Ghost in the Grove

November 15, 2010 by  

By Nick Simonson

As sundown approached one evening, I heard a loud series of crashes in the ten acres of old elms behind me. The repeated footsteps thrashing the leaves and twigs were far more aggressive than those of the doe and fawn that had crept out of the trees a half hour earlier to the east of my ladder stand. I knew without a doubt that the two animals charging and grunting in the woods behind me were bucks, and they were starting to get in the spirit of the season.
After listening to the back-and-forth for a while, the stereo sound of aggression was replaced by just the heavy breathing and stamping of one buck. His opponent had apparently run off, tired of the game. With time growing short in the evening, I pulled out my grunt call and figured I had nothing to lose by trying it out on an actual buck for the first time. Still a neophyte when it came to deer hunting, I didn’t know exactly what to do, so I inhaled and released a gentle “errrp, errrp” on the call, expecting the deer to run off in the other direction.
But instead, the woods behind me sounded with approaching footsteps and crackling leaves as the remaining animal made its way in my direction. After a few moments of silence, I blew into the wood receiver of the call again, this time releasing a trio of grunts, angled back into the trees over my shoulder, “errrp, errrp, errrp.”
The leaf litter crackled and the deer moved closer, this time the footsteps were purposeful, aggressive and quick, followed by a “WHUMP!” of the deer’s hoof stomping the earth about 40 yards behind me. The still and humid air transmitted the heavy breathing of the creature through the barrier of brush and fallen trees, and a shiver went up my spine. The deer’s inhale and exhale matched the cadence of my breathing, and with a rapidly accelerating pulse, I pondered my next move hoping all the while that the thumping of my heart wouldn’t give my position away. After a couple of minutes of listening to the buck, I raised the call to my lips again and decided to up the ante.
“URRP!! URRP!!” I blew out on the tube with greater force and passion, as if to throw down the gauntlet, letting him know that while he may have run off the other buck in the grove, he had yet to muster the courage to face me, his unseen challenger.
His response was a wild rush through the trees, just to the edge of the densest cover on the border of the clearing, leaving him still invisible in the late season foliage behind my stand. His breathing was heavy, his hoof slammed the ground repeatedly and then the evening was still. There was no follow-up foot stomp or crackle of leaf litter, even the breathing of the buck which had been so audible just moments before, had faded into silence.
It reminded me of those horror flicks, right at the beginning where the director does his best to set the stage for the terror to come in the rest of the film. The camera slowly creeps down the darkened hallway toward the unsuspecting person, giving the viewer the feeling that something is stalking up to its prey in the shadows. But as the camera rushes in over the last several feet and the would-be victim turns around and you’re certain there’s some horrible black monster ready to pounce – there’s nothing!
There were no footsteps leading away from brush on the edge of the clearing, no grunts of disapproval, no snorts of alarm, just complete and utter silence. All audible evidence, along with what by that point was certainly a suspicious buck, vanished into the slight fog rising up from the nearby lake, leaving no listening trail to follow as he disappeared into the coming night. I strained my ears for a long time, trying to make out any noise that might signal where the deer had gone, but from the time of my aggressive grunt to the time I crept down from the stand in the dark, there was nothing, save for a crow cawing in the distance.
As I made my way back toward the truck, I envisioned what the ghost in the grove looked like; the uncountable number of points on his gnarled main beams which curled just above his eyes, shining brightly with the wisdom gained by once again winning the game that he had played with a number of hunters that came before me. I hoped that he would be there the next time I took the stand and challenged him once again to the continuing contest…in our outdoors.


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