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Author Topic: The Beech Tree Crossing - by George D. Stout  (Read 294 times)

Offline Terry_Green

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The Beech Tree Crossing - by George D. Stout
« on: April 14, 2003, 07:04:00 PM »
The Beech Tree Crossing

by George D. Stout

     It was an unusually cool August day here in southern Pennsylvania when I pulled the truck into the grassy lot at State Game Lands 48. I shut off the engine and just sat and listened to the woods for a bit. I do this quite often before scouting or stump shooting. Sometimes if the sounds don't suit me, I will drive up the road a piece until I find a suitable spot. Often it will be the call of the wood thrush that lures me to the woods; another time it may be the soft percussion offerings of the downy woodpecker, it depends on my mood of the day I suppose. On this day it was the raucous calling of a local band of crows that prompted me to grab my bow and head for the beech trees. The thought of a bow/crow encounter was too much of a temptation.      

I slipped into my back quiver, grabbed my longbow and fanny pack and headed up the old tram road that led to some food plots about a quarter-mile up the mountain. These fields were cleared years before to supply additional sustenance for the deer, turkeys, bears and small game critters that inhabit this area of Bedford county. And, although not always planted on a yearly basis, they still offer an area for grazing on succulent spring grasses or, for the wild turkey, chasing grasshoppers or consuming fox tail seeds in the late summer. In addition, the thorny confines of many multi-flora rose thickets offer great places to raise turkey chicks.      

As I approached the first food plot I noticed the reason for the crows concern, a red tailed hawk perched openly on a red oak branch. He was taking a lot of verbal abuse from the dozen or so that sat about him at varying distances. The hawk seemed to take it all in stride as he preened his breast feathers, giving a casual glance at the bouncing, hollering black birds. After a few minutes the raptor decided it was time to head for new hunting territory and was summarily escorted away by the crow clan.      

I spent nearly twenty minutes just watching from my limestone bleachers next to the fields. After a week of catering to customers, the simple art of relaxation felt very good indeed. My longbow lay across my lap as I watched the fields for impending entertainment. Drifting into a self-imposed mental stupor, I listened to the fading calls of the fleeting scavengers. The sounds reminded me of Hiram Grogan's escapades with his hunting buddies in the 1950's, as told in his book, "Modern Bowhunting."   His accounts of their hunts showed child-like enthusiasm for chasing small game with the bow, particularly crows shot on-the-wing as they swarmed to the call of a dying comrade.

As I left my bleachers, and moved to the field's edge, I pulled an arrow from my quiver and softly fit it onto the string as a single crow began to cross the field. I pulled to my cheek and tried to gauge the flight as the string slipped from my fingers. The arrow arced into the sky well ahead of the passing crow and as the two continued on their flight you could see that there was a similar intersection in their path. I'm not sure how close the arrow was but Mr. crow wasn't taking any chances as he dipped under and darted into the nearby woods. I laughed to myself as I retrieved my arrow from the distant grass field, wondering what the crow may have told his buddies about the feathered missile that was attempting to interrupt his flight. Probably a parable about dumb archers taking ridiculous shots. I thought I heard Hiram say, "nice shot", as I walked over and picked up the blunt tipped arrow and circled back into the woods.      

This area of the mountain contained some older second-growth hardwoods so, although there was adequate food and cover for whitetails, the undergrowth was not all that thick. This leads the deer to follow selected funnel areas between the fields and bedding areas. To the novice hunter the signs may not be that obvious, but to the seasoned archer the evidence is waiting to be analyzed. The little creek that cuts through this particular spot, east to west, is intersected with these funnels at several locations. The beech tree crossing is one of my favorites.      

There is something enigmatic about the little spring fed mountain creek where it makes the turn by the beech trees. It probably doesn't really fit the definition of a creek, so to speak, many summers it barely carries enough water to keep its rocky bottom covered; never the less it is an attractive spot as it offers a cool, shady spot during a hot summer afternoon where one can sit and relax, away from the trials of everyday things. It also offers a cool drink of water for the local animal population.      

I named the crossing for a fairly obvious reason, there's an ample concentration of beech trees growing there. The biggest difference between this crossing and the others along the creek is the way the hollows come together to form the funnel that lends itself so well to the travels of the deer. On the north side of the creek the land sinks into a gentle slope that ends right at the creek's edge, making an excellent place to cross for several reasons. One is the slope itself, gently leaning to the water. Another is the lay of the incline that actually makes the deer's approach unnoticeable from the southwest side of the creek, making a great place for them to see but not be seen. A third attraction is the water itself that runs most of the year from the springs higher up the mountain side, providing a cool, secluded place from which to drink.   Once in the beech tries on the south side of the creek, the funnel leads on toward the fields that were mentioned earlier.      

To me, the biggest attraction of the beech tree crossing is the feeling it evokes, one that enchants by just being there. The sight of the big beech, red oak and maple trees alone is enough to stir one's imagination to thoughts of time's past and of others who may have stopped to pause at the crossing. Indian Will, namesake of this mountain, may have sat in this very spot. The big trees entice you to sit and watch, to remove your pack and quiver and just take in the scenery; to become a part of the crossing itself, if only for a moment in time.      

I removed my water bottle and a fig bar from my pack and settled in for a few minutes to see what the crossing had to offer today. As I sat there taking in the surroundings, I noticed something white lying next to the water just above the crossing. When I approached I could tell it was the remains of a fawn. The bleached bones had obviously been there awhile among the limestone rocks, possibly drug there by a coyote or fox. Or, maybe it just succumbed to natural causes. The Pennsylvania winter is not always kind to those who are not hardy enough to endure its cold breath and damp disposition. Nature provides for its own, but woe be to the ones who are not up to the task, the ones who have not learned their lessons well. Only the beech trees know the answer.      

I walked back to where I had been sitting and glanced up over the North bank of the crossing. About sixty yards away was a small meadow consisting mostly of blackberry briars and multi-flora bushes. Closer inspection indicated trails weaving through these thorny confines from the woods toward the little creek. The briar patch was virtually impenetrable to humans; however, the deer would have little trouble navigating the thorn-clad brush to bed down under its protective armor, and all within sight of the beech trees.      

As I finished the fig bar and took a good drink from my water bottle, I noticed some movement toward the far side of the crossing. It was a juvenile whitetail buck, moseying along the far side of the creek. His head was adorned with a small, velvet-covered six point rack that bobbed back and forth as he casually strolled toward the township road that lay several hundred yards to the west. The buck stopped occasionally to snuffle the fallen beech nut hulls for edible remains. He would lip several into his mouth then casually look around as if to see if anyone was watching. The youngster nibbled his way on down the creek until he was out of my sight. By the next season, if he made it that long, he would offer a good challenge for some bowhunter. The youngster never detected my presence as he passed at twenty-five steps. His mind was on other things.      

Once again I shouldered my quiver and pack, and crossed the creek. Up ahead lay an old blow-down that has long since fallen into a state of decay. Pulling a steel-tipped blunt from the back quiver I imagine a bedded buck in its place. In less time than it takes to tell, the arrow covers the forty or so yards and suddenly appears in the log, just a few inches low of my aim. A second shot, just for the heck of it, hits the top of the log and sails into the leaves beyond, reminding me of my inconsistency at these long ranges. Yes, the first shot at forty yards was right on the mark; but, the target was inanimate.there was no breath, no heart, no soul, no hair trigger reaction to the sound of string or feathers. Part of the traditional experience is understanding and accepting limitations. The real archer accepts these challenges and prerequisites as an appropriate and necessary part of the game.      

I retrieved the errant shaft and tucked the steel tipped cedar into in my back quiver, then took another look back at the beech tree crossing. Even at a distance it looked inviting. I walked back once more and looked for a good place to stand this October.  "Perhaps just below the northern edge of the crossing," I say to myself. "It's down wind and the deer would be shielded by the bank until they walked into my shooting lane."    Or maybe I 'll just let the beech tree crossing alone in hunting season.    It offers a respite from everyday life, a life already filled to the brim with technology and too fast-paced for anyone's good.    I guess I shouldn't ask for more than that.

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