stealth. She was inching in from the low trail, carefully picking her steps, bending low here and there to nuzzle through the leaf litter.
I slowly raised my gun and clicked off the safety.
She stopped. My heart thudded. Had she seen me? Why'd she stop? My mind raced. Did she turn back? How could I miss seeing her leave?
After what seemed like an hour - but probably was closer to 30 seconds - she gingerly poked her head out from a cluster of aspens and continued north through the woods.
I waited until she was roughly 50 yards directly below me and made a doe bleat with my mouth.
She stopped again, ears swiveling toward me, nostrils flared. Her black eyes scanned the hillside above.
The crosshairs slowly raised up her front leg. The .30-06 roared.
While gutting the fresh kill, I thought about all that had transpired: the drivers, the missed opportunities, the urge to give up.
Just like that, when everything seemed hopeless, a little patience, perseverance - and maybe a bit of luck - paid off.
My tag was filled and, more importantly, so was my freezer.
Tyler Shoberg is Sports Editor for the Pioneer as well as an avid hunter and fisherman. He can be reached at 701-451-5717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.