In the Woods with Daniel


The afternoon was chilly… cloudy and dark, one of those bleak December days when it looked like it might snow a little.  The woodland floor was wet from a rain the day before, and I could move slowly into a slight breeze without much of a sound at all. My muzzle-loading .50-caliber Hawken rifle lay heavy across the crook of my arm, ready to be brought to my shoulder at the blink of an eyelash. Well, actually, with me it never happens that quickly; my imagination makes me faster than I really am. Alone and deep in the woods, I feel a little like Daniel Boone must have felt, hunting the Kentucky backwoods.

It brought memories of the time years ago when I walked through these very same woods and came upon a nice buck lying in a brushpile, watching me intently, thinking he was hidden completely. He would have been had I not seen his antlers. Then another time there was the buck which came running right at me and nearly ran over me; it was fleeing something… who knows what.

It was this same Hawken rifle, on its very first hunt about 20 years ago, that I fired at a doe leading a group of deer. She dropped in her tracks, and so did another doe behind her. The slug went through the hearts of both animals, and I found it on a hillside just past the two of them. I still have it on my office shelf, the .50 caliber maxi ball that killed two deer. There are those who never believed the story, but it really happened. My daughter was with me that day, and saw it all.

I love to hunt deer during the special December season with my muzzle-loader. There was a time when only the best of the outdoorsmen did so, when it truly was a primitive weapons season.

It was still and damp and bleak that day last week when I came across a log that made a perfect seat. It was a little too comfortable, I suppose. I should have moved thirty yards farther. From my left and behind me, I heard the slightest rustling, and caught a movement. There were four young does coming out of heavy cover and moving across the woodland swale, crossing the creek before me. Too far, 85 yards at least, maybe more. And they were moving at a good gait. A muzzle-loader will kill at 90 to 100 yards, but it is too far for me. I take shots under 75 yards, because I have too little faith in my marksmanship at greater distances. Daniel was a better shot than me, I’m sure.

As I headed for home, a couple of miles away, I caught a glimpse of a white flag bouncing through the woods in the very last faint light of day. A big buck, I’d bet. Or maybe a little one. I thought to myself how much easier it must have been for old Daniel Boone. His rifle surely was more accurate than mine. Lots more big bucks back then, much less skittish. Downright tame I’ll bet, in old Kentucky 200 years ago. Off in the distance I could see the glimmer of a candle shining through the window of my old cabin, and heard geese passing overhead. “It has been a good day, Daniel,” I said. Behind me, I could sense him nodding his head.