Posted 01-01-2004 at 16:57:59
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The reason I was cleaning my .410 last night is because I wanted to try my hand at rabbit hunting. Today was the day. The sun was just touching the horizon in the west, and the moon was a pale half circle about halfway up the eastern sky, when I set out to the grove with my shiny, clean gun, and a pocketful of shells.
For me to walk out to the grove by myself is unusual, and to do it at this time of the day is down right odd, so it didn't surprise me much when I looked back and found out that I had a parade behind me.
Six goats, Salem (Jenny's black cat), and Red the six month old, eighty pound pup, were all following me. I did not have a lot of hope of finding and shooting any rabbits with this entourage, but I had to laugh.
After about twenty yards the goats decided that I didn't have a feed bucket, and went on their way. About the same time, Salem fell over on his side, and began playing with a blade of grass. Red stayed with me, but followed about ten feet behind, and each time I would stop and turn around and look at him, I put my finger to my lips and shush him, and I swear if he knew enough to nod, he would have. He seemed to know exactly what I was up to.
I would take a half dozen steps and then stop and look and listen, and each time I did, he would gaze at me with startlingly, intelligent brown eyes that looked out of a deceptively goofy marmaduke-like face, still maintaining that ten foot boundary.
I guess he recognized stalking behavior when he saw it, because he was practically on tippy toe the whole time. Finally when I was about halfway through the grove he turned off silently and went back to the house, and I was kind of sad. It seemed to me that he would have been good company if his current behavior had been any indication.
I reached the back of the grove without seeing anything save a few little birds and there sat the woods in front of me. My options were to enter the woods or to turn around and walk the grove again, and that had been boring the first time, so I was not keen to do it again.
Since I had promised not to go in the woods, I settled for walking along the edge of the woods. It was this path that led me to the tree stand. I walked past a clump of wild palmetto bushes and heard a rattle coming from inside them. In about three seperate places. I suspected that I had startled some rabbits and they dove into the palmettos for cover. As I stood there debating what to do next, I looked up and saw the tree stand and I thought, somebody must have put that there just for me.
If I climbed up and sat in it for a few minutes, maybe the rabbits would get comfortable enough to come out again. I only had to walk into the woods about ten yards, the stand sat right at the edge of the wetland and looked out over the pasture on the south side of the property.
I walked on over and pulled on the stand to make sure that it was fastened at the top. It was as rigid as concrete and didn't move an inch. I ejected the shell that I had in the chamber and then climbed up carefully, holding on with my right hand and balancing the gun in my left.
No sooner did I get settled than I heard a noise that sent a chill up my spine, and just about cured me of ever wanting to go anywhere near those woods again.
I had been listening to all kinds of sounds as I walked. The chirping of birds settling in for the night, the dogs barking way back at the house, the sounds of my own feet crunching twigs and dead grass as I passed through them, a bull bellowing off to the right, and an owl starting his night song off to the left....hoo...hoo..hoo!....hoo...hoo...hoo-doo!
I was a little distracted and jittery being so high up off the ground, and the first time this new sound came I basically ignored it. There was something familiar about it, so much so that even the second time I heard it, I almost dismissed it. Then it dawned on me what I was hearing. It was a deep rattling growl. A feline one.
Directly following that growl was another one of the same type. It seemed that I had stumbled into either a mating ritual or two bobcats fighting over a kill. There is nothing eerier to me than the sound of a wild cat growling and screaming and these two were going at it ninety to nothing.
The chilling part was not being able to see them. I have heard cat fights before, many times, and not only did this one have more enthusiasm it was louder and deeper and God help me, just plain wilder. This may not be scary to any of the rest of you but I am not ashamed to say I was scared shutless.
Needless to say I went down that stand like I was running down a flight of stairs. I wasn't even hanging on to the rails. All I could think of was putting distance between myself and those two growling cats.
I hit the ground and didn't slow down until I was out in the middle of the pasture and I could see in all directions and then I started back to the house. All I could hear now was the rush of the sound of my own pulse beating loudly in my ears.
It took me about five minutes to calm down and realize that I had never reloaded my gun so I stopped and shoved a shell into it. It was less than three minutes later that I saw the first and only rabbit and I shot, but I missed. Hmmmm. Who didn't see that coming.
I called Fred and told him about what I heard and he said, oh, yes, there's a den of bobcats back there, what do you think got that little nanny goat here about six months back? But no, they rarely attack people, are not much a danger unless you corner them, but like any thing else if you threaten them they will defend themselves, and it could get pretty ugly.
Well. He11. I couldn't see them, how the heck did I know if I was threatening them in some way, and yes I'm a wee bit bigger than a nanny goat but goats are fairly tough creatures and I suspect that in some ways they are tougher than me, and I'll be willing to bet you that they can run a heck of a lot faster than me, I said.
"Well, yeah, but thats why you carry that long stick that makes the big bang. That's your equalizer right there."
I didn't bother to tell him that I had forgotten to reload the gun. As it turns out, it didn't matter, this time, and like every other stupid stunt I pull, I will look back on this as a learning experience and next time I will be a little smarter. I intend to keep up the rabbit hunting but I also intend to stay clear of the woods. Even the EDGE of the woods. Thank you very much. (grin)