Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Hitchhiker

My location and timing were not ideal.  They never are.  You just have to play the hand you are dealt and proceed accordingly.

I was exploring an unfamiliar area near my new deer stand.  I like to do this sort of thing in the off season since (i) it is fun and (ii) a lot can be learned about game trails, movement patterns of animals, etc. without spooking the game closer to actual deer season.  Plus, it was a beautiful, cool morning and snakes and chiggers were low on the list of concerns due to the temperature.

Behind this stand is the thinner end of a gully.  As this gully heads north to a creek about 1/4th of a mile away, it is joined by other small gullies like a network of veins meshing their way back to the heart.

Heading north, I hit one of these minor gullies and turn east, simply watching and listening.

Take 3 steps.  Listen.

The wind is good considering the direction I'm forced to walk in.

Take 2 steps.  Look for a snake.  Step over a log.  Listen.  Smell.  Look.

The closer I moved towards where the minor gully joins the main gully, the thicker brush grew.  I'm having to stoop down, crouch and generally duck-walk my way through small, open pockets in the brush.  As is typical, I walked through several spider webs.  Like cockroaches, for every one you see and avoid, there are probably 10 others you did not see.  No big deal; they are just spiders.

As I stand up to survey for a way, any way, to cross the complex of gullies, the brush about 30 yards away starts teeming with activity.  I had stumbled upon a group of sleeping hogs who were now on the hoof, confused and moving slightly away through the thickness.

I crouch down, listening, watching.  Twice I have the rifle at my shoulder looking for a clear shot, the scope capturing branches, leaves and patches of moving black fur.  Twice I lower the rifle, not desperate to try to thread a bullet through the brush and wound or lose an animal.  Beside, I'm not entirely sure how I'd recover the animal if I were able to kill it in this mess.

I just wait, trying to control my breathing.  The pigs are still in the area and are probably waiting for me to move first.  For all I know, they probably think I'm a cow or another hog but they are not stupid either.  This might take a while.  I once had an honest 12 minute long staring match with a surprised boar once, neither of us willing to make the first move.  (The .308 and I won when he dismissed my camouflaged figure as an ugly bush and started to trot away.)

A leaf brushes my ear.  It tickles a bit and I brush it away with the back of my right hand.  A few minutes later, crouching and listening, the leaf hits my ear again.  I brush it away more aggressively this time.  This is distracting and I really need to keep movement to a minimum.  I lean forward away from an unseen bush behind me.

I'm simply waiting, listening, thinking and daydreaming.

... it is now actually hot enough to worry about snakes and chiggers.
... I should have left my jacket on the 4 wheeler.
... what pictures might be on my game camera card by my new deer stand?
... I should have eaten breakfast.
... what might be causing the battery drain in the red truck?
... what chores am I going to tackle when I get home from "playing in the woods"?

My mental state is then interrupted.  The leaf is back at my ear.  But this time, something is different.  This time, it jumped onto my ear.

It is amazing how fast you can simultaneously change mental focus and spring into action.  I violently reach up and whip the hat off my head.  To my surprise, the leaf is not a leaf at all but a large, brown spider about the size of a nickel.  It was desperately trying to find a way off of my head and my ear was a convenient launch pad to a nearby branch.  I had been chasing it back onto my head with each swipe.

This was probably enough movement for the hogs to get the message I was, in fact, not a cow.  They were never seen or heard again.

+++

A Man in the Woods

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