Last week PJ and I set out for a coyote hunt on our little lease in Central Florida. Largely scrub land with orange groves bordering two sides, this property is rife with predators. Turkeys were not outside the realm of possibility when we signed the lease, but certainly not what sealed the deal. It’s just not a turkey-ish looking place. Which made the land all that more exciting when a flock of hens and jakes tripped a camera before Christmas. As a far-gone gobbler crank, I couldn’t get these birds out of my mind.
So anyway, we were out to try our hand at the dogs. But wouldn’t you know it, the orange groves were being plucked of fruit. The reverberations of trucks and machinery complemented by the plastic thuds of citrus tossed into tubs were punctuated by the deep bass of Latino music. Not exactly how they draw it up in the Coyote Hunting Handbook.
Still, nothing ventured and all that. We went ahead and set up in a shallow drainage that descends from the Western grove into the only swampland on the place. PJ and company lured in a dog here a month before that slipped into their laps before they realized he was coming. I wallowed under an oak seeking a decent seat, digging though the spiderweb of intertwined weeds and branches surrounding the tree. I’d have one shooting lane to the front towards the swamp. The orange-dotted green of the grove was off my starboard shoulder, obscured and high of my eyeline thanks to the contour of the land and the brush.
PJ hit the remote to the caller, and that God-awful wailing rabbit call came from his new FOXPRO. I immediately spied movement to my right, up towards that grove - slate-colored with a bobbing motion like a flock of hens.
I broke cover from the low elevation of the drainage to get a better glimpse of the birds and count the flock. Instead, from a now-unobstructed view, I witnessed a field-worker in blue jeans hauling a ten-foot weather-worn aluminum ladder horizontally on his shoulder, the rungs perpendicular with the ground, rising and falling with his footsteps.
What a boob.
This spit happens in the field. Some combination of excitement and low-light and fragmented views of objects has a way of distorting reality until it conjures images of what’s not actually there. The dourest amongst us will quickly point out that this is how hunting accidents occur - shooting at things without getting a clear understanding of what’s being aimed at. And these people would be correct.
More often, thankfully, these incidents end with a funny story. And no hunter I’ve met is immune. One of my favorites happened 8 or 9 years ago – sadly well before YouTube. Typical for this time length, some details are murky but, really, no one should seek the absolute truth and interfere with the crux of the humiliation.
This boy - and I believe he was hard-of-sight which should excuse him, but who are we kidding – was hunting on private land with a couple pals in South-Central Florida. He was fairly inexperienced as evidenced by his revolver and Bowie knife strapped on his belt. He spotted a hog at the end of a palmetto flat. His buddies weren’t convinced and tried to wave him off, but the guy persisted and, much to his accomplices’ delight, began his stalk, hunkering over and creeping close to the ground, slipping out to his prey.
Well, when he got close enough, he gave that hog a half-cylinder of .357’s. The pig wasn’t all that impressed. It didn’t flop over. Or even run off at the shots. The poor guy slinked up to his target and discovered it was a charred pine tree stump. D’oh! Those charred stumps will get you every time! He did the walk of shame back to his buddies who were all too understanding and sympathetic…wait, that’s not true. His name is, still today in certain hunting circles, synonymous with this gaffe.
Don’t think I’ve not given a stump – or tractor tire or dark culvert pipe – a three-times-over with the binoculars when I’m fired up on a hog hunt. To date, I’ve not pulled the trigger.
The thing is, even without pistol rounds whizzing by them, hogs move quite a bit. If there are any doubts, just wait a minute and you’ll catch movement and assure yourself of the target. But when movement is added to inanimate objects, it’s easy to be decoyed.
I call them brush deer and bush pigs. These tend to creep out at first light or right at dark. That right wind-whipped weed or fern or jostling bush in the shadows is enough to catch your attention and get the pulse racing. Most of the time, they’re easily dismissed, but every once in a while you’ll catch yourself intently dedicating the binoculars on this phenomenon.
It happens to even the best hunters. A few years back, I watched, with much amusement, a bobcat stalk a cattle egret in my folks’ horse pasture. The large cat would hunker to the ground when the bird stopped moving. When he thought his prey wasn’t paying attention, he’d scamper forward. Then the wind would blow and the egret would scoot further away.
After ten minutes or so, the cat got within pouncing range. As you may have already surmised, the cattle egret was really a white plastic grocery bag that was slowly tumbleweeding through the back yard. After his attack, it looked exactly like you think it would if you were letting a bobcat out of a bag. Last I saw of that wildcat was him clearing the five-foot back fence in obvious haste to distance himself from that embarrassment.
Spend enough time in the woods and you’ll eventually be hoodwinked. Should this occur, keep in mind three critical things:
1. Always be sure of your target before pulling a trigger. No need for injury. Seriously.
2. If you find yourself running afoul, pray to the Heavens no one is watching. Social media is a very real threat these days.
3. If you find yourself in the company of someone who has run afoul, it is your responsibility to call as many people as soon as possible and relay the story in as much exaggeration and enthusiasm as you can muster.