24 December 2008

Bear Creek Swamp #1

My family and I moved to Prattville , Alabama the first of February, 1983 from Opp where I had served the church of Christ as its preacher for twelve years. My reputation as a hunter had preceded me. So my soon to be good friend David Hardy of Autaugaville invited me to go hunting with him on the Pearson property along side Bear Creek Swamp. David had been employed by James and Rufus Pearson who were owners of the Crystal Lake Manufacturing Company for many years and he had the privilege to hunt on their properties. In fact he was the official guide for the business’ clientele when they would go hunting on the hundreds of acres own by these brothers. David could take me hunting with him as his guest. In the spring of that year he asked me to go turkey hunting with him and this was my first time to hunt in the Bear Creek Swamp area. He killed a turkey and I enjoyed the scenery.

Bear Creek Swamp is located in Autauga County, Alabama approximately seven miles west of the city of Prattville. It begins south of U.S. Highway 82 and it is fed by several branches that flow from the bottom of the various ridges in the area. It crosses Highway 14 and eventually empties into the Alabama River. There are many stores that have been told and written about people seeing ghosts in this swamp. There were times when I was alone up a tree when darkness fell and the owls were hooting, that I thought I heard and saw some things that were enough to startle a grown man with a slug shooting shotgun in his hand. If someone would have said ‘boo’ I probably would have gone back up the tree without the aid of a tree climber. But my stories are not about ghosts and goblins but about elusive deer and gobblers.

While I had hunted in swampy areas in years past, I had never hunted in a genuine swamp before my experiences in Bear Creek. The area of the Pearson’s property I hunted on for several years was at the end of the road that went by the Twin Valley Farm on County Road 41. Back then there were only a few houses on the part of the dirt road that led to the Pearson property. There were trees that were so large the limbs would almost touch as they made a canopy as we drove near to the gate that we had to enter in order to get on the property.

There were two pieces of advice that David gave me about hunting near the swamp. First of all he said that there were plenty of rattlesnakes that lived in the area. He related how that he had actually stepped on one and while standing on the snake he shot it in the head with his shotgun. He also warned about getting caught after dark in the swamp. He told the story of an area experienced hunter who had killed a deer and had gone into the swamp to retrieve it and day became night and he had difficulty finding his way out of the swamp. While hunting with David one day I heard a motor boat that sounded very near and I could not imagine how that could be until he informed that we were not far from the Alabama River.

The first time I went deer hunting with my friend David I returned to his vehicle at late evening as darkness had fallen. I began unloading my gun and then it was at that time I found out coyotes were in abundance in Autauga County . A pack of those critters began to howl in a hollow not far from I was standing. I guarantee you that sound caught my attention. Would you believe I re-loaded my shotgun with childish thoughts that those wild animals might be considering me as their next meal?

I eventually was given a written permit to hunt on the land by myself. I remember the first morning I drove to the lower end of the swamp that I saw what looked like a city filled with lights. I couldn’t imagine any town out that way and across the river that would be so ‘lit up’. When I left later that day I looked across the Alabama River and in the distance I discovered that I had been looking at the GE plant in Lowndes County . I should also mention that you could only use shotguns while hunting on the property owned by James Pearson. I put a scope on my Remington 1100 12 gauge and tried my best to make that gun accurate but I never did. I was just thankful that the slug would hit somewhere on the body of the deer when I shot at the poor creature. I finally bought a used Remington 870 20 gauge with a slug barrel and put a scope on it and it performed some better. I did killed several deer with the gun over the years.

I remember well the first deer I killed in the swamp area. I walked northward and would stop, listen and look very carefully before proceeding. I found a tree that had fallen and I got up on it and waited a long time hoping that I would see some deer. Eventually a small buck came right toward me and I was able to harvest it. The only problem was that I was so far removed from my truck that there was no way that I could drag the deer back to it. So I had to drive some distance to find a telephone to call my good friend James Watkins who was the preacher for the Landmark church in east Montgomery.

The calls I made to him during deer seasons over the years went something like this: “Hello James, could you do some personal work today and make a visit? He would reply: “Of course I can. Where are you?” I would then say, “I am here in the Bear Creek Swamp .” In a gleeful voice he would reply, “I’ll be out there in a few minutes.” You see he would always carry his camouflage coveralls with him to work so he could slip them over his dress clothes. When he was away hunting deer the church secretary would always tell callers that he was ‘painting his house’. Of course the truth was well known by the church members.
**Photograph courtesy of B. Raymond Elliott**