A friend who ain’t from Down Heah told me he’d gone turkey hunting all by his lonesome recently, his first time to try wild turkeys. Where he’s from, they might have lots of turkeys, if turkeys ate rocks and sand, and roosted on cacti, but you know what Big Bumpy used to say about if: “If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his behind.” Bill didn’t have any luck with turkeys, but he observed, “It was sure nice to be out there in the woods before daylight, to hear the birds wake up, owls hooting, and woodpeckers pecking. Good to be in God’s Great Outdoors!”
I have written often that the gun in hand is merely an excuse to be in the woods, for many hunters. Scotty Tabb was telling me about his last week’s hunt, when a baby bobcat stalked up on his turkey decoy, and Robert Dean once wrote about a hawk attacking his fake hen. Son Adam came in excited after one whole morning in a deer stand, and couldn’t wait to tell me: “I saw a flying squirrel!” The first panther I ever saw was before good daylight when I was headed toward a gobbling turkey on Montgomery Island, and another was on Woodstock Island as I sat in a deer stand in a snowstorm. On none of those occasions did the hunter score that day; nor did he care. But we’ll always remember those events.
The only big-time big-snake duel I ever witnessed was on a turkey hunt, when two large moccasins were, essentially, arm-wrestling for the favor of a lady cottonmouth awaiting the winner. Weird! The only reason I bring that up is that the last couple of stories on snakes generated a lot of feedback, and I need to say first that the Texas Rattler Round-up lasts more than one day, and second, that a young man sent me pictures of a north Mississippi Moccasin Round-up in which they killed 280 vipers over a weekend. That discourages new turkey hunters!
One morning I was sitting against one of those huge pecan trees behind Dub’s House on Woodstock, and heard something approaching in the dry leaves behind me. Thinking “Turkey Gobbler!” I eased my head around the tree, French Gun ready, to see a large copperhead snake coming through the woods lickety-split. Well, as lickety-split as a snake can go, anyway. He went right by my tree and down across the draw, leaving me wondering what the heck was chasing him. That thought ruined the rest of my weekend hunt!
Betsy had a red fox jump over a log almost into her lap once on a deer hunt, and another time watched a bobcat wash itself and curl up for a nap almost under her stand. I spent all one morning in a turkey blind watching a momma squirrel moving her brood of about five teentsie (what do you call a baby squirrel: a kit?) young’uns from a tree about ten yards to my right to a new den tree about thirty yards to my left. Her path took her less than ten feet from me, and if a turkey gobbler had strutted up, I would not have dared shoot, for fear of disturbing her.
Big Robert was about as serious a hunter as I’ve ever known, but one afternoon when I eased up to where he sat on a log ostensibly calling turkeys, he grinned at my low whistle and beckoned me to come in quietly, indicating he was watching game. When I crawled to his log, he pointed out two raccoons on a big sycamore limb. “They’ve been making love all afternoon,” he whispered. “I feel almost guilty for watching!” Had he seen a turkey, or even looked for one? No.
In almost that same spot a year or so later, I sat in the Hammer Stand and observed as fine a job of coaching as I’ll ever see: a momma bobcat positioned her half-grown kitten on a log ten yards behind me, then circled and bounced a big canecutter rabbit out of a brushtop. The rabbit went straight to the log, and the kitten jumped it gamely, getting a mouthful of rabbit head, but the bunny was bigger than the bobcat! It was a classic fight to the finish, but the little cat won!
Hunting deer one afternoon, I was privileged to watch a coyote hide in a clump of grass with just the end of his tail sticking out. A hawk had been circling the open field for some time, and the coyote began twitching the end of his tail as the big bird got closer. Sure enough, the hawk made a dive for what it must have assumed was a rat or rabbit, and the coyote just barely mistimed his own jump, missing a planned hawk supper, except for a few breast feathers that drifted down.
Yeah, Bill is right. It’s good to be out in God’s Great Outdoors. Don’t let the gun slow you down!