I quickly exited my place of employment and headed the truck west on Interstate 80. In twenty minutes I would be home long enough to grab my bow and a quiver of arrows and continue on to State Game Lands 77, about three miles from my house.
In these days of ninety miles-per-hour lifestyles, the woods offers a respite for a harried mind and tiring body. Sometimes I question my sanity for even working in a retail environment that creates stress by the bag-full just to make sure someone is able to buy what they probably donít even need. It is a sign of the times, however; technology has taken over peoplesí lives and has made them prisoners in their own little indoor worlds where the only necessities are food, water, and money to keep them going. It is this same technology that drives me to the big woods, to escape the madness for awhile.
As I pull into the parking area I am already winding down and looking forward to the walk that will take me to the fields where I can still-hunt for groundhogs and scout for whitetails at the same time. The fields are maintained by the Game Commission and supply food and cover for the varied wildlife that inhabit the area. The game lands are made up of a variety of hardwoods; red oaks, hickory, cherry, beech and poplar are prevalent species here in northern Pa. There is also a quantity of evergreens in the form of white and jack pine, as well as hemlock and larch. There is a trail cut through the planted area that meanders in semi-circles from the beginning to the end of the road that leads back to the woods. This allows for quiet walking and a chance to surprise a woodchuck along the way.
I grab my fanny pack from the truck bed and don my quiver of arrows and drop down the bank onto the access road. My trip is short lived though since there is a patch of ripe black berries along the route that requires my attention. I spend a little time grazing before I move on toward the cutover at the end of the trail; there I intend to check on the latest whitetail activity, as well as the developing mast crop of hickory nuts, acorns and beechnuts.
Bordering the access road, the red fruit of the autumn olive shines brilliantly in contrast to the greens of the leafy cover they inhabit. These sweet berries are an attractant to many songbirds and other feathered creatures that call this section of the woods their home. These shrubs also provide cover and protection for a myriad of other animals including pheasant, grouse and woodcock. All in all it is a wildlife paradise.
As I trek along the road, I notice that the commission workers have cut the grass fields and the newly mown hay has been set in windrows to dry for baling. These cut rows are great places to find feeding whistle pigs and hopefully stalk close enough for a shot. Not today, however, the rows are quiet save for a small flock of chickadees that seem to be picking for seeds among the piles of fodder. As I move along Iím serenaded by the trill of a common yellowthroat from its brushy cover of olive and barberry. It is a pleasant sound and makes me feel far away from the daily toil.
As I make the next corner in the road the cutover comes into view. It is a haven for whitetail deer as it is chock-full of scrub oak and young wild cherry. During the summer it is totally impenetrable by man, unless he crawls on his belly. It is also inhabited by the infamous multi-flora rose, a thorn-filled bush that would even make Brer Rabbit turn tail and run away. The multi-flora has reverse barbs on its many hooks to hold you tight should you be foolish enough to enter its domain. The deer donít have a problem with them though; neither do the foxes, coyotes, coons or porcupines that pass through in search of food.
At the edge of the cutover, I turn to the right and enter the big woods. The field here falls away into a wooded hollow that extends along the cut east to west. It is a place full of archery targets; dead stumps, fallen limbs, woodpecker holes and other forest litter allow for random shots to sharpen ones skills for deer season. Between shots, the area is assessed for deer trails and food supplies. Old rub lines are noticed and last yearís scrapes are analyzed for storage in the memory bank to be used at a later date. Particular attention is given to fresh sign and intersecting trails between the cut and the little creek that parallels the choppings and the hollow.
Ahead I notice an old white pine stump and send a cedar arrow toward its vitals. The hit is good and a short trail follows. By now I have forgotten the issues of the day and have succumbed to mother natures wiles. Ten more steps and my steel blunt finds a dead tree limb lying beside a big white pine across the hollow. It was a fairly long shot but right on the money; funny how good you can shoot when nobodyís watching and analyzing your form or lack thereof. I continue on down the hollow, following the little creek into the clearing by a red oak thicket. Here I find a myriad of trails into and out of the red oaks. It is too thick to enter at this time of the year so I turn up the ridge on the opposite side of the creek into an open wooded area.
As I step across the creek Iím startled by the flush of a woodcock almost directly beneath my feet. Its whistling flight takes it down the hollow where it makes a gentle, circular landing next to the water, not more than forty yards away. Instinctively I look for its mate but none is found and I continue on up the next ridge.
As I stop to catch my bearings I am again confronted by a trophy stump about forty yards distant. The cedar arrow bounces off the top and sails another twenty yards past, burying itself in the leaf litter beneath a big white oak. Even though I saw it hit the arrow is no where to be found when I arrive at the spot. After ten minutes of scraping leaves and rooting in the sticks I reluctantly give it up to the gods of the woods and once again continue up the hill.
At the top of the hill Iím now on the back side of the cutover and must circle or back track to get back to the truck. Curiosity tells me to keep going around the cut and take the long way back to the parking lot. The woods open up more on the south side and I shoot my way back once more to the fields and the access road that brought me to this spot in the forest. Another arrow is lost and one broken before I emerge into the grassy oasis at the edge of the choppings. Again I search the fields for whistle pigs but to no avail. They must have had early engagements today.....maybe next time.
As I follow the road the last few hundred yards to the truck, Iím engulfed with a feeling of peace and satisfaction. What better way to end a day than a woods walk with the bow and arrow? The stresses and strains of the day have vanished and I make the drive home a slowly as possible. Isnít it amazing how in this world of advancing technology the best respite is Mother Natureís living room; Godís eminent domain....the big woods. No other place offers such a quick fix for the work-a-day archer who has been modernized nearly to death, and no other pastime can cleanse the soul like shooting the bow and arrow. Combine the two and you have the best of both worlds. These are feelings that canít be bought with a credit card or purchased online; this is medicine that is free for the taking and time proven. Lord I surely do love this sport.