Some late-season scouting in the woods

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The narrow path was trodden with scores of tracks, winding around the old bleached skeleton of a fallen tree, coming up out of the deep thickets and crossing this old lane - then heading out toward the agricultural fields. Just ahead another trail led up from some impenetrable briar patches. This was a good sign.

I was making my way along an old lane that I had cut into the thicket some years before. It was overgrown now but still passable enough to walk. There were rubs on some of the saplings along the trail.

My progress was slow and deliberate. I wanted to look this area over carefully, and I had my rifle with me if anything appeared.

The wind was in my face, and I was headed through these woods to one of our stands situated toward the back of the property. I was actually hunting my way toward the stand and gathering some MRI (most recent information) along the way.

Portions of the property have been flooded the last few winters, and we have had some good duck hunts here. This year has been dry, and I was taking the opportunity to do some scouting on the deer movements.

The lane that I was walking down ended just ahead, and I needed to get to the more open woods that lay beyond. Thickets and briars blocked the way. I didn't want to turn around, and I didn't want to make a lot of noise crashing through the tangles. Another deer path just ahead offered a route.

This path led through the briars into the edge of the sawgrass flats. The area is an old Carolina Bay that had been partially drained many years before. It is the only section of the property that hasn't changed in more than 50 years. The ditches aren't deep enough to completely drain this area, and it holds water - most of the time.

The ground was soft and moist but not boggy. Many deer tracks were punched deep into the black earth. More saplings in this area showed scars from bucks rubbing their antlers against the soft bark. I was pleasantly surprised.

Just ahead was a mixed grove of big loblolly pines and hardwoods of oak, sassafras and sweet gum. The understory is open here, and sight distances are greater. I stopped and stood for a while, looking.

Squirrels scampered along the ground and up and down the tree trunks. Birds flitted among the branches. A soft blanket of pine needles carpet the forest floor here. It is a remote area, and it is a beautiful place. I just stood in one spot and took it all in for a long while. There was no hurry.

The stand was just ahead in a big pine, and I eventually headed in that direction. I noticed a new scrape under a scraggly holly bush. A buck had recently marked his territory here, and his tracks were left in the soft exposed ground.

At the stand, I tied my rifle to the pull-up cord and climbed the ladder to the seat. I took my backpack off and hung it on a screw-in hook. From the pack, I removed my jacket and binoculars. I laid the jacket across the seat and hung the binoculars on the same hook, then I sat down and pulled the rifle up by the cord. I could see the corn pile and mineral rock at the end of my shooting lane out front.

The wind was from the north and blew my scent straight back in the direction that I had used to approach the stand. Perfect.

Shafts of sunlight pierced the canopy of the timber and slanted through the understory to the ground below. To the north, a large bean field glowed in the golden light and stretched off into the distance. Unseen blue jays called from the treetops.

I sat for about an hour looking and listening to the woods and marveling at the changing light. When the sun dipped below the trees and the light retreated across the bean field I decided to head back out. I wanted to go out by a different route and wanted to go before it got too dark to see.

From the pines, I headed back through the hardwoods toward the truck. The woods here are dominated by large hardwoods, cypress trees and an occasional pond pine. I was delighted to see all the young cypress trees scattered throughout the woods. They were easy to see with their cloak of copper-colored needles in stark contrast to the gray boles of the hardwoods. One day I think they will dominate these woods.

At one spot, I noticed that a buck had rubbed and broke several of these small cypress trees. I wasn't happy about that. Look out buck! I've got some MRI on you.

Reach Dan Geddings at cdgeddings@gmail.com.