The past few weeks, I’ve spent several days at hunting camps alone. I do most of my hunting and fishing during weekdays and sometime have to be happy with only myself for company. One’s mind tends to wander when setting hours in a hunting blind, waiting for a wild hog or whitetail buck to appear.
Last week after a couple hours anticipating a big buck the next second (which didn’t happen), I began to recall what I perceive to be my most memorable times in the outdoors. As I set there watching the winter woods, I recalled the time when I was about 14 when my Poppa Dinkins showed me how to make a ‘set’ for raccoons. Poppa was an expert trapper and decades ago, made some pretty good money selling fur. A diminutive man, I can still see Poppa at the age of ninety giving me a play by play description of the proper way to make a ‘water set’ for raccoons in a shallow creek.
My mind fast-forwarded several decades to one evening setting in a tree stand on the banks of a creek while on an archery bow hunt up in Illinois. The air was perfectly still and chilly. The moon was full and its golden reflection was mirrored on the surface of the still water of the creek. Then, overhead I heard the whistling of wings and a flock of 8 mallards were overhead, silhouetted by that brilliant full moon. The birds began dropping in unison toward the water and landed precisely where the moons image was shining up at me. What a sight, something I remember to this day as though it were yesterday.
It was getting late during my afternoon hunt and I was thoroughly enjoying reminiscing about past hunts and things I’ve witnessed during a lifetime of spending time outdoors. And then, I was brought back to the here and now by the deep-throated howl of a male coyote that sounded only a few yards behind my stand. The old song dog was letting the pack know his whereabouts and that he was ready to head out on an evening hunt. I was thinking about how terrifying that sound must be to rabbits that also ventured forth at night to feed. But rabbits don’t have the ability to ‘think’ as we human do, nor be afraid for that matter. But I have watched them freeze in place when they hear the howl of a coyote or bark of a fox.
The early morning and especially late evening howls of coyotes has come to be music to my ears. Each year, I shoot a few ‘yotes to help keep the predator/prey numbers in check but truly, I would really miss them if they weren’t around to share that wild music. Regardless where I am hunting, I look forward to natures call of the wild when darkness is just giving way to the first rays of light or when the curtain is coming down in the evening, giving the night roving creatures the cue that it’s time to again venture forth.
Owls and the sounds they make have always been a highlight of my times spent in the woods. While it’s common to hear owls ‘talking to each other’ during daylight hours, especially in remote woods, they really begin networking when the sun goes down. Like coyotes, owls with their dagger like talons are hunters of the night and rabbits and mice are the primary target of their ‘meat hooks’. But with their silent wings, owls strike silently and their prey often has no time to reach. At least the rabbits can often hear the coyote sounding off or crunching leaves as he trots through the woods.
On many a night at hunting camps, I’ve went outside in the chill dark night for a walk to the wood pile for another stick of firewood and listened to owls taking to each other from the still winter woods. What do these ‘hoots’ mean? Is it their way of communicating the way native used drums to send messages? It’s very common for one owl to sound off and set off a chain reaction from other owls. I’ve listened to one bird answer the other until their faint reply can no longer be heard. The solemn hooting of owls has a soothing effect upon me. Some folks refer to their call as ‘eerie’ but owls triggers something in my brain that causes me to pause and give thought to my own mortality. Maybe the rabbits do the same thing? No, I think not. The sounds of these winged talons of death simply let the rabbits know they need to be continually on the guard. They are not the only creatures of the night and the natural world lives by the rule of predator and prey. The predator is not necessarily ‘bad’ for doing what it was genetically programmed to do nor the rabbit ‘sweet’ because he is prey for a great number of predators. Have you ever witnessed the battle of two male (buck) rabbits? They can also revert to the law of tooth and fang just as savagely as wily coyote, hawk or owl.
As I mentioned, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the woods solo lately and I’ve had the time to do a lot of ‘reflecting’. Spending time alone goes hand and hand with hunting but I’m sure folks that simply get out and observe nature enjoy many of the same sights and sounds. Or, do they? Does one have to be either a predator or prey to fully understand what goes on in the solitude of the woods? Another question for me to ponder!
Make sure and join me in Greenville Saturday December 14 for The Winter Outdoor Ron-De-Voux, a gathering of friends, hunters and fishermen. The event will be on 4 wooded acres on Stonewall Street at Carquest (Henley Auto Supply) a few blocks north of downtown Greenville from 10 am till 2 pm. Come set around the campfire with us and we will share some outdoor experiences face to face!