There is no sleep so sweet and sound as that which is "stolen" from the subsequent minutes you have pre-determined to awake by. It's the feeling you get when you hear the pounding of rain on the roof immediately after shutting off the piercing, screech of the alarm clock at 3:20 AM. Afterall, I almost never archery hunt in heavy wind or rain because it is so easy to have it deflect an arrow from its' calm weather sighted destiny. As much as I love this sport, it is far too much work to exert when conditions dictate almost no chance of any success. Usually, on those mornings, I delightfully and regretfully turn over and go back to sleep.
But there are no inclimate weather sounds this early Opening Day morning. Only the slight movements of the dogs and the wife as they individually reposition to return to restful sleep almost immediately. The game is on and I hear that annual little voice echoing in the back of my head "Welcome to Deer Season 2006"!
Without even opening my eyes I sit upright and scoop up my glasses resting against my Model 66 with my right hand as I simultaneously slide my feet in waiting, pre-positioned house flip flops on the floor adjacent to our bed. Off to the waiting kitchen...
The moves and routines are familiar and warm despite not having been executed for almost ten months. I run the water in the sink for awhile (did you know to always do that before filling the coffee pot or other? It purges any bacteria growth and lead from solder joints that might have begun to accumulate since it last was opened). While the ice cold deep well water runs freely, I grind some fresh coffee beans (it's "Liberal Coffee" from my beloved cousin in the San Francisco area). I carefully stuff a fresh coffee filter in the holder, dump the black gold into the pleats and then go fill up the caraffe all the way the the '12' line. Mmmmm... Fuel, Baby!
After pulling the trigger on the dripper, I grab a Hot Chili flavored Ramen Noodle from the cupboard and pound it into pieces with my fist while it is still inside its' plastic encasement. A small cooking pot retrieved quietly, just the right shot of water (you don't need anywhere near what the directions stipulate) and onto the stove with the setting on incinerate. I prepare the little package of spicy chemicals by shaking the contents to one side and tearing a nice, straight edge off carefully. A spoon, a folded piece of paper towel on which is positioned a single, brown egg and then the Ramen is carefully opened to avoid a sudden shower of the pulverized carbs all over the wife's clean countertop.
While the water on the stove heads for boil, I step to the top of the cellar stairs and flip on the furnace switch to heat water for my upcoming "de-scenting" bath. (We heat our house with a wood stove. We only use the furnace to heat our hot water... and only 'on demand' as it takes just about 4 minutes to fully warm enough for a nice, hot shower, shaving and washing a sink full of dishes).
I summon "the girls" from their slumber for a quick step-out-the-door-*pee*-back-inside-immediately maneuver while my noodles cook and the dripper sings. The girls return to bed and me to my duties. No sitting. Nope. Technically, I am training my "system" to be accepting of the new schedule. Sitting down (until it's time) seems to slow the association process. It is very important to manage a thorough evac BEFORE getting in the treestand, as there are no restroom facilities for #2 up there! Standing through all of the lead-up morning prep activities seems to make the most of gravity's assistance. OK, scoff then... these things count.
The furnace shuts down indicating a steaming tankful of hot water and I flick the main switch off. Once the noodles are tender (about 4 minutes of boiling) I add whatever meat remnants can be scrounged from yesterday's leftovers and break an egg (maybe two?) over the whole mess, stirring briskly to use the food's heat and scramble the egg(s) efficiently. Protein and carbs. Taa! Daa! Breakfast is served (straight from the pan to minimize dishes and clean-up). Swing by the gurgling coffee pot and steal a mid-cycle cup, dump two sugars and a dash of milk to the top. The coffee is the only one I get until I'm back in from the morning hunt. The rest will get later nuked, a cup at a time, to force me into the responsible parts of my day that will follow. More than this and I would need to bring along an empty plastic Moxie bottle (too much luggage for only four or five hours in the stand... and it is noisy when empty if bumped).
While I rip snort through the nourishment and starter fluid, I check my favorite animated local radar imaging site online to verify weatherwise what I already knew from yesterday's planning... that's it... not even looking at the e-mail! Important scheduling to keep. Dish to the sink for a quick soap and water spiffage and into the drying rack. Shut off the coffee pot and unplug. Ah, the clean and disengaged kitchen!
A good dusting of the choppers is next, paying special attention to thorough brushing of the tounge. Your breath is not exempt from the needed camoflauge and deer detect fancy smelling toothpastes, too. So a good rinse with baking soda and more water brings you around towards neutral. Off to the bedroom with a light kiss for my deeply sleeping little woman, along with one head pat each for the other two girls.
Then it's time (hopefully) for the constitutional (only two pages reading allowed in hunting or gun mag of choice). The degaming shower follows with a brisk, high speed scrubbing using the good ole' hunter's Scent-A-Way Green Soap. Dry off with an unscented towel, laundered in hunter's detergent and stored in a giant hunter's ziplock baggie. There's unscented hunter's underarm killer, too! Damn. Isn't technology just so cool?
This is all very important as deer have an uncanny sense of human smell detection. If you want to even MAYBE get a chance to collect a deer, you have to de-stink yourself and your hunting clothing, period. The hunting clothes are machine washed separate from anything else in special clothes descenting soap. I use Scent-A-Way Liquid Detergent. I then either line dry everything outside or use a machine with a couple of hunter's "Fresh Earth" dryer sheets tossed in for the ride. The whole lot then gets stored in another giant clothes ziplock baggie. There are also descenting carbon pump sprays for things like boots, laces, bow, arrows, wrist release and belts. You can't go overboard here, not really. A deer's sense of smell alerts him or her even before sight or sound. If you "stink" and the wind drifts from you to the deer (they normally move into the wind's direction whenever possible), they detour and you're done, probably without even knowing they were there.
When I pre-pack the washed clothes in their storage bag, I place them in the reverse sequence that they will go on. This saves time when dressing and removes the need to think as much. It is now about 4:15 in the morning and all autopilot opportunities are a good thing, otherwise you risk making yourself late into your stand.
I can't begin to emphasize the need to dress warmly enough! Warm enough for staying warm while not moving around, that is. Blood circulation slows to a crawl in a treestand and this is a swift recipe to making yourself miserable with cold if you screw this part up. You can take clothes off if you are overdressed. You can also wish more clothes on, except that it doesn't work.
I begin always with two t-shirts. They don't restrict arm movement and they are very effective as a first step towards insulating your chest core. Next go on the drawers and two pairs of sweatpants if the temps are to be 40° or below. If your outer pants are fitted right, there's even room for a third pair when the temps are below 20° or there is wind. My calculation for wind is that every 5 mph of breeze is equated to 10° less air temperature in my clothing planning. I don't use the "thermal insulated Long Johns"... ever... for anything. Cotton sweatpants work better and are MUCH warmer.
I tuck the t-shirts inside both of the sweatpants and then pull on a single layer of insulated wool socks. If it is going to be zero or below, I will wear a thin pair of slippery 'dress socks' under them. If you put too much on your feet, they will sweat and then you will have cold feet. Good boots over the wool socks and constantly wiggling your toes keeps your circulation up and your feet warm.
The camo jeans get pulled on next followed by my favorite insulated leather, lace-up, calf high, rubber soled hunting boots waterproofed with mink oil. An all cotton camo button down shirt goes over the t-shirts. If it is going to be 25° or less (and/or windy) I begin layering on cotton sweatshirts before the button down goes on. I have worn as many as three under my extreme weather Remington outer parka when using a treestand in -10° or lower temps. Yes, it limits movement, but not enough to shoot or draw a bow, and you can be warm while standing still. That is paramount. You must move slowly and allow extra time to get in your stand when dressed this heavily or you will sweat. Sweat equals cold. I didn't make the rules.
Before the final parka goes on, I put on the catch-fall harness. It is simple, yet very helpful at keeping you from plunging to the ground in an accidental fall and lying there in the dark in a pile of bones and semi-liquid. It is therefore nice to put it on correctly and under light.
The parka is double layered also and traps a huge, puffy airspace inside. It is waterproof for about two hours or more, pending precipitation severity and wind. It also has a fold over flap that covers the zippers and quietly snaps into place. It will zip up to your chin's tip and has a very functional rolled up hood in the back with drawstrings that is also windproof. The material is very movement quiet and sports the latest in camo fashion with several zillion pockets, two of which are large enough for a sandwich each. All my hunting "tools" have dedicated locations within the bowels of this magnificent creation. There are essentials that always stay in it like a compass, a magnesium strip and some dryer lint (for fire starting), blaze orange ribbon (for marking your path while trailing blood), extra sets of gloves (I carry two pairs of back-ups) and extra shoelaces (tourniquet use in a pinch). There are seasonal hunting items, too, like a digital watch, antacid pills and toothpicks to chew on (how I stopped smoking 30 years ago).
My camo bandanna and headnet are worn in mild temps while I add a full rimmed camo hat in colder weather. Heat escaping from your head amounts to about 80% of your body's heat loss, so even minor cover makes a big difference. When it gets psycho cold, I have an insulated camo sock headmask that is very warm and just about windproof. It compromises your hearing quite dramatically, though, and I only wear it when it becomes truly bitter and ugly out there.
The velcro strap-on wrist release (a 'trigger' for the bow) goes on last and always at the house. You sure won't forget how much noise that velcro makes when you go to open it and put it on out in your stand for the first time! You always seem to remember after that.
At last, I pop open the bow case and lift the device out being careful not to bump the sights or run the ends of the bow into any walls, doors, etc.. I have a cool little "tunnel vision" screw in LED light which illuminates the fiber optic sight pins in the earliest (or latest) legal shooting times (1/2 hour before sunrise and 1/2 hour after sunset). In temps below 40° I keep it in my pocket until about ten minutes ahead of when I will need it to keep its' watch batteries warm and lively.
The bow and the parka get set outside gently... silently... on the asphalt walkway (not anywhere on the lawn area as it holds a lot more dog scent) and I return to the kitchen table to collect the last little pile of take alongs. Hunting license goes in right rear hip pocket. Mini Maglite (the best damn flashlight in the world!) with freshly recharged nickel batteries goes in front right pocket (otherwise the light case gets hung up sometimes in my catch-fall line) alongside my house key.
It's 4:25 AM. I double-check the woodstove setting, quietly slide the key in the door's deadbolt and slip silently out into the crisp blackness...
*to be continued*