Friday, April 2, 2010

The Wild

So, it occurred to me yesterday, that even people who are accustomed to being in the outdoors, can be caught off guard, when suddenly face to face with "The Wild".

Take me for example. I like being out in the woods. I enjoy hunting, and am familiar with most of what I'm liable to run into when I'm out and about. However, thinking that you are mentally prepared for something to happen, and then seeing you reaction when it actually happens, can be an eye opening experience.

For example, April 1st was the opening day of Turkey Season, here in Carolina. Like any dutiful Turkey hunter, I camped out overnight, to be near my chosen hunting spot, was up at 4 AM, and walking in by 4:30 AM, so that I could be settled into my spot, a long hour and a half or so before shooting light arrived. Just in case I disturbed any gobblers on the way in, I want to make sure they have time to settle back in and forget about me :)

It was actually a perfect morning to be walking in to the woods in the dark. A nice 45 degrees or so, no wind at all, and a moon that was near full. Combine that moon with the fact that the trees are only budding, and have not yet leafed out, and it means I didn't even have to use a flashlight to make my way the mile and a half into the woods where I was planning to hunt. Now granted, I'd scouted the trailed earlier, and place add shaped logs where I would need to turn of the trails and cut across country, but I was pretty proud of the fact that I remembered my way in, and made it without a flashlight :)

Any way, I'm settled in early, and in a good spot. I'm up against a tree, no more than 4 feet or so off the inside bend of a small creek. I've got a couple of blown down trees on my right, shielding me from anything coming up on me in that direction, and my blind, along with some piled branches from the blow down, shielding me to the front and left. I nice view across the creek about 75 to 100 yards where the land starts sloping up a ridge in front of me, a ridge sloping up about 35 yards behind me, and off to my left, a view farther than I can see as this creek hollow opens up onto nice hard wood bottom land, before it turns swampy at about 400 yards, where the beaver dam has made a small lake. Here's a little picture, peeking out from the blind at my little hen decoy, about 15 yards to me left and across the creek :)

Now, 45 degrees is nice when you're walking in, and not bad when you're sitting there covered up by an extra coat used as a blanket, but when you take that off, so as not to interfere with calling or getting a gun into play, 45 degrees is shivering weather when you're sitting still. I swear, I placed the striker on my pot, and was making soft clucks without even trying :p Anyway, I start calling with this little glass topped pot, makes a nice mellow, subdued cluck and yelp, much like a hen just waking up. I get an immediate response from behind me, and to my left. Sounds far away, probably over the ridge, but definitely responsive. I think to myself, this is it. I've got his attention, and he'll make his way over here sooner or later. I throw out a few yelps every now and then, just to make sure he hasn't forgotten about me, but mostly I just sit and wait for the fun times to begin.

About 45 minutes into luring this fellow towards me, I hear a crunching step in the leaves. I get excited. Until I hear the next step, which, while coming from behind me, is on my right side, and a bit too loud for a turkey. I peer around the tree behind me, and what do I see? Another hunter, who has walked up on my spot, not knowing I was there. He waves to acknowledge that he's seen me, and turns and starts heading away from me, straight in the direction my gobbler is calling from. Less than an hour later, I hear the shot from that direction, and reckon my gobbler is dead, killed by the interloper.

I figure there are certainly more turkeys in these woods, and settle in to try and lure another into range. About 0930 or so, I decide to switch from my glass pot, to a single sided box call. I let out a few clucks, then bang out a yelp or two that I know carries well past the next ridge, hoping to lure another gobbler in. after about the third yelp, I hear a crashing in the leaves. I get all excited again, knowing that it's a big ol' gobbler rushing in to get some lovin. Until I realize that once again, there's entirely too much noise being made for it to be a turkey. It's coming from up stream, and I peer through the trunks of the blow downs, and spot a patch of brown and a bit of black. My first thought is what is a deer doing running through here in the middle of the day. I jump to my feet, so that I can see over the trunks, expecting to see a deer, and come face to face with a coyote, skidding to stop not twenty feet away, on the other side of the creek and the blow down.

I said, right out loud, "Holy Crap! You're a coyote!". The coyote looked back at me with a look that clearly said he wasn't sure how humans had gotten to the top of the food chain, if that was my brightest comment. About this time, I remembered that not only did I have a shotgun in my hands, coyotes are fair game anytime of the year, with whatever ammo you have on hand. I believe I may have said something unpleasant, as I snatched the gun to my shoulder, and thumbed off the safety. The coyote, not having to waste time with witty repartee, just took off like a bullet, and was out of turkey-shot range before I could get the gun mounted.

Now, I know that there are coyotes in those woods. Heck, I've come upon scat while scouting for this turkey season, but coming face to face with him like that took me totally off guard. I think because I wasn't expecting to see a coyote, the possibility just didn't occur to me, and by the time I'd registered the fact, it was too late to do anything about it.

This got me to thinking. While I know there are coyotes in the woods I hunt, and I carry rounds more than sufficient to deal with them, because I wasn't mentally prepared to actually see one in broad daylight, I wasn't able to deal with it as I should have. Coming face to face with "the Wild", I came out on the short side of the stick. Luckily for me, it was just a coyote, and most interested in getting away from me as fast as possible. As I sat there the rest of the afternoon thinking, it occurred to me, that coyotes are not the worst of what's out in the areas I hunt. Especially in the northern areas I hunt, there have been sightings of red wolves which were transplanted into that other Carolina, and have wandered in and about. Not to mention there being black bear and bobcats scattered throughout. We even have occasional claims of cougar sightings. I don't know how valid they are, I myself haven't seen a cougar in Carolina on over 30 years, but then again, I don't spend as much time in the woods as some folks.

These are all predators, even the coyote, which could do serious damage if they took it in their heads to do so. Even though I know about them, and think I'm prepared to deal with them, it turns out that I just wasn't prepared at all. Mostly mentally, probably because, once again, while I knew they were out there, I never truly expected to see them, especially not so close. When I'm working in the field, the gun, badge, and armor, all serve as reminders of just how ugly it can get pretty danged quickly. I'm prepared, not only equipment-wise, but mentally, to deal with any threat, real or perceived, that I might encounter on the job.

I learned yesterday, that while I may have thought I was prepared to deal with what the Wild might throw my way, I was in fact, not mentally prepared for it. I was literally stunned into inaction, if only for a second or two, by the unexpected encounter. In the field, this could mean mine, or my partner's life, so I'm ready to react at the slightest provocation. I did not possess the same readiness, or mindset in the woods, and the Wild snuck one in on me. Luckily, it wasn't a bad one, but I will learn from this lesson, and be better prepared to act in the future.

Think about what you're likely to encounter, and ask yourself if you're really prepared to deal with. Wherever you might be, you never know what might pop up.

Take care all,



Crucis said...

A year or so ago, I was on my way to my gunclub outdoor range. It's some miles east of KC in hilly terrain. The last part of the drive is over a gravel road to the range gate. As I crested the last hill, I saw a Lynx trotting sedately down the road ahead of me.

I've seen Deer, Turkeys, Coyotes, even Bobcat around the range but this was the first Lynx. It was distinctly larger than a Bobcat and much longer legs. I just wish I had a camera at hand.

There have been sightings of Mountain Lions around KC. One was hit by a car and killed on the north side of KC a year or so ago. It's always a surprise when we see some large predators in the wild. I always carry at least a .357 whenever I walk the woods.

Just in case.

staghounds said...

Calling turkeys is a good way to get coyotes.

The coyote's reaction is not unusual to my experience, they are apex predators and seldom have their eyes out for discreet humans. Usually when they see us we are loud or car mounted.

And "The state of North Carolina has the highest frequency of reported snakebites, averaging approximately 19 bites per 100,000 persons. The national average is roughly 4 bites per 100,000 persons." Wikipedia

So watch out!

Ross said...

Well... at least you know that your turkey calls are realistic enough to fool not only another hunter but a coyote!!