When you are still-hunting well–when the sounds of your footfalls sink into the duff and you are not moving too fast, for a change–you feel like you deserve to see a deer. You sense not just that you could see one at any moment (a rare enough feeling in the northeast) but that you should.

But the Big Woods quickly cure you of such nonsense. You don’t deserve anything. You get what you get. And I got zip the other day in exchange for two hours of noiselessly picking over a hemlock-and-red-oak bedding ridge. I got more of the same silently paralleling a long, dark bench, after which I was about ready to give it up. But there was one other spot I wanted to check–a knoll of massive white pines where bedded deer like to put their butts to the fat tree trunks and face downhill.

So from a copse of small hemlocks on the high side, I glassed all around the pine bases. I wasn’t feeling it. I’d glassed the bases of a thousand other trees already, plus a couple hundred blowdowns and stumps and thickets. I’d seen exactly nothing, nothing, and nothing.

Then suddenly there was a deer.

There wasn’t one, and poof, there was–staring back through the binoculars. The thing might as well have formed from the ether.

When I hunt productive farmland I expect to see deer and I usually do. No big deal. When I see a deer in the big woods, it’s always a surprise–almost a shock–and it never gets old. (In this case it was a doe, which is now in my freezer, not that that matters.)