"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Monday, February 6, 2012

To Small Wild Animals or Whatever

Provo and I were polishing off our third-to-last or fourth-to-last evening drinks on the front stoop of Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp down in Clewiston during a duck trip a couple Decembers ago. The crowd had dispersed for the evening and left us to blather away on a tailgate about whatever subjects the Beam would lead us to.

And it was quite the mess on the patio – a collection of duck hunters is a savage band of outdoorsmen who can be quite cavemanish. We’d had a fish fry, and grease and small flecks of burned breading had covered the concrete and empty beer cans strewn between our various rooms as if one would finish a beer and just drop the can wherever. No, wait, that’s exactly what happened. It’s all very classy, as you can imagine.

Well, this spotted skunk, oblivious or undeterred by our drivel and boastings, snuck out of the dark and under the patio lights, no doubt lured in by the smell of cooked fish. He was clearly a camp veteran, knowing how and when to get a free meal. He shuffled about, eating the detritus of our earlier feast like burned fish breading was part of its natural diet, something game managers may want to consider if interested in bolstering spotted skunk populations on their property. Maybe it was just the whiskey talking, but this guy was about the most adorable little creature I’d ever seen. Cute as a button with a striking coat of white blotches mottling with the black hairs, he’d last about ten minutes in a Petco before a downtrodden mother was whined into taking him home to a loving family.

Some folks call them civet cats – I don’t know why. “Spotted skunk” was as an apt description of the animal as you’d think necessary. Not sure why people want to make up different names for the same thing. It reminds me of the TV shows where American Cape Buffalo hunters on an African safari almost wet themselves with excitement using the term “Dugga Boy” within earshot of the PH just to let him know they are hip and savvy to the Dark Continent’s dialect and bush tradition. I’d like to think these PH’s get together later - much like teachers in the school’s faculty lounge - to poke fun at these Great White Hunters.

Erik: “And Bob repeated Dugga Boy so many times over the trip, I thought he had suffered a stroke. Ndugu walked off the job the third day, and I won 200 shillings off Lars betting I couldn’t get him to say it 35 times in one day.”

Hans: “Bloke.”

Anyway, the skunk – or civet or stink weasel – had fed to within a handful of feet from us. This was my first run-in with one, and I was fascinated. Provo leaned over to me and said - in the same benign tone and temper you’d normally employ to ask a fellow diner to pass the salt -“I bet I could catch him.”

On cue, the skunk stomped his front foot and his tail shot into the air, bristling like a bottle brush. He wasn’t so cute anymore.

We didn’t twitch a muscle. I don’t recall how long the standoff lasted but enough for sweat to bead on my forehead. He could have doused us, no problem, and we’d be spending the night on the patio in the grease and beer cans with the rest of the vermin.

Don’t antagonize the wildlife. It’s an important lesson grown near and dear to my heart over the last twenty years.

Last weekend I was up in Homosassa relaxing with the family. A group – school, herd, flock – of otters was patrolling the docks. The neighbor had told me the thieving weasels had destroyed a couple of his wire-mesh traps relieving him of both bait and blue crabs. I said the best thing was to leave them at it and hope they go away. Our conversation led to an experience I had a dozen years back hog hunting along a little creek in Manatee County.

I had been slipping along this creek carrying my .44 Mag Ruger Redhawk not having much luck on the swine. This splashing kept coming farther down the bank so I strolled on up to investigate. A momma otter was hunting the shores with her pups. I whistled at her to see what would happen. She barked at me once and disappeared, and I watched the pups mill around for a moment before pressing forward. As I walked back to the truck I kept hearing this weird blowing noise and was shocked to see the adult otter had snuck up behind me, just a few feet from my ankles, baring her teeth and hissing at me.

That Redhawk probably weighs as much as she did, but I still felt overmatched.

You don’t get many Disney moments with wild animals, though occasionally there’s a détente and neither party is fleeing in the opposite direction. I ruined a perfectly good deer hunt one evening feeding a buck fox squirrel Jolly Ranchers. They are fairly curious anyway, but this one particularly so. I was sitting on the base of a large oak, feet kicked out and rifle ready for antler. He’d rustle through the leaves a couple yards away looking for acorns or whatnot. Well, figured I could satisfy his sweet tooth. He took the first couple of offerings I tossed to him, licking them, rolling them around in his paws before scampering up a tree to stash for later or to bait ants, I don’t know.

He returned one last time, and I unwrapped a sour apple Rancher. Fun fact, sour apple Ranchers are evidently a fox squirrel favorite. You can’t get this kind of information elsewhere, folks.

The squirrel stood on his back legs, nose sniffing, whiskers twitching and long tail rainbowing behind. I think he would have taken it from my fingers, but I thought better of it. This was a wild animal, after all, and I didn’t have much interest in receiving the distinguished title as the only hunter killed by a Fox Squirrel-to-Human pathogen. Or FSH. Get the facts.

I could go on and on. Bats and mice in camphouses and other places you want to sleep. The weird things hawks and owls do. Foxes and bobcats. There are a lot of cool encounters that happens on hunting adventures that’ll rack up in the memory banks.

But by God, never threaten a skunk. Or even joke about it.


Trey said...

The little guys can provide a lot of entertainment while in a tree stand. A small hawk almost took my hat from me once, while another hawk busted a covey of quail right in front of me sending the birds flying past my ears. Never know what will happen!

Bearly Alyssa said...

Neat! Is this a spotted skunk?

Ian Nance said...

That is a spotted skunk pictured. But not the one I wrote about...

Coy Hill said...

Love the stories and that skunk shot is perfect! you were right in the line-of-fire!

I remember years ago of being in a Canada bear camp when a striped fellow strolled in through the open door. When the skunk ambled to the far side of the room the big tough bear hunters headed for the door faster than a herd of deer being shot at! Even the guide was afraid to try to remove the skunk; afraid it would spray the bunkhouse and that he would have no place to house his clients.

Long & short a skunk won't spray unless he feels he's in danger so I made a slow cautious approach and gave it some gentle persuasion with the broom and he moved on out the door with nary a fuss. Still have to smile when I think of that night :)