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The opening day of firearms season for buck in Pennsylvania is still a very big tradition. Approximately 750,000 hunters ventured into Penn’s Woods the first Monday after Thanksgiving, in hopes of seeing that trophy White-tail deer. I was one of them. The key word here is “seeing.” The hunter must actually be awake to see the deer, right?
Humans have been napping while pursuing game, for thousands of years, I’m just not sure there are any records to prove or disprove my theory. I can only imagine the first Native Americans sitting around the fire at the end of the day joking about the young warrior who slept with his spear or bow and arrow resting beside him, as the deer, buffalo or elk trotted on by. Almost every hunter who has sat patiently waiting to catch a glimpse of a big buck, has fallen asleep in the woods at one time or another, however, very few will admit it. Well, get ready, I’m prepared to “tell all” about this lost art-the criteria and circumstances leading up to the actual nap. You might want to save this article and refer back to it for future hunting trips!
I love being in the outdoors and maybe it’s that crisp, fresh air that contributes to my hunting naps, and yes, I’m getting older too. But I’m pretty sure that waking up at 4:30 am, gobbling down some heavy breakfast to fill my tummy, sporting a wardrobe of enough clothes layers to insulate me against a trip to the Arctic, and hiking into the deep, dark forest while it’s still pitch dark, are contributing factors. The only thing better might be to strap my bed and pillow to my back before setting out on my early morning trek! Nonetheless, you must eventually leave the house or cabin. Where should you plan on sitting? That depends on where you’re planning on hunting (napping).
In my opinion, the fundamental criteria for a quality “siesta” is selecting just the right spot to sit, which can be very challenging if you’re unfamiliar with your surroundings, it’s darker than a bat cave, and you’re still trying to remain relatively quiet at the same time. For me, it has to be sitting against a large, standing tree. I have not found another natural object that meets my high napping standards, and I’ve tried them all, including large rocks, tree stumps, steep embankments and even old hay bales on the edge of a field. Nope, nothing matches leaning back against a good old oak, maple or even beech, with its smooth, comfortable bark (stay away from shagbark hickories for obvious reasons as their name describes). Since I’m a bit wider than I should be, I prefer a tree that’s even greater in diameter than me, so I have good back support! Once I think I’ve found my ideal deer-sitting tree (I still do not readily admit that I seek out a napping tree), I do my best to figure out which direction is east, so if the weather is clear, the morning sun will shine on my left or right side. I do not want it shining directly in my eyes since it may be more difficult to doze off. Oops, I mean see any deer coming my way! No doubt a warm, rising sun on a cold, frosty morning is a major catalyst for outdoor napping. Lastly, I like lots of leaves on the ground where I sit. They seem to help insulate my underside a bit better, which may lead to a better quality nap. After all this planning it’s not unusual for me to simply get up after first light and move to another tree that just looks better in the daylight-especially after discovering I may have chosen a spot that looks directly at a large rock, an old junk car, a beaver lodge or a small herd of Holsteins standing in a pasture 50 yards away!. You can’t see too many landscape details in the woods before the sun comes up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still as excited as the next deer hunter in the early morning hours of opening day. My senses are extremely keen to any sound or movement that I can hear or see, as darkness gives way to morning light. I’m hoping, like thousands of other people, to have the opportunity to bring some venison home to enjoy throughout the year. But, my napping vulnerability increases as the morning gets later.
This deer season I found one of the best napping trees I’ve ever encountered in the woods. It was a large, Red oak. The size was perfect. I fit comfortably between two of its large roots with plenty of space to stretch my legs out and waited for the big buck to arrive. After eagerly looking and listening for the first hour and seeing nothing but a chickadee scolding me from the branches above, I found my eyelids getting heavy. I never knew I fell asleep-just the way a perfect nap is supposed to happen. At approximately 8:38 am, after sitting in the same, cozy spot for more than two hours, I was suddenly and impolitely awakened by, you guessed it, two large deer trying to sneak past me, not even 25 yards away! Maybe they just thought I was a large pumpkin with all my blaze orange clothing, or simply sensed I wasn’t a threat (I wonder why). Either way, I swear I saw them smirking as their white tails flickered away into the thick brush. I quickly rubbed my eyes, looked all around me to make sure no one else saw me napping, and decided it was time to get up, take a walk, and get hunting. Besides, I had already planned on returning to this same tree tomorrow morning!