By Debra Nelson

Last year I joined my husband at the archery range with my new Mathews Mission compound bow. I hadn't really planned on hunting until I used a judo point on a gopher! Now, there is disagreement on whether I actually hit it or not but that gopher did not show up anymore when I was around! I started watching hunting shows and a tree stand actually looked quite peaceful - no beepers or phone calls or people wanting something - just the hunter and the hunt. I've always been able to lay and stare at the clouds without being bored so I thought this was the activity for me! A ladder tree stand was purchased and set up only 10 feet high to see how I would navigate that. A co-worker suggested I would be safer in a ground blind - but what fun is that?

The first evening of opening weekend was 85 degrees but I was determined to hunt. In full camo, I cautiously climbed up the ladder. The first 30 minutes was filled with my heart pounding so loud, I barely heard the sounds of the woods. The tree was the prescribed 12 inches in diameter but the swaying of the tree in the wind took some getting used to. It ended up to be quite a comforting feeling - like the rocking of a boat or the swaying of a dance. It was an intimate connection between the tree, the wind, and me.

As my heart rate and breathing stabilized back to normal, the sights and sounds of the woods became apparent and I was in awe. The sky was a vibrant blue as seen through the green tree tops. The sunlight played off the leaves and I could actually see sunbeams streaking down through the woods. I saw birds flitting from tree to tree and squirrels were busy playing tag, chattering and not paying any attention to me! Between the squirrels and chipmunks noise along with the creaking of trees, turkey and pheasant calls, the woods were certainly not as quiet as I had imagined.

Four hours later, as night began to fall; I noted the fading streaks of light were illuminating spider webs all around me that I wasn't able to see before. The birds quieted and were replaced by an occasional owl hoot. A hawk was hunting also with his wing spread almost touching each side of the tree row as he flew toward me and his prey. The sights and sounds up to this point were so incredible; I had almost forgotten I was hunting white tail. It was then that I heard a sound I've come to love - branches ever so gently breaking behind me. A doe very tentatively was walking down the tree row toward me stopping to munch on grass and acorns. I was amazed at how slowly she walked and how unafraid she was. When she was directly under my tree, she casually looked up and we locked eyes. I was holding my breath her previous 10 steps but I wasn't going to breathe now! She seemed curious but not afraid. She then moved out into the clearing that was planned to be the target site with both 15 yards and 20 yards scoped out with the range finder. At 15 yards and her standing broadside, she again looked up at me and we dared the other to move. I was calm and didn't feel 'buck fever' or the 'bambi syndrome' but was ready to end this life. However, at this point, I realized that I should have drawn my bow prior to her turning broadside and looking back at me. I smiled and let her walk away. As night continued to fall upon the woods, another doe walked out and just as casually walked by stopping frequently to munch on leaves and look around. With the fading light, a chorus of coyotes filled the woods as they celebrated the rising full harvest moon. By this time, the official time had passed to be able to hunt~ but I was quite mesmerized and not anxious to leave even though it had now been 5 ½ hours. I always thought the woods went to sleep at night, but nay, it was just waking up.

Soon after, I experienced a morning hunt when we made our way to my tree stand in the pitch dark using only a bobbing flashlight. Once settled in the tree stand, I was again amazed at the noises of the night. I tried to pick out the sounds or smells as I had absolutely no sight. The leaves right in front of me were not visible. Two sounds I briefly thought of and hoped would not hear in this ND woods was the hiss of a mountain lion or the growl of a bear - as they both would certainly know I was there and do climb trees! It was awesome as the reverse sights and sounds now happened with the owl hoots being replaced by song birds and ever so slightly the world coming into view again with the rising of the sun. If any female is considering hunting from a tree stand, I would wholeheartedly encourage them to try it! They will never see the woods the same!