It was still pitch black in the dense Illinois forest on this cool, late fall morning as the Kaskaskia hunter moved swiftly and silently through the trees working his way towards a known m8ns8a (whitetail deer) travel route. Every step taken and every breath exhaled was done with precision and skill as to not alert the elusive m8ns8a of the hunter’s whereabouts.
Only armed with his mitec8aba (bow) and his nisse (knife), the hunter silently approached his place of concealment for this morning’s hunt. The many limbs of a large pin oak that had fallen during a storm a few years earlier protruded in multiple directions, providing enough cover as it had many times before.
The hunter had not been in place very long before the sun began to penetrate the canopy of bare trees, slowly bringing the critters of the forest to life. The hunter, not realizing he was sharing the uprooted tree, was cautiously approached by a 8eping8enic8a (gray squirrel). Surely, this squirrel had seen a Kaskaskia Indian before. Maybe, it was the macate8i (charcoal ash) painted on the hunter’s face that drew the gray squirrel’s curiosity.
Some two hundred and fifty plus years later as I quietly and patiently crouched, hidden in the heart of the fallen oak, I hoped that I had not made too much noise walking in this morning. Sneaking into the dark woods of the early morning has always been an arduous task for me. With every step I take, I always seem to find the frailest twig or the crunchiest leaf producing sounds that echo throughout the forest, alerting everything in my path that I’m coming. I’ve been hunting the elusive whitetail deer for most of my life; and it has always amazed me how an animal, not weighing much less than I, can navigate through the woodland forests without causing the same ruckus. I guess that’s why most of my hunting is done from a stationary position as opposed to stalking.
Luckily, I didn’t have far to go in order to reach my destination. The fallen oak tree offered plenty of shooting lanes from various angles, but still had enough limbs and brush scattered around the tree to offer perfect concealment on the ground.
I have the distinct privilege of owning a very nice piece of densely wooded land with a great population of deer. A Kaskaskia Indian village once sat along the Big Muddy River near my home in what is now Southern Illinois. This is one of the many reasons why I have been portraying a Kaskaskia Indian at various living history events over the last twelve years.
Normally I use a modern compound bow for hunting (Yeah, I know!), but my bow for this primitive hunt was a handmade hickory longbow that I recently acquired from Clay Smith, Williamsburg’s Master Gunsmith. The flint tipped 32” wooden arrow attached to the 5’6” deer sinew string had plenty of force to get the job done.
As I sat there, lost in the peace and tranquility of the forest morning, I didn’t immediately realize that I was sharing the tree with a gray squirrel. Cautiously approaching my position, the squirrel stared at me as if I were encroaching on his home. Surely, this squirrel had seen me before as many times as I’ve hunted these very same woods. Maybe it was the charcoal ash smeared on my face that threw him off. You’ve heard the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.” Well, maybe that phrase applies to squirrels, too.
After realizing I had no intentions of paying the squirrel any acorns for my renting of his tree, he decided to move on and join the other tree rats scurrying around, digging through the fallen leaves that littered the forest floor.
I didn’t have to wait long before four does approached my position from the north. Two of the does were adults; the other two were probably born the previous spring. None of the four appeared to have noticed my presence as they went about their morning routine of moving towards the farm fields to the west. Wearing a linen shirt, buckskin leggings, elk hide center seam moccasins, and a lined breechcloth, my odor of walnut dye didn’t seem abnormal or out of place to these four. That was a good sign for things to come.
Why didn’t I shoot? I know my Kaskaskia brothers who have ascended to the eternal life will frown upon me; but having the luxury of a good deer herd, I can afford to wait and see if any nice bucks would come trotting along later. Also, maybe I’m a little soft, but I have a hard time convincing myself to shoot the matriarch of the forest when she has a youngin’ in tow.
As luck wouldn’t have it, these turned out to be the only four deer I saw that morning. I knew I was doomed when I spotted an obnoxiously loud blue jay light in one of the trees overhead. I am totally convinced that the role of a blue jay is to fly around as a scout or spy and alert deer of human presence in the forest. After maintaining my position for a good four to five hours, I vowed to return that afternoon and continue the hunt, despite the squawking of my blue-feathered friend.
After a short nap and a quick lunch, I returned to my humble abode in the fallen pin oak tree. The squirrels, including my landlord, were still scurrying from tree to tree creating more commotion than I did as I was entering the woods – if that’s possible.
Over the years, I have learned to differentiate the sounds of squirrels moving through the forest from the sounds of the deer. Still, every time a squirrel bounces from one place to another, crashing from limb to limb, I can’t help but turn my head to make sure it was indeed a squirrel and not the elusive whitetail deer.
Amusing myself with the squirrels’ antics, I settled in. While listening to the harmony of the woods, my mind began to reflect on the Kaskaskia hunters who used this forest in years past to provide sustenance and clothing for their family. I admired their unmitigated ability to stealthily slip through the forest and wished that I, too, could replicate animal sounds that would fool even the most astute human or creature.
About a half hour later, I snapped out of my dormancy when I caught a glimpse of antlers moving through the trees to the west. It was a buck, albeit a small one, but it was headed directly towards my location. As he moved in closer, I recognized him as one of the younger bucks on my land. Not more than a year or two old, he was only a four pointer. I had a clean shot; but again, chose not to take it. In another couple of years, if he survives, he will develop into a very nice buck.
Now, I know I have really angered my Kaskaskia brothers. I passed on a chance to shoot four does in order to possibly harvest a buck. Now, having been given the chance to kill a buck, I chose to pass again. My Kaskaskia brothers in the eternal life are probably working out a deal to trade me to the Shawnee for these kinds of antics.
As evening drew nearer, I realized my time was getting shorter. I decided that I would go ahead and shoot a doe if presented with the opportunity. About thirty minutes before dusk, that opportunity arrived. A doe, running full speed ahead, approached and stopped within fifty yards or so. She milled around for a few minutes as I breathlessly waited for her to move a little closer. Suddenly, her nose went straight up in the air. With a flash of her white tail, she disappeared as quickly as she had arrived. Now, how did this deer smell me, when the others weren’t able to?
Luckily for me, she merely ran a large circle around my location and came right back to where she had started. Only this time about thirty yards closer.
I slowly moved to my knees in order to draw back the lengthy bow, then spent several seconds making sure my aim point was spot on. I owe it to this majestic animal to make her death as swift and painless as possible. Being confident of the trajectory of my arrow, I released the sinew string and the arrow hit home exactly where I had hoped.
After running only about thirty yards, the matriarch of the forest crashed down to the forest floor and gasped her last breath of life. After giving many blessings and much honor to the magnificent animal for providing me with this tremendous opportunity, I worked my way back home, deer in tow, excited to share another story with friends and family.
The Kaskaskia hunter, now very proud of what he had accomplished, could not get back to the village fast enough. After all, not only was he bringing back food, clothing, and bedding, but he was also maintaining his reputation as a great m8ns8a hunter among his peers.
As the hunter dragged his prized kill back towards the village, the gray squirrel returned to his fallen home for the evening, happy that it was not he the trespassing Indian was hunting on this fine fall day.
Tim L. Jarvis