By Mark Fike
The weather on the opening day of archery season broke slightly angry with gusty winds, spattering rain, and unpredictable breezes. This was not a day that the average hunter would find the odds in his or her favor. However, past experience had led me to believe that my freezer invariably filled more often than not on such days.
Thus, my boots long worn to the bare bottoms were creeping along through the oak lot on a piece of property that I had permission to hunt. I was fully camoflauged with a leafy jacket.
At the first knoll that I carefully picked my way to the top of, I was gently reminded by my “gut” that I needed to stop. “Something” was definitely within eyesight.
I knew it and my instincts knew it but after some five or six seconds I took a half step anyway just to show that I was stubborn and would not listen.
A doe blew up and hopped off not sure what she had seen but she was not willing to stay in the immediate area either. I was far beyond being angry with myself. If anything I was a bit amused. It seems that each year I make the same mistake just to remind myself how stubbornness is much akin to stupidity.
Disregarding the poor odds of seeing another deer in the area for some time, I found a spot under a tree where I often perched some twenty feet up in a stand. Here the leaves were raked away and I sat.
Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. Then just before fifteen passed my eye caught movement. A large doe was stealing along nibbling acorns as she moved towards me. I sighted on her and was deciding whether to take her to the meat locker when I noted more movement.
There, to the left and behind a laurel bush, a smaller version of Momma came prancing out. This one was very small and had obviously been dropped later in the summer. It was then that the bow was lowered. The doe was to be left alone to raise her little one.
I was intrigued by the fact that the wind was blowing along the ground, rustling leaves and swirling my scent in their direction with no obvious effect. My eyes darted skyward from behind my mask. The tops of the trees were swaying heavily back and forth and then twirling about as if they were dancing to a ragtime tune.
The doe and her fawn moseyed a little closer. The fawn was the first to pick something out of the air that was wrong. It bounded from its snack and then stopped in a leaf plowing halt, which gained the attention of the mother. She jammed her nose to the wind and then stared right at me. I know she could not see me but by now the game was certainly up and with the next gust of wind the two trotted off unnerved. It was time to move.
As I stood the wind appeared to be blowing mainly from the south and west. With this information in mind, my stroll took me to the head of the property where I could sneak over some pine needle carpeting to a path I had punched through a blowdown with the chainsaw earlier that summer. The wind was not perfect for the location I was headed to but was acceptable and worth a try before I headed to another property to tag my first deer of the season.
My walk was a half-mile, but I took it easy mindful of the sweat I would break and the smell that would come with it if I rushed. The wind was still fitful, but that was not worth worrying about. The weather I could not change.
Arriving at the gateway to the pinewoods meant taking a break before stalking inward toward the venison dinner. A few minutes was all that was needed to refocus on the move ahead of me. My boots eased down between twigs that had been hurled from their lofty perches in the stormy weather.
The sticks were like trip wires leading to flashbangs they could mean the difference between a fresh meal or an unused hunting knife. Stealthily and gingerly my footwork snaked down between the sticks and then lifted to move onward.
The stalk through the eighty yards felt like a few minutes but in reality, had lasted nearly an hour. I knew deer had to be close as I had pushed several in this general direction earlier.
After exiting the pines, my path took me through a blowdown and then to an old homesite on the opposite side. It was there that I decided to move just a tad further to take advantage of a clearer shooting lane should a tawny opportunity present itself.
I had just spied a huge and dried out locust twenty feet ahead to make my way to when something came tearing out of the blowdown at my eight o’clock position. I froze and my jaw dropped open. A gray fox slammed to a halt, put its head down on its paws not two feet past the very tree I was hoping to sit near.
Here I was standing in the open, bow in hand and no place to hide. I knew that fox was going to bust me. To make matters worse, the wind died down to a whisper, meaning any step I made would likely be heard even if the leaves were wet.
I stood for a long time. The bow got heavier and heavier; especially since I had been holding it up high at the particular moment the predator came tearing out of the brush. I still could not believe that a fox was just sprawled out right in front of me like that.
Another blur interrupted my thoughts. This blur, much like the first one, careened into the fox and sent it cartwheeling through the leaves. STUNNED, would not describe how I felt.
TWO gray foxes were now chasing each other like cats round and round, up the sides of trees, through the leaves, over logs and all over the somewhat clear lot of hardwoods. Every few seconds their play would bring them on a direct course to me and I thought the game was up.
At the last second, less than ten feet away they would rip off in a new direction playfully plowing each other among the falling leaves. I decided I really needed to get out of the line of sight and on the ground where I could further observe this odd occurrence.
When the foxes ran away from me in their play, I took three fast steps and hunkered down just before they turned back towards me. They came so close this time around that I really felt I was going to get plowed or climbed. In fact, the lead fox hit the brakes just feet from me and stared.
Grateful, I watched indirectly (I had learned long ago to never look an animal in the eye) as the second bushy-tailed critter hammered it from the side sending them both on another rampage through the woods. Four more steps and I was scrunched down at “my” tree awaiting the next pass.
They flew by like jets. One leaped to the side of an old snag and climbed some ten feet up before the second one made the turn and steamed up to the “king” of the stump before being swatted back down and landing awkwardly on its haunches. The dominant fox came charging down and chased the aggressor behind me.
And so this continued for nearly twenty minutes. The foxes came amazingly close to my feet on several occasions and even stopped to sniff the air but never startled or took off alarmed. I thoroughly enjoyed their antics and romping around me during the midmorning hours.
Over the years I have had some very close encounters with foxes but undoubtedly this was the most interesting and pleasurable encounter I had experienced. Never can I forget the way the fox stared right into my face a pebble’s throw from me, how their tails bushed out as they faced off and how incredibly fast they ran silently through the woods.
I have never thought of foxes as being playful, but I suppose everyone has to have some downtime to play around and those foxes were certainly getting their fill. Moments like this one made hunting all the more rewarding for me. I am just glad I was there to see it and manage to get away without being busted.