It was overcast, cold and dark.
I was at least another 30 minutes before it would be light enough to shoot and I was doing my best to stay warm and remain as quiet as I could. Yet while I was doing good job of being stealthy, the woods around my tree stand was alive.
Twigs snapped. I could hear things running just beyond my line of sight—which wasn’t very far in the never-ending gray. It was early November, the rut was close and I was certain what I could hear but not see, was the buck of a lifetime.
I slowly hit the button that activated the light to my watch. While it said another 25 minutes to shooting time, the eastern horizon hadn’t even started to glow yet. I knew it was going to be longer wait and I tried not to think about the cold.
More twigs snapping. More movement. What was going on out there?
Something went sprinting past the bottom of my tree. What was it? Too small to be a deer? Then I heard an unmistakable sound, something was coming—fast. Regardless of how hard we try to remain still, somethings just can’t be helped. I started to move my head over my right shoulder just in time to see this mass of something—right at eye level.
I didn’t have time to react as the owl landed in the branch, less than an arm's length from my face. I froze. All around was gray, except those eyes. Like two orange LCD displays scanning the ground below us both. Then the owl just settled back, no longer interested in whatever it was chasing. He was still oblivious to my presence and seemed content to sit and wait the sunrise. Like me.
I stayed frozen for as long as I could. I was pretty sure there had never been a recorded owl attack on a human in the state of Iowa. Pretty sure. As long as I stayed still I was certain there would be no problem. Then my brain reminded me, I was freezing. My nose started to run. I hadn’t even bothered to blink and now my contracts were driving out. One big shudder swept over my body and shook my tree stand and the entire tree. The owl’s head swiveled 45 degrees. We were eyeball to eyeball.
The look on his face was priceless. “A Human. Here. Up in a tree. No feathers and freezing. What an idiot.”
He studied every inch of my face in complete fascination. Then did the unthinkable. He took two steps towards me, and studied some more. It cracked me up and I started to snicker. This made him even more curious; he took another a step towards me. Then began bobbing his head up and down like as if he were some extra on a 1980s MTV metal video. And we continued to have a staring contest for another endless minute or two.
Never get into a staring contest with an owl. You will lose. When the shivers and the giggles finally caught up with me, he got disgusted and flew away.
I can’t even tell you if I saw deer that day or not. Perhaps I did, who knows. I don’t remember. I don’t even remember if I took a deer that year.
It doesn’t matter. That deer season was highlighted by a visit from an owl. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in a deer stand. If you’ve spent any time in a deer stand, you know what I’m taking about. It’s not always about the kill, is it?