Our Outdoors: First Watch

By Nick Simonson

Opening day of North Dakota’s bow season sits in that stretch of time where summer and fall mix together.  Cool dewy mornings of Labor Day weekend melt into warm afternoons, and despite the fact that deer are in their warm weather patterns and most often present themselves with a reserve limited to those habits from previous months, the start of the season remains a big draw for me.  Heading out into the dark countryside, where the glow of town’s lights is muted by a rise in the hills and the 30-minute drive down interstate, then blacktop, then dusty gravel that lay between my home and my stand, I took to my perch for the first sit to watch the stars fade out, the sun take to the sky, and the world come alive around me.


Adjusting to the first day back on stand is always a challenge for my eyes, like walking out of a dark theater during an afternoon matinee and letting them adjust to the light levels.  In the first light of pre-dawn, squinting at the dark shapes along the far hillside, and the cuts and tire marks in the harvested field provides the first opportunity to think I saw a deer, and to feel that slight increase in heart rate as I wonder if the slight wobble in the far off object is the animal taking steps, or the pulsing in-and-out-of-focus of my middle-aged eyes. More often this past weekend, it was the latter. 


However, as dawn came on the wings of a five-bird flock of whistling wood ducks whizzing from the creek bottom and the wild flapping of scattered mourning doves, I made out the immovable objects and features on the landscape and connected my eyes on a brown form at the far side of the field, gingerly picking its way into the stubble from the western draw.  A second one joined it and the first rays of the sun lit up their auburn sides as I ranged them from my position.  They were two fawns, mowing through the shoots of green rising on recent rains over the dry area through the stalks of a drought-shortened wheat field.  Without the normal parental supervision they usually still had this time of year, I began to wonder as I watched them find their breakfast.


Had their mother been taken by a predator?  Was she a victim of the recent resurgence of EHD in the area? Was it possible that, as the twins were comparable in relative age to a human teenager, she had already sent them into the world on their own and was enjoying empty nest grazing elsewhere?  The two provided no answers, but as they moved through the field, they seemed confident and well developed enough to allow for the last, most anthropomorphic, and certainly least morbid, explanation to take hold.


Along the low portion of the expanse, they moved in my direction from 200 yards, taking their time and soaking in the warming sunlight as they nibbled on the grasses.  From time to time, they’d look around as cues from nature brought the morning into full effect.  A squawking pair of blue herons flew overhead, drawing their attention.  A group of seven magpies came up from the bottom, with one landing in a nearby tree, calling while the other half dozen flapped off into the hills. As a large red-tailed hawk circled overhead, the pair of deer closed the distance to 20 yards in the grassy area along the draw to the right of my stand. 


It was there they went behind me, down into the cut in the landscape and back into the bottom where the creek wound down to the small impoundment about a mile away, leaving the slight adrenaline rush that comes with seeing an animal so close and trying not to spook it, even if the thought of taking a shot never crossed my mind. In total, the two fawns with fading summer spots were in front of me for more than an hour and fifteen minutes, providing for a good first watch of the season…in our outdoors.

Featured Photo: A fawn moves through a grassy area alongside the author’s stand site. Simonson Photo.

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