Through the scope of my muzzleloader, I stared intensely at his head; practically willing his tiny antlers to disappear. I could shoot a doe, and I could shoot a nice buck, but this little guy fell right into that category of un-shootable on this particular Wildlife Management Area (WMA). I’d yet to harvest a doe this year and would have been more than satisfied to put some meat into the freezer. But alas, mother nature gifted me with one of the few things I couldn’t shoot, so I opted to just watch as he flicked his tail, sniffed the air, and generally did all the things that a paranoid whitetail enjoys doing.
The morning was, indeed, perfect. It was the setting that most hunters live for: That cool early morning stillness, the world just waking up, and daylight animals just beginning their day. As a person, one might almost feel misplaced, but at the same time, blessed to be a part of something so pristine and natural. To be part of something completely undisturbed by human activity…
Until I had to sneeze…
On top of being gifted with such a surreal morning setting, mother nature had also given me a lovely cold. The urge to sneeze was overwhelming, but the last thing I wanted was to ruin this setting and, in turn, any chance of a shooter buck coming through the creek bottom. I willed myself with every ounce of my being: You do not have to sneeze. You do –not-. Have. To sneeze.
Sneezing in a tree stand is a lot like sneezing in church, but with less eternal damnation and more self-loathing. Never in a person’s life will the urge to sneeze be stronger than in a setting where doing so has the same effect as a bomb going off. So there I sat, tensing every muscle in my body, rolling my eyes into the back of my head, squeezing my nose shut with one hand, and burying my face into my jacket sleeve… All of this to stifle the upcoming explosion that was about to erupt from my climber.
Then the sneeze…
I half expect after every stifled sneeze to have to put my eyeballs back into their sockets or push small bits of brain matter back into my ears. It honestly feels like your head has exploded and messed up sinuses from a cold don’t help with this matter. But I quickly glanced up through watery eyes to see the young buck still standing there. And I would have breathed a sigh of relief had I not felt a second sneeze coming on.
Rinse and repeat. I went through the same motions a second time in order to cover up yet another sneeze. When this sneeze finally erupted, the force actually managed to dislodge a few sticks from my oak and rattle my stand a little bit. But upon looking up again, the little buck was still there, staring off in the wrong direction.
And then I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing had been disturbed, and though I probably lost a few brain cells in the process, the deer were still unaware of my presence. The morning was as pure as ever, and all was as it should be in a deer hunt.
But the third sneeze honestly sneaked up on me.
The echoing “ACHOO!” could still be heard as the buck bounced out of sight, the obnoxious white tail signaling that I’d been caught. The birds had ceased their singing and everything suddenly seemed –very- disturbed. Once the echoing stopped, the only sound to be heard was the little squirrel, which was now barking angrily at me from a nearby tree. Good news was that I didn’t have to sneeze any more. Bad news was that feeling came one sneeze too late. I sat in my stand the rest of the morning and saw no more deer. The birds eventually chirped again, and the squirrel finally forgot I was there and went back to acorn gathering. But the woods were never the same.
As outdoorsmen we strive for that feeling of being in nature at its most raw form. Seeing the world as most people never get to see is one of the most rewarding parts of any hunt. But at the end of the day, we are all still human, and often our mere presence can change how the natural world is perceived. But it’s those mornings that you get to experience everything undisturbed, even if for only a few minutes, that are so special. So even though my hunt was far from successful in terms of harvesting a deer, or even staying quiet, it was still a hunt I’ll always remember.
Maybe next time I just won’t have to sneeze.