Fall moves fast. It fades in a flash, like a pheasant through the brush hearing footsteps. And like a startled bird, if you stand still enough you’ll catch sight of a fleeing season. All it takes is sharp breeze to flip a leaf or lift a blade of grass off a hidden beak.
Flurries collect in the crisp autumn colors like the ring around a rooster’s neck, as winter sends snow geese and tundra swans to spy on the blood-red speckled bulrush. And the sunrise-lit clouds glow like ghosts of fall glory over the empty branches.
With the silence of a spirit through those skeletal trees, deer hunting snuck into my head, as I looked up one morning from a duck hunting daze and all I saw were antlers. Ten yards away an eight pointer had paused and was staring and sniffing my way. But I was downwind and buried in branches so he casually carried on his way. A minute later I glanced across the creek at another buck looking right at me. After washing his antlers in the water, he too continued on a leisurely stroll.
This, of course, took place a week before the season. They were the only deer I saw this year. That close proximity was a consolatory prize for failing to pull the trigger.
The blaze-orange sun of the gun deer season set over open water, leaving a few more days to hunt late season ducks cruising across Beaver Dam Lake. It is one of the rare waters in Wisconsin where birds can be pursued well beyond the shore.
Mid-lake hunting from a small boat puts you on the fine line between water and sky. As well as on a razor thin barrier above the temperature required for ice. And rather than hiding in patches of weeds, you try instead to become one.
From 360 degrees of open space, the ducks fly in like phantoms. All of a sudden the entire sky whistles and then you see flocks of wings; the white stripes of diver ducks that sparkle like crests of waves in the sun. And they move at fierce speeds that can adequately outrun a shotgun shell.
Fog blanketed closing day for ducks like burlap covering the boat; leaving the entire landscape around the lake coated in black and white. High in a tree a bald eagle stood watch, with its head washed away by the clouds. I could only see wings until it dove from the branches and vanished in the fog like the season.
Poorman’s Back Forty is a collection of private thoughts from public lands written by Jacob Friede of Beaver Dam. He can be reached at email@example.com.