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Wiltz: Receiving vibes from spirit world?

I don't know that I believe in sensing the presence of spirits or the dead, but I do believe that a reverence can consume our emotions when we dare to tread on hallowed ground. I felt it above the deck of the Missouri at Pearl Harbor, I sensed it in the London Tower where Thomas More lost his head and it affected my breathing last month when I walked the Sunken Road at Antietam.

In early October, while attending the North-South Skirmish Association's fall rendezvous in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, friends, Betsy and I made a side trip to Maryland's Civil War battlefield at Antietam. Antietam, with 25,000 casualties in one day, is American history's bloodiest battlefield.

Our National Park Service has done a superb job in preserving the battlefield with Burnside's Bridge, the Dunker Church and the Sunken Road still intact. They also maintain a small but excellent museum and visitor's center. Lee's campsite in nearby Sharpsburg, as well as the original Pry farmhouse seized by McClellan as his headquarters, can be visited in the immediate area.

Hunkering down in the Sunken Road, I imagined a .58 caliber Enfield in my hands. I watched the adjacent hill and visualized the tops of the Union company flags first appearing. In seconds, I would fire into Union troops at point-blank range. By day's end, corpses of fallen soldiers would lay two-to-three deep where I knelt. I felt their presence.

Today, the stone Burnside Bridge is exactly as it was in September 1862. Google Antietam, and you can find a photo of the bridge draped with human bodies. A small Sycamore tree grows by the bridge. Today, 148 years later, that same tree, though much larger, is doing well. Civil War history is highly infectious. Visit Antietam, and take your Golden Age card with you. I regret allowing so much of my life to pass before becoming more familiar with our Civil War.

n If the rut isn't the favorite topic of hunting magazines, it runs a close second. With this in mind, I'll relate what I have observed so far this deer season. On the weekend of Oct. 29-31, does were running with their fawns and other does. The bucks were in bachelor groups with no apparent interest in does.

The West River rifle season opened on Nov. 6 when I hunted on our northern border. I hunted Nov. 6-9, and it was unseasonably warm. Scientists tell us that the rut is triggered by minutes of daylight at given latitude, not temperature. While I believe this to be true, I also believe that the warm temperatures slowed daylight breeding activity. Most does were with other does, and most of the bucks I observed were in pairs. I did not observe any breeding or the games deer play before breeding.

On the afternoon of Nov. 12, I observed 10 white-tailed bucks. They were by themselves, and they were moving - as in looking around for receptive does. I saw fewer does, but the does I saw were by themselves. They were slinking around low to the ground with their tails straight out in a "pointer" position. While this tells me that they were close to being receptive, the bucks did not have their noses to the ground -- no full out rut yet!

On that day, I was in a ground blind, and crossbow range was marginal -- 45-50 yards. I did not take a shot. All 10 bucks crossed in the same area, and I planned to set up in a blind of cedar boughs the next day closer to their travel route. When I headed out on the 13th, I was confident that a good buck would be mine. As it turned out, the 13th was a huge disappointment. The wind swirled, and apparently carried my scent in all directions. The only deer I saw were at a distance.

I was back in my cedar bough ground blind on Nov. 16. Individual bucks and does were moving, but they were not together, and the bucks didn't have their noses to the ground. The rut had not yet reached full activity. On that afternoon, I bungled a golden opportunity. The only plus is that I'm slowly eliminating mistakes. I realize that a tree stand would allow me greater margin for error, but with the physical problems I've belabored in the past -- especially when I'm alone -- I've chosen the safer approach.

A great white-tailed buck emerged from the cedars straight across from me at 40 yards and cautiously moved toward me. Though he didn't display any distress signals, his gaze at my blind was intent. At 30 yards he stopped. I began to raise my crossbow. He bolted and fled! I learned right there that my crossbow must be in a ready position at all times. By the time dusk approached, I had passed on some lesser deer.

See you next week.

Roger Wiltz column can be found every Wednesday in The Daily Republic