Three hours past midnight, the alarm sounds, marking the beginning of the day's events. Sleep is quickly wiped away from the hunter's eyes. An adventure is about to unfold, she is sure of it. She doesn't mind the early rising, because it means arriving at the base of a tree, shot gun in tow, before a sleeping bird roosted above has a chance to detect the base of the tree is now wider and longer than the day before. As a reward for being willing to chase the early morning hours, before they slip into the shadows and give birth to the first rays of light, she now leans against the security of a tall pine and waits eagerly for the day to awaken. In silence, she waits.
Patches of snow give evidence of a recent spring storm in the mountains, leaving the only foot prints between the hunter and the truck parked just off the road. In walking in that morning, sounds of broken snow shattered the silence. In response to the crunch, a dozen or so eyeballs met the hunter as a family of deer looked up from their morning snack of new growth on the forest floor.
A quick text to a friend to verify the location, and she is sure that the spot over-looking an open meadow might be the lucky location for a first turkey kill. A fence line, sprinkled with unblemished no trespassing signs, warned to go no further than the first clearing. With the wind picking up, dampening the sounds of any nearby gobbles, she strains to hear the first call. All is silent, except for the wind whistling past pine branches and whipping the loose strands of hair that escaped from the braid under her camouflage hat.
A nearby private section of ground was just due east of her location. Clearly marking the claimed land, a fence line stitched a seam into the land, and making sure to be respectful of the owner, she faces away toward public land. A great roosting tree was just over that line, giving proof that the turkeys seemed to know where the safety zone was located each night. Maybe, just maybe, a turkey would wander out of the safety zone this morning.
The hunter settles in, and waits. The business of life attempts to ruin the tranquility of the moment. Not used to sitting in silence, without an agenda, no meetings, phones to answer or "to do lists" to cross off, the waiting almost becomes a chore. Almost. It is peaceful and the sounds of the forest quickly wash over a tired soul. Just as she is letting it all sink in ...
An unsuspected sound cuts through the morning air.
In a moments notice, a figure appears on the hill above. The sound of a round loaded into a handgun is as clear as day, which become mixed up in muffled, unclear words about trespassing and being on private land. She methodically stands up, showing her shotgun and taking off her face mask slowly. Once the man is within hearing distance, she apologizes and points out the fence line and yellow public land signs. Upon realizing that she didn't intend to trespass and had legitimately reviewed maps to respect his land, he was appreciative.
This was my experience two weeks ago, when I met Sprite, the hippie Indian. It's true ... he even showed me his driver's license! I got such a kick out of meeting a hippie Indian in the mountains. Who can say that? However, I never imagined that the encounter would begin with having a gun pulled on me. No one wants to come face-to-face with that reality. I now know, in a small way, how I would react if someone pulled a gun on me, after Sprite threatened me that morning. I feel like I handled it appropriately, and read the situation well. Granted, he didn't hold a gun to my head or anything crazy like that, but the threat was apparent. Pulling the slide back and then waving it in my general direction was enough to get my attention.
I later learned, that the issue he had, was that the public land I was on, he said was annexed for a future build. He was gracious and brought me onto his property, introduced me to his wife, showed me maps, etc. I asked exactly where the annexed property was and let him know we would be back up in a couple of weeks. I felt like we left on good terms ... he even reassured me that if people would just talk to him, he'd show them around and let them know where the turkeys were. In my mind, I had done just that, made a friend who wouldn't bother me again during future turkey hunts ... we even stopped to chat with his wife as we drove down the road later that night.
After retelling my morning adventure to my friend, Jeff, who met me on the mountain to hunt turkeys that day, we became curious about the whole annex thing. He was also concerned about the gun incident, which I understand as a normal protective reaction that any guy would have. This is also the reason I was hesitant to tell my husband, Troy ... I might never be allowed to hunt solo again! Since there was a local Forest Service building in town, we stopped in to get more information regarding the annexed land, get updated maps, verify boundaries, etc. We simply wanted to do the right thing, and make sure that we could still hunt the property to the North ... there was a section marked as public, but the fresh private property signs were a bit confusing. This is the side of the property that wasn't annexed. The law official at the Forest Service station mentioned that he didn't know anything about that land being annexed and would stop by Sprite's house to have a chat, to get the scoop. He also mentioned to us that the yellow public land signs were legitimate because they had just recently surveyed the land, and as long as we stayed on the public side of the signs, we were fine. It was our land. We thanked him and let him know we appreciated his time. Honestly, I felt good about the whole situation.
However, the story of Sprite continues ... a few days later, Jeff was kicked off the other side of the land by our hippie Indian friend, even though Jeff was on the public land side, according to the signs. It saddens my heart, because I had thought we did the right thing... talk to the land owner, talk to the Forest Service, obeyed the signs, etc. However, I can see where Sprite thought we "called the cops on him." Yes, during the course of the conversation, we let the Forest Service know that he pulled a gun on me and told me I was trespassing ... I was still a little shaken up by the whole thing. Honestly, I'm not sure if I'll hunt that area again. If I do, maybe I'll stop in and bring Sprite a 12 pack of soda as a peace offering. I haven't decided yet.
So what about you?
Have you ever encountered any issues while hunting public land?
Do you think I handled the situation well?
Would you have done anything different? I want to know ...
From the Draw
A website devoted to sharing bowhunting stories. From the draw in the mountains to the draw on paper, the moments live on.