A Barred owl, like this one, played a role in our success this firearms deer season. (Missouri Department of Conservation file photo)
There is no venison in my family's freezer. However, we're not hanging our heads in shame and we are not counting the firearms deer season as a loss. As a matter of fact, we feel like it was somewhat of a success.
The week before deer season, my son's 4th grade class was visited by Sara Turner, the manager of the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center, who taught the students about vertebrates of Missouri. One of my son's favorite portions of the nature program was learning the call of a Barred owl and how it sounds like, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" He came home from school that day hooting like a Barred owl until I finally asked him to go hoot in the other room. Even though I'd had enough of the sound for a while, I was glad the lesson stuck with him.
The last Saturday of firearms deer season, we rose at 2:30 a.m. so we could get our gear together and make the drive out to Wayne County where we would hunt. This time, I would be hunting with my son instead of my husband. I'm not a morning person and my son is very aware of that part of my personality. So it meant even more to him that I woke up on time and loaded him into the truck with all our gear, hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls shortly after 3 a.m. The truck's thermometer read 34 degrees when we drove through Advance and I wondered how long we'd be able to tough it out in the stand that morning.
We were up in the stand with plenty of time to watch the morning light slowly entering the woods. By this time, my coffee was fully into my system and I was alert enough to enjoy the sunrise and the experience of being in a deer stand with my boy. But it was so cold; I found it difficult to expect him to sit very still.
Sitting up in a tree stand is one of the best places to discover wildlife in the woods. Some wildlife, like squirrels and woodpeckers, don't even seem to mind if there's a noisy boy in the woods. They go about their activities without much worry. So we conjured up warm thoughts while watching squirrels, downy woodpeckers and a pileated woodpecker for most of the morning. He asked me questions and we talked about what they were doing.
Shortly after 9:30, we hadn't seen any deer at all (probably because we were audibly whispering about the woodpeckers) and we were both shivering pretty good so we agreed to go inside and warm up with some cocoa.
Just as we stepped down from the stand we looked up and saw a bald eagle flying over us. The white of its head was brilliant. We stood and watched it soar over the woods and then headed in to get warm.
By 2:30 that afternoon we'd had enough rest and hot cocoa, so we headed back out to the stand. It was warmer in the afternoon, which made it easier to sit still and listen to the sounds of the woods. The woodpeckers were still hanging around. A blue jay hopped around below for a while. We were tuned in to every sound, hoping to hear a buck or a doe coming toward us.
We were sitting quietly when we heard a ruckus straight ahead of us in the woods, but it seemed to be up high off the ground. My boy was poised and ready for it to be deer, but instead, a group of wild turkeys moved in around us. Some were on the ground, but most of them were up in the trees. They would fly over from tree to tree like they just couldn't get quite comfortable. Each small flight made a terrible ruckus.
We enjoyed watching the turkeys and soon were accustomed to their noises, so we turned our attention back to listening and watching for deer.
We both sat upright when we heard the second loud ruckus moving toward us, crunching leaves as it went. But the animal was so small it had to come very near for us to even tell what it was -- an opossum.
This small little creature was fun to watch, too. We watched it turn over leaves and rummage around below us for what seemed like a long time. As the sun set we gave up our hope for deer, but our adventure wasn't over. Just as I was about to tell my son to start packing up our things, we heard it.
"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?"
The sound rang clear through the woods around us. My boy's eyes were wide as saucers and his jaw dropped. We didn't see this one, but he knew exactly what it was. And he knew how to call back.
We packed up and headed down the stand while my son put his new Barred owl call to use. Since it was too dark by this time to ruin anyone else's hunt, I let him practice as much as he wanted.
Over the holiday weekend friends and family members asked if he had any success during his first deer season.
"Well, I didn't get a deer," he told them. "But I saw just about everything else while I was out there. And I even heard a Barred owl!"
For more information on ways to discover nature, including hunting, in Missouri go online to www.MDC.mo.gov.