I stood at the bottom of a long and steep ridge, intimidated by the thought of getting to the top. It was late December, a couple of weeks past the close of deer season, and nobody was forcing me to make this climb. The steady line of deer tracks that punctured the snow almost down to the dirt ultimately convinced me to go for it.
I had noticed this active deer trail during the season, in an area I spent many hours sitting. Convinced the deer were using a trail that paralleled the ridge, I had built my stand approximately 50 yards away from this spot. It wasn’t until the final weekend of the season that I noticed this runway heading nearly straight up, with a very slight slope to the right. I had to see where it led.
Reluctantly, I started up. The incline was so unforgiving I had to stop and catch my breath several times. Only the knowledge I was on an extremely active trail kept me going further. The trail was so well-defined, I could look 40 yards ahead and easily see it.
I crested the ridge and reached a small flat spot that was not visible from any place on the mountain. The area covered no more than 15 yards before another steep ascent ran to the top. Walking along the edge of the shelf, I recognized a transition line of green hemlocks into open hardwoods. I reached a bowl at the opening of the hardwoods and started down into it. Two deer appeared out of nowhere, alarmed, their tails raised as they scurried out of sight. A quick check of the area showed maybe a dozen or more deer beds in the snow. Aha!
I marched through the bowl and reached the top of the other side. The hardwoods declined slightly, allowing for a view of 125 yards or more. I spotted the two deer again, along with three others. They were feeding on browse and leftover acorns. One deer actually headed my way for about 20 yards, carefully studying me before deciding I wasn’t worth hanging around for. All five scampered away from me.
I had seen enough. This was a very successful scouting mission, one that I was hesitant to take due to the nature of the climb. I had discovered a popular bedding area that the deer also used for feeding. I learned two valuable lessons that day. One, you can learn an awful lot about the deer in your hunting area in the weeks just after the season ends. The second lesson is to trust your gut. Something told me that this runway was worth checking out. Once I made the climb up the ridge, I was rewarded with finding a rather huntable area I, and most likely anyone else, was not aware of.
Remarkably, I spent little time in this area the following season, as preseason scouting missions caused me to reappraise where I would hunt. I left my secretive shelf and bowl alone for the season. I didn’t get a deer that year, as well. This is perhaps the third lesson of the story: Never completely turn your back on a spot because you think the grass is greener on the other side.