The author expresses a look of…something on a perfect early morning of deer season. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)

The author expresses a look of…something on a perfect early morning of deer season. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)

I Went to the Woods: When the bucks win

Not basketball.

By Jeff Lund

For the Juneau Empire

When 4:22 a.m. seems late, it’s likely that you’re either fishing or hunting and it’s summer, so as far as catastrophes go, it’s not very serious.

I set the alarm for 4 a.m., and by the time I had geared up, had two raspberry Pop-Tarts and 12 ounces of water down, I unzipped the tent to find a world fully illuminated. The alpine was washed in a warm yellow as if greeting the deer hunting season with enthusiasm. It was bright and welcoming at the summit and clouds hung below in the lower reaches as they typically do.

But as I said, I felt late, because I still had a few hundred yards to hike before I was where I wanted to be.

I covered the distance and gained elevation quickly, excited to be back in the alpine. The deer were there, just where I expected, but an ever-thickening layer of fog was rolling over the ridge down into the bowl where a pair of forkies fed. I think they were two forkies. The first one looked like it may have had more than one split. Maybe it had two splits and was a compact 3×3. Extra points or not, I could hear sizzling backstrap and tenderloin, and was moving in the manner of an opening day hunter too excited to be stealthy.

From down where I had camped, a solitary cloud rose like the tide, seemingly filled by the fog coming over the ridge, and threatened to envelop everything.

I put the thoughts of being fogged-in out of my mind and fixed my attention on the bucks. The motion of my attempt to get a good look was enough to alert the deer, even from 400 yards. They didn’t spook, but the movement and the wind which had switched to my back alerted them. They walked, but with a purpose, across the open and disappeared into the brush before I could cut the distance to within my comfortable shooting range.

The clouds continued their motion until the fog from the ridge met the cloud from below and overtook the mountain.

For the next five hours, I couldn’t see more than 30 yards. I moved a few times, and even used a track recorded on my hunting app to navigate down into the bowl where the deer were. I sat for another hour, hoping something might feed out. When nothing did, I followed the escape route of the deer, officially putting an end to the hunt in that area. The trail was well-used, but clearly not meant for humans. I did find that it looped almost all the way back down to camp.

I made the decision to drop below the clouds, so I packed up and dropped 1,000 feet in elevation. There was no fog or cloud cover lower on the mountain, but it was hot and muggy, so I could see, but there would be nothing to see given it was mid-day and hot.

I had lunch on a rock overlooking the thick timber where I knew bucks hid in the cool shade.

It really was the perfect opportunity. There was a window. I shouldn’t have been in this situation. Had I woke up at 3:30 a.m. as I had planned, I would have been up there on the edge of that cliff, looking down into the lush bowl of vegetation right at shooting light.

But sometimes the deer win. As they should. And that’s OK.

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.

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