Recently a man jogging on a mountain trail in Colorado was attacked by a juvenile mountain lion. Remarkably, he managed to kill the lion with his bare hands. He was asked if he would ever go jogging on that particular trail again. He said, “Yes, but always with a buddy.”
As I listened to his story, I was reminded of a frightening experience I once had while squirrel hunting.
Unless you’re of a certain age, say 50-plus, you most likely don’t realize how popular squirrel hunting once was. During one of the last conversations I had with my late friend, Tennessee wildlife officer Ken Ripley, we talked about the decreased popularity of squirrel hunting. I recall Ken telling me that opening day of squirrel season was one of the busiest days of the year for a wildlife officer because there were hunters in almost every patch of woods.
Squirrel hunting wasn’t popular simply for sport; it was for food. I don’t believe my Mom was ever more proud of me than when I went hunting and brought home a mess of squirrel.
In the 1960s after I’d gone out on my own, Jerry, a childhood friend, visited me and we planned a Saturday squirrel hunt. An acquaintance of mine owned some remote mountain property and had invited us to hunt on his land.
It was a warm late October day as we hiked up a steep mountain trail. We spotted some hickory trees and squirrels love hickory nuts so Jerry headed for the hickories while I continued up the trail.
I soon encountered an old barbed wire fence. Dad taught me never to cross a fence with a gun in my hand, so I slid the gun through the fence and looked around for the easiest place to cross.
A few feet away was a sagging top strand of barbed wire. With my left hand, I lowered the strand then swung my right leg over the fence and planted it firmly on the other side. Just as I brought my left leg off the ground and started to swing it across, I heard a rattling sound that I immediately recognized. And it was right underneath me!
A shiver ran through my entire body as I realized that in my desperation to escape my predicament a barb had snagged my jeans just above the knee. I froze in place. My right leg on the ground. My left leg in mid air. My left hand still on the top strand of barbed wire. And a rattlesnake underneath me.
I was afraid to make even the slightest movement, but how long could I hold this position?
My only choice was to call out to Jerry and hope he was within earshot. Would the yelling cause the snake to strike? If he did, would his fangs penetrate my jeans? Seeing no other alternative, I yelled.
JERRY, JERRY! HELP, HELP! I don’t know how many times I yelled, but plenty.
Fortunately, Jerry heard me and came quickly. Speaking barely above a whisper, and still trying not to move, I explained my predicament.
Jerry spotted the snake, blending well into the autumn leaves. He had quietly slithered about four feet away from me.
Jerry dispatched the rattler with his shotgun, and after my experience, I was in no mood to continue the hunt. We returned to our car, which we’d parked in the property owner’s driveway.
The owner asked why we’d cut our hunt short and we told him our story. He laughed and said, “Yeah, there’s a bunch of rattlers up there. We call it Rattlesnake Ridge.”
Now he tells us.
For many years, Jerry called me “Old Rattler.” Thankfully, my friend was with me that day. The Colorado jogger is right: never venture into the deep woods without a buddy.
After 57 years in the radio industry, Dave Hogan is enjoying his retirement in North Carolina. He’d love for you to say ‘howdy’ to him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.