Nimrod went out to a friend's friend's farm before dawn on opening day of the Virginia deer season, full of energy and confidence, satisfied that he knew the ground and something of the habits of the animals on it. A family lived on the Loudoun County farm not too long ago, but now the house is open to wind and rain and the barns have burned or collapsed. A contract farmer has put all the land into corn, plowing and planting so close to the fencerows and woods that there is little cover for wild things. But an adjoining abandoned farm and the surrounding woods give wildlife plenty of places to live and hide. The corn spilled by mechanical harvesters fattens quail, doves, turkeys and Canada geese as well as groundhogs, raccoons, squirrels and fieldmice and therefore foxes. The deer forage in the stubble at night; at dawn and sunset they sidle along the fencerows between the bare fields, passing from the creek where they water to the woods where they spend much of the day sleeping and chewing their cuds. During the rut, which overlaps the first few weeks of the hunting season, the bucks grow too single-minded to be sensible, ocasionally passing along the fencerows in the broad open day to seek does. The moon was high and bright, lighting the hunter's way across a rutted field to the intersection of several fencerows where he hunkered down in hopes of intercepting a buck, perhaps the one that had polished his antlers on the cedar sapling against which Nimrod rested his rifle. His plan worked beautifully, almost. The wind was supposed to come from the north, and it did until just about the legal shooting time of a half-hour before sunrise. Every few minutes thereafter it fell into random swirls, broadcasting his scent to all points of the compass and several times spooking deer that snorted and bounded away before he was aware of their approach. One, as he saw against the coloring sky, was a great fat fellow, square as a mule and with more points on his broad antlers than could be counted before he disappeared behind a rise of ground. Nimrod was almost glad to see him go, because he tries not to be a trophy hunter but has been known to yield to temptation. Around eight o'clock he decided to move into the woods, hoping to repeat the successful stalk he had made last season. The leaves were thick and bone-dry, making him feel outrageously noisy and conspicuous in his blaze-orange hat, vest and spats, with his blaze-orange daypack on his back. But he went on, as slowly as he could discipline himself to move, going heel-and-toe and picking his way past sticks and twigs. An hour and a hundred yards into the woods he saw a doe with triplet fawns, and saw them before they saw him, which made the day complete however it would turn out. He studied the doe through the telescopic sight, thinking what bloodlines she must have to bring off three big healthy youngsters. The family group moved to within a stone's throw, and then the wind betrayed him. The doe stamped her left forefoot as she snorted and sniffed and the fawns froze. She could pick no solid scent out of the random air and moved off slowly down the wind, her tail flag flickering at half-mast, pausing and snorting every few steps. Nimrod sat on a fallen sycamore and rested until a chipmunk at the other end began to squeak and chirp at the orange apparition that was barring his runway. He wondered as always how nature manages to pack so much life into a tiny creature that vibrates even in the brief moments when it is still. Some day he half-expects to see one burst into flame. A windstorm ha several windfalls, and noticed that the trail nearly always took the most economical route, and noticed that when it didn't it generally veered in favor of stands of oak. What he didn't notice was that after one diversion the trail never came back to the old line, and by and by, late in the afternoon, Nimrod noticed that he was lost. He couldn't be very lost, since at stalking pace he hadn't gone far, and anyway the wood he was in is far from extensive, but it injured his pride. He could always backtrack, but he's the sort of presser-on who won't even stop at a gas station to ask directions. He took a line from the sun and cut across several ridges, trending downhill toward the broad creek he knew lay somewhere ahead. Several more ridges led to only more ridges, and soon he found himself stomping along in a lathering sweat. Eventually he came to the creek, which he had only to follow upstream to the farm, and sat on the high rocky bank to cool out and wonder why not knowing exactly where he was had bothered him so much. Just as he was about to get up and go, two does and three fawns came walking along the opposite bank, probably headed for the cornfields. They stopped opposite him and drank before moving on, and before they were out of sight a young buck came along behind them. He too stopped to drink, and Nimrod laid the sights on him and trembled but did not shoot because the creek marked the boundary of the land he had permission to hunt. It is too easy to kill deer if you don't follow the rules.