All my life I have, as have millions of others have, hunted things. Be it animals or pictures or items, hunting is ingrained in my soul. I have hunted with my eyes, numerous cameras, rifles, shotguns, bows, crossbows, fishing poles, traps, and cages, you name it and I have probably tried it. The degree of success depends on what you think the outcome should be. There are times when I could walk out my door and trip over something I wanted to hunt, and there have been times that entire seasons have gone by without me getting any game at all. Both to me are victories as I get to participate in a sport/hobby/lifestyle that I love. I have written a few times about being out in the wilds and finding my “peace”, and sometimes it applies when I’m hunting, not always though, as it’s a different mentality to me.
There’s not a lot of danger hunting where I do, yes there are some bear at times, and wild boar, and even a white tailed deer can mess you up if you get it cornered and are careless. But for the most part it’s accidents, the occasional snake or your own clumsiness that will be your undoing. There are ways to make it challenging and even the playing field a bit. The object of hunting is to take game to consume (for me anyways I DO NOT trophy hunt, you can’t eat horns) and to do so in a humane fashion. Granted I could shoot an animal from 500 yards away with today’s modern rifles, but in my humble opinion, this is not hunting in the true sense, it’s more sport shooting. I have NOTHING against this way, it’s just not hunting to me. I prefer the close combat hunting where I pit my stealth, woods knowledge and skill against an animal that lives there, where it knows all the paths and ways. Out foxing a wild animal at close range in its “home” to me is the definition of hunting. Slipping up on a sounder of wild boar within 20,15, 10 yards armed with a bow or crossbow or even a handgun, is thrilling and scary as all get out, especially if all you’re doing is taking photographs and the “weapon” you have is not really adequate to stop a determined charge of a boar or momma sow with piglets. My point in this being, given the right circumstance even modern hunting can be challenging and dangerous. I can describe things like this and people might get it, here wait, come along on a hunt with me and see…
Quietly closing the truck door in the darkness after getting all my gear out and on, I look up and listen to the night sounds. 05:30 am, still at least 2 hours before first light, may have gotten here a bit early today, but it is the first day of the season. Silently slipping into my back-pack and then cocking the crossbow I get set, and take a few quiet moments to look up at the sky full of millions upon billions of stars and thank God for another day. Some days you just feel “it”, there’s something here not quite right today, but you shake it off and begin to make your way to the ground blind that Peach and I set up a few weeks ago, this will be the first stopping point until it gets bright enough to see to legally hunt. Moving slowly along the trail, listening to try and make sure I don’t spook any early morning game on the way to the blind. Hearing the softest sound of a footfall in the palmettos and briars to the side of the trail and immediately freezing, to try and determine what it could be. It’s pitch black, I truly wish there was a better description of the kind of dark it gets in the deep woods before dawn, an inky blackness that blocks all light, it’s like swimming in black paint at times. At times like this it’s the other senses that I trust, closing my eyes I listen, and try to catch a whiff of any scents (animals do have distinct smells and we can sometimes pick up on them) that may be drifting on the almost non existent wind currents. Time slowly ticks past, and here and there the errant mosquito buzzes around and still I stand perfectly still like an old oak tree with its roots firmly sunk in the rich earth. There is a feeling something is there but no sound, no movement, no smell to give it away, so I wait. Slowly the feeling subsides and the night creatures go back to making their soft noises, and I, even though I cannot shake the feeling that I’m being watched, move on down the trail towards the blind. Finally I reach the blind and settle in one of the two camp chairs slowly relaxing and waiting on the first signs of daylight.
Waiting in the blind, listening to the world wake slowly, the feeling is still there, muted, subdued but still there, the feeling of watchfulness. The first hints of daylight start showing through and yet I still wait, not time to move yet, cannot legally hunt. Slowly things start to take shape in the graying light and something moves across the trail I just walked 25-30 yards away, low but moving like silk undulating in the wind without making a sound. What was that? No idea, but it was quick! Silently putting my back-pack on again and picking up my crossbow I emerge from the blind. Put a bolt (crossbow arrow) on the crossbow and stand still preparing to begin my hunting.
Today I’m “still hunting” which unlike its name, involves moving. Taking two preplanned steps I settle and look, slowly all the way around me, starting close up and moving my eyes in ever widening arcs over the terrain. It never ceases to amaze me how animals can be standing right in front of me and I don’t even see them until I make a mistake and get too close or move when I shouldn’t and they bolt. Still hunting brings into play all the senses and skills learned.
Ever so slowly I move in the same pattern, 2 steps, stop, look slowly around me. In this fashion I take a great deal of time to go anywhere. The sun still hasn’t breached the horizon, so the world is a gray pallet and distant things blend into the background. Making it to the fork in the trail I have to decide to either go into the deeper woods or stay along the edge. Today I enter the trail that will eventually take me past a ladder stand and into the woods deeper eventually running into the creek and swamp parts. Slipping deeper into the woods I stop by the ladder stand and just wait, watching an open area where game travels at times, partially due to its location near wild persimmon trees. Squirrels hop about gathering the abundant acorns and chasing each other and I slip quietly on. The sun finally erupts over the horizon behind the trees in a burst of color like blood and orange all across the sky behind the trees lighting the woods. Carefully I move trying not to be noticed by the animals seen and unseen that I know are here as I can see and “feel” them. Freezing mid step I see a flicker of movement ahead, and try to determine what it is. Bird? Or maybe it’s the tail of a feeding white tailed deer. It’s a deer! Walking away it hasn’t noticed me, not in a position to shoot either, walking away, to much growth between us and farther than I like. Winds ok, blowing to me off my right front so it won’t smell me, so I ever so slowly, like the decay of time, inch forward on the trail behind it trying to stay where I can keep it in sight. It’s amazing how they can brush past bushes but make no sound, if I could do that I’d be the most efficient hunter in the world. Despite my trying to, I’m unable to keep the deer in sight and be quiet, so it fades off into the trail ahead, not spooked that I can tell, just feeding along. I slip along, hoping to catch a glimpse but never do again. Breaking through to the edge of the creek line the woods are darker but the undergrowth much thinner, making visibility better but not as much as one would think. Slinking along in the same fashion I make my way through the woods cautiously, stopping every 2 steps just as before.
I stop and watch a raccoon family tromp past and cross the creek 15 yards to my right, never noticing I am there, too involved with whatever thoughts raccoons have. Slowly and steadily, I make my way in a long circle eventually coming back to the opening in the woods, by the persimmon trees, again this time from the opposite side and as I approach the hair on my neck stands up and I know I’m being watched. Freezing in place I start methodically picking apart every piece of cover, searching for whatever it is causing the creepy sensation, my senses in full alert as my heart pounds in my chest so loud I think it’s audible. Nothing! I can’t see…wait There it is, holy cow He’s huge!! And he’s looking right at me!!! Bobcat “Lynx Rufus” aka “red lynx” Florida’s #1 ambush predator, sneaky, stealthy, ghostly killer, efficient at its art. Not normally a threat to humans unless trapped or cornered. This is what I have been “feeling” since I first arrived, why is it not slinking off like normal. Watching it sink lower almost flat to the ground it’s floating shoulder blades allowing it to almost appear flat, claws digging into the ground to get a better grip it is getting ready to charge! Honestly I can’t believe what I’m seeing, leveling the crossbow scope on his shoulder I hear the audible click as the safety clicks off not even realizing I did so and at that instant he explodes from cover, leaping 5′ before I realize, I drop the sights rapidly catching up to him and release the bolt and it travels the 20′ left between us in seconds hitting home and passing completely through. He somersaults mid-stride Breaking off his charge and dashing towards the briars where I hear thrashing and growling for a few more seconds then silence. I had no idea I had backed up so far as I try 3 times before I can get another bolt from the quiver and cock the bow never taking my eyes off the spot I last saw him. Letting my heart sink back outta my throat I finally slowly (and I cannot stress how slowly) I move towards the spot. Scanning scanning don’t see him, gotta be there, where.. there he is, not moving, not breathing. I drag him out and look at him, big “Tom” bobcat, looks healthy, why did he act so odd? Bolt hit him right in the shoulder and passed clean through, he was dead before he knew he was hit. The scared ****less shakes hit, and subside with time and I gather the “cat” and slowly make my way back to the truck. I will skin, and sell the hide as I am also a trapper and bobcats are in season.
Funny how hunting goes, sometimes when we think we are the hunters, we become the hunted. I did nothing to the bobcat mentioned earlier, for some reason he chose to stalk and eventually try me. Today was my day, next time…
I’m a creature of the woods like all the other creatures God put here, I’m at home there as much as I’m at home in my house. I know there are dangers in hunting as in every walk of life, but with the “Armor of God” and faith in Him I will continue to hunt and live my life with Peach.
“Next time you get to tag along Peach, 4 eyes see more stuff than 2″