whitetail deer, mckee-beshers wma
The hunting is tough, and deer are hard-earned, at McKee-Beshers WMA. F Delventhal via Flickr

I went hunting locally the other day. First time in more than a year. There is public hunting at McKee-Beshers WMA, just 21 miles away. It’s 2,000 acres and gets hit hard. It seems to require years to get to know it. Large doses of dirt time to have decent odds of success there, but I’m about 25 years late to the party. Luckily, I’ve been able to leverage my “fame” as an outdoor writer—a distinctly relative and subjective term—into some private hunting access. I posted a plea on Facebook some months ago, and Bob Cissel, a former Marine and ardent conservationist in Poolesville, Md., responded. He has access to a number of farms and leases and is really helping me out. Amazing.

I drove up last week and soon found myself 18 or 20 feet up a ladder stand overlooking a field edge, with a peninsula of woods to my back. Damn, I thought, this feels good.

A button buck ran under me from the road side in the first 20 minutes. I hadn’t seen him coming. He was running from something and didn’t much care where he went. He was still running when he disappeared into the trees. Things got quiet after that. My shooting has gone to hell in the past year, such that I can shoot ethically up to 20 yards and no farther. I don’t like this, but you don’t get far denying reality. Hunting at short range beats not hunting, anytime.

From where I sat, 20 yards would handle 90 percent of any deer within 50 yards. Unless they were passing way out in the field, they’d be cruising the field edge trail 7 yards away or approaching one of the fainter trails at my back. The wind was blowing straight into my face, so I knew that was dicy. The woods were downhill of my perch, but there was no way to tell if I was high enough. I knew the winds would lessen at sundown, hurting my chances.   I didn’t care. I was in it. I had a chance. Sine I’m basically a meat hunter, absent some jaw-dropping buck bigger than any I’ve killed before waltzing by, it felt good just to be in a tree again, back in hunting mode. I found myself picking apart the land before me for trails and sign. With unfocused eyes, I let my gaze wander, looking for any pattern below me that might turn out to be a trail. I spotted half a dozen, even if some were only the parted grass from a single deer passing recently.

I sat for three more hours. Near dusk, I made a doe and fawn by their bright summer coats in the dark woods to my back. They were tight as piano strings, taking a couple of steps and freezing for minutes. They knew what season it was. I took my bow from its hanger, turned, and watched. They were 25 yards away in heavy cover when they caught my scent. Neither made any sound. They just ran hell for leather right under my stand, the fawn bolting straight across the field, mama diving right along the field edge and into the woods. Two minutes later, the fawn scampered down the middle of the field, looking for mama.

I sat and rode the sun down. Walking to the car, I felt happy. Bowhunting is a low-percentage deal under the best of circumstances. I hadn’t expected to bring home a deer my first hunt. I was just happy to be back in it.