I peeled off the path along the water's edge and began climbing the slope along what looked like an animal trail. The sun was low in the trees on the opposite bank and the air had a crisp edge to it. I couldn't help the noise; the leaves were dry and about 2 inches deep on the ground and every footstep crunched loudly. About half way up the slope I noticed a concrete post which closer inspection revealed to be a US Army Corps of Engineers triangulation point. The date was 1950 and the fine for tampering $250. I wondered what the fine had increased to now. While I was paused looking at the marker, I heard voices on the path below me. A family enjoying a Winter afternoon stroll were passing about 50 yards away. Although I was in plain sight on the slope, my lack of movement generated no notice and they walked on oblivious to my presence.
I moved a little higher on the slope, almost to the crest and then started contouring, paralleling the river below. Keeping the noise down required slow deliberate steps; sliding my toes into the leaves and not dropping the heel, but even so each step sounded absurdly loud. I'd be lucky to cover one mile per hour at this pace, but it was a good compromise between speed and stealth.
After twenty minutes, I stopped moving and sat quietly on a fallen tree trunk for a while. The absence of my own noise allowed me to listen to the woods around me; birds chittering at my intrusion into their territory, small animals rustling in the leaves and over it all the background hiss of traffic on the interstate two miles down-river. I wondered if it were possible to get anywhere where the sounds of human activity were truly absent. Keeping my movements slow and deliberate, I looked around. Other than a few birds and one squirrel, which seemed unconcerned with my presence, I was alone.
When I got up and began to move again, I determined to see just how quietly I could move. Moving at a pace where I made little discernible noise required such slow motion that balance became a problem. I had to assess each foot fall for location before moving and to use branches and tree trunks for additional support. This brought its own set of problems; grasping thinner saplings and branches would cause the tree or bush to move and rustle, and keeping closer to the trees also put me in amongst brambles which would snag.
Twenty minutes later, I was getting the hang of it accurately placing my feet with minimal noise and moving sinuously between and around the trees and undergrowth. Ahead I could hear louder rustling; animals rummaging through the leaves for food; squirrels or rabbits, maybe even deer. Down on the path I could also hear voices and then the frenetic noise of a dog off leash tearing through the leaves. The animals up the hill were suddenly silent while the dog-owners' were shouting commands for their errant mutt to return. The dog was having none of it. The black Scottish terrier burst from the brambles down-slope, while several squirrels darted up nearby trees. The dog passed by about 10 yards away without seeing or smelling me and returned to its owners to be re-leashed and scolded. I stayed stock-still until they had been gone for about five minutes before continuing at my glacial pace.
I finally saw the deer, four large female white-tails about 50yards away across a shallow gully. I was clearly downwind of them and they had resumed foraging now the dog-threat was gone. Following the hillside contour to the left I gradually crept closer to them. Several times, they looked up and about; sometimes in response to a louder than normal footfall, but occasionally for no discernible reason. All was going well until, concentrating so hard on my foot position, I failed to see the large rabbit which was about a yard away from me . He must have heard me coming and elected to stay still in the hopes of being passed over....it would have worked except that I got danger-close and he bolted. The explosion of sound spooked the deer and all four took off in majestic bounds up the slope and out of sight over the crest. I turned down-slope and walked to the river path smiling. If I had been hunting with a rifle, I'd have returned victorious; with a bow, hungry. But it was a fun learning experience.