I have often said that the gun in hand is usually an excuse to go to the woods and spend time observing other things than the game for which the season is open.
Once during a dry spring, I was blinded in at the base of a huge pecan tree that grew on a ridge of mainly sycamores. Walking in dry sycamore leaves is like stomping through ankle-deep Corn Flakes! I had been sitting there calling since before the dew dried off, and had seen nothing, but now I heard leaves rustle behind me. There was a slight pause, then whatever it was started coming closer in a hurry! If this was a gobbler, he was excited about the hen behind the pecan tree. I gripped SouthPow, my left-handed Remington 870 shotgun, and prepared to swing quickly to my right, for the hurried leaf-rustling was rapidly veering to that side. When I judged it to be almost touching distance, I made my move, and swung the barrel sideways to shoot the love-mad turkey gobbler.
It wasn’t a turkey gobbler. One of the largest copperheads I have ever seen came zipping by my blind, traveling as fast as I’ve ever seen a snake move! He slithered – no, nothing can slither that fast! He sprinted – no, sprinters have legs. He sped – sounds right – by me without slowing down, and I started to shoot, since I’ve been struck by copperheads and crave revenge eternally. But then I wondered, “What the heck could be chasing a copperhead that big?!” I jumped to my feet, prepared to fire at whatever had panicked the serpent, but there was nothing behind him. I left that spot and moved a quarter-mile down the ridge, just to be safe.
During a high-water spring when much of the island was flooded, I was sitting close to a canebrake and caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. Three white gobbler heads were moving quickly in single file, perfect formation, toward the Rim, not paying a speck of attention to my calls. A few moments later, a big bobcat came bounding behind them, and seconds afterward, I heard the gobblers flush from the high bank and fly out over the water. The bobcat came moseying back by the blind with an almost-human disgusted expression on its face.
I was sitting in knee-high bull nettle on a hogback at sunup and was just fixing to make my first call, when I heard scratching. I glanced that direction to see a mother squirrel coming down a hackberry trunk with a tiny kit in her mouth. She loped by in front of me and scampered up a sweetgum about fifty yards away, where she deposited her baby in a snagged-off crotch, then turned around and ran back to the hackberry. She transferred four little ones during the next hour, and I never even made a call for my supposed quarry, a turkey gobbler.
Big Robert didn’t show up at the Ghost (our Jeep) one morning when we were turkey hunting back behind the old Still Tank, so I eased down into the woods to see was he okay. He was sitting on a log, and beckoned me to join him quietly. I tiptoed to the log, and he indicated a box elder limb twenty yards away. Two raccoons were engaged in a long slow noon-hour love-making session, and though we watched in awe, we both confessed later to feeling like peeping toms!
Betsy was in my deer stand which sat at the juncture of two old logging roads. Early that morning, a female bobcat came strolling along, stopped at the intersection, spent a half hour licking and cleaning herself just like a housecat, then curled up and went to sleep, not ten yards from Betsy. When I asked her if she’d seen any deer than morning, she curtly replied, “I wasn’t looking for any deer!”
I first knew my son Adam had matured as an outdoorsman when he came in one morning obviously bursting with excitement, but hadn’t seen a turkey. Instead, as soon as he was close enough to hear, he exclaimed, “Daddy, I saw a flying squirrel!” He had spent the whole morning watching the antics of a pair of flying squirrels putting on a show, and had never even made a turkey call.
How many people go to the woods, but never open their eyes to truly see what’s there for them, and are disappointed if they don’t get a shot?
That ain’t what hunting is all about. For most of us, the gun in hand is merely an excuse to be in the woods!