By the time you are reading this, unless you live in the extreme southern part of Mississippi, the 2017-2018 deer season will already be “in the books,” as they say.
While my memories are still fresh, I want to bring to the reader’s attention something that stood out to me while spending time in the whitetail woods.
Early one cold morning just before New Year’s Day weekend, I parked on the side of a blacktop road that flanks an area I hunt, with the idea of easing down an adjacent hardwood ridge to where the ridge-toe overlooks a hollow complex — a location that has proven in the past to be a favorite haunt of rutting bucks on the prowl.
The predawn sky was crystal clear, and the morning low was forecast to be in the mid- to upper-20s. I was dressed well for a long sit in the cold and slowly worked my way to a particular pine that I could sit against that afforded a great view of the bottom of the hollow. The great thing was that the location was high enough on the toe of the ridge to give me the equivalent elevation of a ladder stand.
As I carefully walked in, the only sound I made was the low rustle of leaves under my boot soles. Upon reaching my destination, I was quite content, having not jumped or spooked any deer during my slow and careful walk in. After donning my fleece neck gaiter, heavy insulated pile hat and gloves, I sat down and got myself properly situated at the base of the big pine.
There was no wind yet, so the super-cold morning air hung in the hollow with an almost palpable heaviness. We have all noticed many times how well sound can carry on a cold, still, heavy morning. The train’s whistle on the track 6 miles away sounded like it was a mile away. A dog’s bark from a mile away sounded like it was a quarter-mile or less away.
After sitting quietly for a while, I noticed a low, rumbling sound in the distance. I could instantly tell it was coming from an adjacent neighbor’s property and was an ATV, most likely a 4-wheeler. The low, rumbling noise continued, slowly increasing in volume, with only the pitch changing as the small, wheeled vehicle made twisting turns and went up and down grade changes.
The most-remarkable thing to me was that I could easily tell where the vehicle and its hunter were through the entire trip. I am just a slightly hard-of-hearing, almost 70-year-old human, and I could tell exactly what was going on and where — so what information was the noisy passage imparting to every deer in the nearby woods?
A whitetail deer’s hearing is infinitely better than a human’s ear, so was the hunter helping or hurting himself by riding to his stand rather than walking? Whitetail deer, especially wily, old bucks, are hard enough to see and outwit, without advertising one’s presence and intentions to all within ear shot. And remember, being “within ear shot” on a cold, clear, still morning, means a much larger area than normal, especially with bare trees after leaf fall.
Did he have a clue?
Once the hunter on the ATV had reached his stand or a parking spot within easy walking distance, the vehicle stopped and the engine was turned off. As I saw it, the saddest thing for the hunter was that a human some distance away had been listening and knew where he had come from, what route he had taken and where he had stopped. All of the deer in the area knew much, much more. I could only imagine how many were at that moment quietly slipping away from the hunter, all the way around the compass dial.
When that key was turned off and the sound stopped, that information was telegraphed in a circular pattern for all to hear. I could hear it all very well, and by using simple high school geometry, if the straight-line distance from that location to me represented the radius of a circle, a quarter-mile radius would equate to a minimum circle of disturbance of approximately 145 acres. A half-mile radius would equate to a circle of disturbance of 500 acres. I hope you see my point.
That revelation should be shocking to all. I can’t count how many frosty mornings I have spent listening to ATVs buzzing to and fro as they come and go from stands on neighboring properties. There is certainly a place for using ATVs, but I have become, over time, less and less enamored with their use going to and from a deer stand.
Sound carries surprisingly far on a cold winter morning. So, why would a deer hunter, who stores his outer wear in a bag with pine boughs, bathes with unscented soap, sprays down with scent-killer spray and uses any number of other techniques to avoid detection, hop on an engine-propelled ATV to travel to and from his or her deer stand? This totally defies logic to me. Additional noise pressure in the woods cancels out, to a degree, a hunter’s other best efforts to remain undetected.