25 January 2009

Bear Creek Swamp Tales #3

One wonders what makes a man get out of a warm bed at 4:00 a.m. and head out for the woods in freezing weather to look for deer that are so smart that they can smell a person at 200 yards. I am a man of habit. I have got to have something on my stomach before I hit the woods. So I would stop at the Big Bass store on the way out highway 14 to get me a honey bun and a cup of hot coffee. There is nothing as good as a hot cup of coffee on a frosty morn before you hit the coldness of the hunting woods where most likely you will think that you will freeze half to death up a tree. Leroy Jones was owner of this establishment and was a friend of mine. In fact he loaned me his four wheel drive truck so I could travel down a muddy road to retrieve a deer I had killed at the Swamp. This particular morning when I was sitting in a ladder stand some 14 feet up I could see the swamp about 100 yards down the way. I was sitting there and looking hard for one of those ole swamp bucks when I noticed to my left and south toward the Alabama River that a fog bank was rolling steadily toward me and up the swamp. The sight was something to behold. The fog looked like something straight out of the Science Fiction TV channel as it crept closer and closer toward me. There was not a sound as this mass of fog was coming right toward me. A strange sight it was! Eventually the fog engulfed me on its way northward and up the swamp. I am sure that a 10 point buck came within a few feet of me and I could not see one thing. Was this a planned action by the creatures of the wild to keep hunters from detecting their escape? My mind is still foggy as to whether or not that was the case.

Now I have still got my hearing. One smart friend asked me if I saw that fly a hundred yards away. I told him no but I could hear its wings a-flapping. This particular morning I was up in the stand just before dawn. I did hear the breaking of dawn that day. I had often wondered what it sounded like but no one had ever been able to describe it to me. When deer hunting I watch for every movement whether it is a bird or a squirrel. I also listen to the various sounds as creatures of the bottom on the forest are moving about. One morning along side Double Branch in Crenshaw County I mistook the sound, thinking it was a deer and low and behold it was an Armadillo. Say, do you know what an Armadillo is? It is a possum on the half shell. Well, anyway, that creature almost got a 308 caliber 150 grain bullet a-headed its way. When you hunt near Bear Creek Swamp you are going to hear some more noise in the early morning time. For about 10 minutes I could not have heard a deer walking near me for the noise of the ducks quacking on the water, the birds of every variety chirping their songs, the turkeys talking in the trees and the squirrels barking and a-running around on the dry leaves. I heard about this ole timer saying that the first thing that you will hear when it gets light in the morning will be the fowl kingdom and that I believe. But then I thought to myself. My, I could not have heard such beautiful noise in downtown Prattville that early in the morning. You had to be out in God’s nature to be blessed to hear such beautiful music!!

Only the older folk will recognize that statement coming from a song in the movie ‘SONG OF THE SOUTH’. One morning I had sat in a stand for a long time along side the Swamp but I had not seen any action so I decided to walk further up the ridge to an area that was just beautiful. Lo, and behold, someone had placed a stand a-way up a tree near to where the clouds are found. But I did accept the challenge and I got up in that stand a long way from the earth beneath. I should have gone home instead since I had been in the woods for most of the morning. There I sat a-swaying with the breeze then suddenly A Gold Finch came flying by and began feeding around the briars about 40 feet from me. Then there came two Blue Birds that began flitting around the same bunch of briars. You might not believe me but a few minutes later here came a Cardinal and his Red Bird mate. I couldn’t believe that I was looking at yellow, blue and red birds. I watched those birds for several minutes and if my blood pressure had been high that morning I know it fell way down. A peace came over me with such calm. I was being entertained with God’s creatures and had I not been up half way to the moon, I could have fallen asleep. It was so quiet and I was so relaxed, that is, until I heard a ‘crack’ behind me and then I turned around and there stood a buck. Let me put it this way, I disturbed Walt Disney’s World of the Bird Kingdom when I squeezed the trigger of that slug shooting shotgun. That was the end of my bird watching for the day.

Do you really know what you would get if you drop a piano down a mine shaft? Why that is easy. You would get an A flat minor.

**Photograph courtesy of B. Raymond Elliott**

10 January 2009

Bear Creek Swamp Tales #2

That year had been a good one for me while hunting along side the Swamp. I had been able to harvest several during the season. In fact, from the same ladder stand that my friend David Hardy had built I killed a 5-point buck on a Monday morning and then I shot another one on Wednesday morning. I made the decision that I was not going to shoot another 5-point buck but wait until I could get a shot at one of those ‘swamp monsters’ that I heard some hunters talk about.

One afternoon I decided to go hunting at the Swamp the next morning. I called my good friend Chuck Frederick and while we were talking I asked him if he and Debbie had any venison. He replied that they did not and that they would really like to have some so I told him I would get him some the next morning. Now that might sound like a braggart but I assured him that my luck had really been good that year and that I would try my best to keep my word. Well, there I sat the next morning along side a trail not very far from the Swamp. In time I heard a faint grunt in the distance and down the ridge to my left. I just knew that a humongous buck was on his way to my stand.

It was but a short time that here came a nervous acting doe moving hurriedly along the well worn trail. She must have caught my movement because she stopped and looked right up at me but she did not seem alarmed, and so she moved on and soon was out of sight. I kept hearing the grunting and the sound became louder. I readied my slug shooting shotgun and was ready for the beast that would probably require a wench on the front of caterpillar to drag its dead carcass up the ridge for a dump truck to carry it to have it process. I waited impatiently with my heart beating a bit faster than normal for that 12-point buck to make its appearance. All of a sudden I saw movement and I raised my gun and then I saw it – another 5-point buck.

My feelings fell downward in a moment of time. Talk about being disappointed, I was. I simply put the crosshairs just behind its front shoulder and said to myself “bang you’re dead”. I then lowered the gun and all of a sudden I remembered what I had promised the night before and I said to myself (lone deer hunters have a habit on talking to oneself), “Chuck wants you”. And with that I sent a 20-gauge slug toward that poor thing and he did go very far until he fell dead as a door nail (I use that phrase because I thought it emphasized how dead a deer can be). I then went up to the Twin Valley Farm to call for someone to help me drag the critter up the ridge.

I went in this beautiful barn and ask the gentleman if I could use a telephone. He said I could and he led me down to the office that was in the barn and when I went in the office I thought I had, in some way, been transferred in some miraculous manner to a lawyer’s office in downtown Manhattan . Now I have been in many a barn in my young life and especially at Uncle Sam’s farm on Sand Mountain but I guarantee you I had never seen a barn like this one. I have played in the loft; hid in a box under the oats; stepped in cow manure and even tried to fly like Superman from the loft but I had never seen an office in any kind of a barn. Period. Anyway, I called my good friend Gurvis Lawson to come over and help me with the deer. I also asked him to call Chuck to meet us at his house on Highway 82 in the Booth Community in order for him to pick up his deer that he had ordered.

My friend Gurvis has helped me over the years to drag unfortunate deer that walked in the line of fire when I would be shooting occasionally in the woods. One morning he said in a dead-pan manner, “Raymond, do you realize that you always kill deer down hill?” I assured him that his assumption was not correct but that I always shot them on high ground and that they simply ran down the ridge or into a deep hollow to die. When we returned to Gurvis’ house Chuck was waiting on his deer. Now that brings on another story.

Well there we stood, the three of us. We did look like a motley group. I had my hunting camouflage on; Gurvis and Chuck had work clothes on. Chuck looked like a Swedish night club bouncer because of his size and blonde hair and me and Gurvis, well, we looked like Gurvis and Raymond. Enough said. Suddenly a pickup truck pulled into the yard and off of Highway 82.

The moment the man got out of the truck, he started cussing and a-swearing. Looking at the three of us he must have thought that he was in good (bad) company. He was talking about the deer and instead of blessing he was a-cussing. I said, “Fellow, I know we must look like a rough group but I am a preacher and this here big fellow is a deacon and this other man is Christian” and would you know with that said, a conversion took place in a twinkling of an eye. He began to back track and declared that he too was a Christian. He did not tarry long and in a short time he was in his truck on his way. We all looked at one another and wondered who in the world the stranger was who stopped for a short visit for a cussing spell and left converted (?).

In the defense of the three of us I can say that we usually don’t draw such a crowd. To this day I don’t know if it was our untidy appearance or what I said made that man go on his way rejoicing – that he could leave such a strange bunch of deer hunters that did not cuss.

This story has nothing to do with Bear Creek Swamp but I am moved (for whatever reason) to tell you about this fellow who had a bird dog that was always, without failing, faithful in keeping his stance when he pointed a bird. This particular time the dog got so far ahead of the hunter and pointed a bird but the problem was the hunter failed to find the dog. After hours of looking for his favorite and faithful bird dog and failing to find him, the hunter went home. Now don’t ask me for the validity of this here story but it goes something like this. The following year the hunter and friends were bird hunting in the same area as the year before when they came upon the skeleton remains of his favorite bird dog that he never found the year before. The story is that the dog was still in a pointing stance. Now that is what I call dependable and faithful bird dog!! What say you?