In 2010 I had the closest encounter with a mature Blacktailed buck that I had ever had up until that point. It was opening morning of the Washington rifle season and I was hunting on Weyerhaeuser land in a small stand of trees that was roughly 15-20 years old. If you've ever experienced such a hunt, you know how difficult it can be and can appreciate any sort of success that came my way that day. Young trees have a tendency to provide extremely thick brush, which is great for Blacktailed deer, but not so great for those of us who hunt them. To say the least, there were limited shooting lanes and the longest shot I could take was no more than 30 yards, and that's being generous.
I hunted a clear cut at first light, but after seeing hunter after hunter appear across the draw, I decided I'd head into the trees to see what I could find. I hadn't gone but thirty or forty yards into the brush before I jumped a deer but given how thick the brush was, all I saw was that infamous white butt bounding away from no more than ten yards away. I could hear him crash through the trees and had a good idea of where he may have gone so I decided I'd take it nice and easy and follow his trail as best I could.
I'm not sure what's more amazing about this hunt, my close encounter or the fact that I was able to track a buck through this brush when I could barely even see my own footsteps. I suppose when you're on point, you're on point. I had apparently brought my "A" game that day and shortly after arriving at the location where I last saw the deer, I began finding some heavy footprints in the soil. No doe would make that kind of print, so I assumed it had to be a fairly good-sized buck.
For the next 45 minutes, I tracked my buck through the brush ever so slowly. I lost the trail and found it again a number of times and at one point, I remember getting this feeling like I was within striking distance but just couldn't see anything. The brush was over my head at times and shooting lanes were nil. That feeling I had would come and go and I began to think I was crazy for being able to "feel" the presence of an animal.
At some point during those 45 minutes, I began working on my energy levels. I was amped up from jumping a deer and could hear my heart pounding in my ears. I needed to calm down and take it easy so I began talking to the deer and myself. It sounds weird but it's all I could do at the time to calm down my brain. The forest was so dense that I needed every sense I had if I was going to pull this off. As I tracked my deer, I would mumble things to myself like "easy now," "no rush," "just taking a walk," or "come on buddy, where are you?"
Finally, that feeling I had of being close came on extremely strong, like I was on his doorstep but just couldn't see him. I decided to kneel down and just listen for a twig to snap or something to happen. The spot I chose afforded me one narrow shooting lane of about 20 yards long in the direction of where I thought he may have gone. Within just a few minutes of setting up, I heard twigs begin to snap in that direction and moments later I saw parts of a that dark gray body slither through the forest in front of me. He was coming right at me and I lost him for a second but as I looked down my shooting lane once more, there he was. I could see him staring right at me as I raised my rifle. Once in the scope, I could see he was a shooter and pulled the trigger.
It was shortly after 9 o'clock on opening morning and I was tagged out. As I approached him, I couldn't believe how big he really was. This Blacktail was without a doubt the largest I'd personally come across up until that point. How in the world did I pull this one off? Was it luck or did I just do everything right that day? But how in the world was I able to outwit a mature Blacktail who makes his living evading predators in the thickest of brush?
While luck probably played a significant role in my hunt that day, I couldn't help but think why this buck didn't take off running for the hills when I first jumped him. Sure, the wind was right, but I wasn't exactly stealthy that day with all that brush to contend with. So what was it that made this buck nearly walk into my lap?
I've thought about it for a number of years and now believe that my personal energy in the forest that day was a major factor in my success. After replaying that situation in my head along with many others, I've noticed that my closest encounters with wildlife come when I'm relaxed and my energy levels are low. Think about the times when you've been the closest to an animal and I bet you'll find that for whatever reason, you were calm and relaxed when it happened. Animals survive in the wild by listening to all of their senses and I personally believe that they can very easily "feel" other animals even if they can't hear, smell, or see them.
By no means is being calm and relaxed while hunting the only key to success, you have to put a lot of other ingredients together as well, but I believe we shouldn't overlook our energy when in the field. If we as humans can pick up on whether someone is having a bad day or is anxious about something, wouldn't you assume animals are also able to sense good or bad energy?
There is a reason those hairs on the back of our necks stand up from time to time and it's not because we're feeling chilled. Something in us can sense the energy of fellow animals and if we tap into it and use it to our advantage by remaining calm while in the field, we might actually increase our chances from time to time.
The next time you have a close encounter or are about to have one, pay attention to your energy levels. Are you anxious? Is your heart pounding too loud? Are you as calm as a monk? Make a mental note of it and see what you find. I'm going to bet that nearly all of your close encounters happen when you are calm, cool, and collected.
Good luck out there and stay safe!