Last week, as I shoveled out the brick of hard slush that a daylong parade of plow trucks had deposited at the end of my driveway, I managed a wry grin. At least, I think I was grinning … come to think of it, I may have been grimacing.
Tomorrow, I thought. Tomorrow will be the day. Today this is a pain in the rump. But tomorrow we’ll have tracking snow.
Ah, tracking snow. North country hunters and old-timers talk about tracking snow all the time. Down here, during the regular firearms season for deer hunters — essentially four weeks in November — the chance to head into the woods the morning after a snowstorm has dropped some fresh powder is much more rare.
Ideally, the snow would have fallen during the overnight hours, then stopped an hour before daybreak. That way, all the tracks we deer hunters found would have been fresh, and (had we been skilled enough) should have led to actual deer.
And sometimes, it works out that way. Just ask Registered Maine Guide Paul Laney of Grand Lake Stream. He emailed me a photo that showed how he spent his Thanksgiving morning.
“With 10 inches of fresh snow on the ground I set out before daylight in search of a big buck,” Laney wrote. “After looking at 20 different tracks I found the one I was looking for. I tracked the deer for five hours until I caught up to him.”
Laney’s deer was a monster 11-pointer that weighed 213 pounds. His closing remark: “Gotta love good tracking snow.”
There is, of course, a big difference between Paul Laney and me.
Paul Laney is a supremely skilled outdoorsman who spends most of his waking hours in the woods or on the water. I am a writer who learns more every day … by talking to people like Paul Laney.
Still, heading into the woods last week, I was encouraged. I, too, had 10 inches of fresh tracking snow to work with. I, too, was optimistic.
Unfortunately, I saw very little. At one point, I was enthusiastic: I saw tracks crossing the woods road not far from my stand. It turns out those belonged to a rabbit — perhaps the same snowshoe hare that I nearly stepped on earlier this season.
And there was one other spot where a small deer — or a big deer with very small feet, I suppose — had crossed. Other than that, there wasn’t much sign of deer.
Still, I have to say the day was pretty impressive. Branches bowed under the weight of the heavy snow, turning woods paths into breathtaking tunnels of white and green.
No, I never found a deer to track that morning. But when I left before noon, a turkey dinner in the offing, I had few regrets.
I’d tried. I’d had the chance to spend some time in the woods with a hunting buddy. And we did, for once, have some tracking snow.
Small victories, to be sure … but better than sitting around griping, as far as I’m concerned.