The sudden shift to cooler fall weather here recently has been good for jump starting two things in particular here in Wilkes County: leaf watching and deer hunting.

Regarding the changing fall leaf colors, the experts in the biology department at Appalachian State University are predicting the emergence of vibrant hues in the High Country, perhaps even a little sooner than the traditional peak of Oct. 10 to Oct. 18 for elevations near 3,000 feet.

In Wilkes, fall leaf colors should be peaking a little later, closer to the weekend of Oct. 24-25. It could be a little sooner than that in the extreme western and northern areas of the county, or a little later for the lower elevations near the Wilkesboros.

Archery deer hunting season started in Wilkes on Sept. 12—when temperatures weren’t cool enough really to stimulate deer movement—and runs through Nov. 6. Most agree that the best time to be in a deer stand is toward the end of muzzleloader or blackpowder season and the start of gun season, which is Nov. 21.

In Wilkes, the peak deer rut is predicted for Nov. 30. When it’s time for does to be bred, hunters can count on the biggest of bucks to come out of the woodshed and get in on the action.

Back when I had easier access to family hunting land, I considered myself to be an avid sportsman. It all started as a teenager, silently creeping along forest floors and putting a few squirrels between the crosshairs of my .22-caliber Winchester semi-automatic rifle.

I became so proficient at bagging a mess of squirrels my dad started calling me “the great white hunter.” I was practically bursting with pride whenever my family sat down to eat a fried squirrel dinner that my mom had prepared from my harvest.

After college I developed an affinity for deer hunting. Still rather uneducated about the nuances of the sport, I built a homemade tree stand not far from the house and climbed up in it in the pre-dawn hours of the opening day of rifle season.

In my hands was my dad’s prized deer rifle, a customized Winchester Model 70 .30-06, known far and wide as “The Rifleman’s Rifle.” On my back to ward off the morning chills was my dad’s blaze-orange jacket that smelled like mothballs, just like the closet from which it came.

Knowing what I know now about deer’s keen sense of smell, I suspect it was the curious aroma of mothballs that led that big eight-pointer to within 10 yards of my stand. I lifted the rifle, squeezed the trigger, bullet met boilermaker, and I had a cherished trophy to commemorate my first-ever deer hunt.

I was fortunate to harvest several other deer over the years, but none meant as much as that first buck. Its meat kept our freezer stocked for many months, and its antlers were put to practical use when I would rattle them together in the stand to simulate two bucks locking horns in a territorial dispute.

Once I learned how important it was to mask human smells while deer hunting, I dressed head to toe in scent-suppression clothing. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I washed them separately with no-scent detergent, kept them stored in large ziplocked bags and even sprayed myself down with scent-elimination spray before the hunt.

Perhaps I should have stuck with the mothball method, because I haven’t bagged a bigger buck since that first hunt.

I dabbled also in muzzleloader/blackpowder and archery, but I never actually harvested a deer with either. Once I had a large doe in range, but when I pulled the arrow back I developed a case of the “shakes” or “yips”—more common than you might imagine with bow hunting—and couldn’t steady myself enough to take the shot.

Harvesting a deer was nice, but I think the most enjoyable thing about deer hunting is the soul satisfaction one receives from spending time in nature. Having an elevated view of the natural world at the dawn of a new day is, for me, about as close to God as we’ll ever get on this mortal coil.

To all the sportsmen, I wish you a safe and bountiful deer season. If you’re lucky enough to harvest a deer, be a responsible hunter and report the kill, give thanks to the animal’s spirit and be blessed by what the deer has left physically on this earth.

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