I have, many times in the past, admitted a deep love for black water swamps.
What's not to love?
Mosquitoes by the squadrons.
Fat, black cottonmouths that have a disposition that makes condemned murderers seem mild (test that one, if you want - but be forewarned).
Gators - some as big as 12 feet long - that can outrun a man very easily.
Canebrake rattlers, coiled and waiting...
Creeks that wind - first this way, then that way, then split and run in two directions, then come back together again - you have never been lost til you get lost in a black water swamp.
Ticks, chiggers, fleas, spiders and every other manner of biting and stinging creature you can think of.
Oh, one thing I forgot to mention....
Lots of them.
Deer that do not get hunted that regularly.
It was with this thought recently - after having had waaaay too many hunts without even seeing a deer - that I decided I needed to abandon my fixed stands and strike out into the swamp.
The Coosawhatchie River swamp to be exact.
This seemed like an excellent idea... it had been way too hot for late October, the deer were not moving and it just seemed like the right thing to do...
Now, those of you who have been kind enough to read some of the stories I have written may recognize a common pattern here - often, when I have a great idea, there is some amount of personal misery involved!
But, I digress... it is late October and my time to hunt the rut in SC is winding down - all of my November is spoken for by two out of state trips - and December in SC offers very little in the way of encouraging deer hunting.
With just a hint of "hunter desperation" as a good motivator - I start to devise a plan.
We have over a mile of frontage on the river in our club and it is a foreboding place to say the least.
I decide that the western end of the property sees the least pressure... for an afternoon hunt, I gather my climber and shotgun, pull on my rubber swamp boots - and wearing short pants and a tee shirt (87 degrees the third week of October), I drop down out of a cut corn field and into the swamp bottom I go.
Knowing there is about 800 yards of our frontage out in front of me... I head westward along the edge of the swamp.
The river is in about 5 runs in this area, merging, splitting, winding, merging and then splitting again. The mud is pitch black as is the water.... stained by tannic acid from a million hardwoods.
With hours of good daylight remaining, I take my time, looking for sign... I find random crossings and some good acorns falling in the bottom areas.... but on I go... 200 yards.... 300 yards.... now 400 yards... I know there are several places I can cut back to the south and come out of the swamp and at least have a reasonable idea of where I am... if I choose to do so.
I come to an area where a tornado has apparently passed through some time back - there are tangled and blown down hardwoods, some that would have been 60 - 70 feet tall... twisted and thrown about like a giant toddler strew them aimlessly around.
Carrying the climber and the shotgun is semi-cumbersome, so I try to pick the easist path... I just know on the other side of this tangled landscape, I am going to find a GREAT place to hunt...
Don't you think so?
I agree... and I think you are on to something!!!
I follow alongside a downed tree, the upturned root ball is 15' tall at least where the roots were torn from the earth. I walk around the edge of it - and find another tree lying at about a 45 degree angle to the first one...
Trying to step over, I find it too clumsy to manage with the stand on my back, so I take it off and toss it over the trunk of the downed tree and then start to clamber over with the shotgun.
Easy as pie, right??
I am going to now ask you to do me a favor.
Bear with me... this is gonna be worth it.
Clench your teeth... not hard... but slightly clenched.
Open your lips just slightly, almost like you were about to make an awkward kiss.
Now, using only lung power and no tongue... gently inhale slowly and very deeply.
Goofy, I know... but try it.
You should get a sound that I can not replicate by typing... but it should sound like a large balloon slowly being inflated... or perhaps the sound of a leaking tire - if that last sound could be played backwards...
Try it again.... make that sound. Slowly at first and then more deeply as your lungs begin to fill.
Now.... come back to me to the dearly loved swamp.... where were we??
Oh, I know... we were in the process of climbing over a fallen log - how could I have forgotten that???
Silly me.... should have recalled that in an instant!
An inflating sound...
Alarm bells... only a slight tinkling at first... start to chime - but not in my ears... they are way down in the base of my brain stem somehow... walking forward as they become slightly louder.
I feel a cool wind - in a swamp where humidity, heat and oppression seem to be the primary weather factors - seemingly flow across the back of my head...
Too late now to stop my forward momentum (although, at this point, being on the other - original - side of the fallen log seems like a dream come true) - my forward foot lands on the ground.
Half straddled the tree... I hang... while seconds tick - although the passage of time seems weird now.... somehow distorted, like trying to read todays press through the bottom of the glass... You know the newspaper is there but darned if you can make out the headlines... You know what I mean?????
Of course you do, because you are right there with me... Aren't you, old buddy, old pal???
The tinkling of the alarm bells is now louder - they have marched to the front and center now... ATTEN-HUT - SOUND OFF LIKE YOU GOT A PAIR, SON and all that - and the hair on my neck is standing straight out.... and again, my neck feels oddly cool.
In the midst of all of this confusion and oddity, a new sound appears - and I wish I could tell you it was on the horizon.
I wish also that I could tell you that it was faint and not well identified.
It was neither...
It was lower than the horizon.
Much lower, actually.
Like, ummmm, well... you know... right below me...
Sssssshhhhhh.... don't look down. We do not want to do that, do we????
The sound is also very clear.
A bright, tight, thrumming sound that started low in frequency and is rapidly beginning to escalate...
Oh, no... I have to look down... don't I?
I must, right?
For some odd reason - and this really is the truth... I do not tilt my head all the way down.... I tilt my head slightly and roll my eyes downward as FAR AS I CAN.... and lo and behold... coiled in the tightest, neatest little ball - right beside my foot (the only one on terra firma) and the tree - sits one big, mean looking CROTALUS HORRIDUS.
Even the name sounds bad, doesn't it. Say it a few times... almost funny when you think about it... right?
Yep, a rattlesnake.
Canebrake. We call 'em swamp rattlers.
A good five foot long, if I had to make a quick calculation.
I can not make a quick calculation at this point, however - in fact, even remembering that all mammals (including humans, JimBob) require oxygen to survive seems a stretch at this point.
It is, in moments like this, that you long - in a most frustrating manner - for clear, level heading thinking.
In the absence of that type of thinking (and I genuinely mean no disrespect to younger females - heck, they are someones daughters, second grade students, well... you understand) I do what any scared to death young girl would do.
I nearly wet my pants, let out a little shriek, skin my leg dragging it over the log.... and hop - in one quantam leap - as far away as I can.
I think that first hop (while I am an older man and certainly no Olympic hopeful) was about, oh... I would say - what... 30 feet? If not 30, at least 25!!!!
SWEET JESUS, YOU ARE MY SAVIOUR!!!!!!!
DID YOU SEE THAT?????
I peer back around the log and yep, sure as the sun is shining, there he sits.
Still inflated beyond porportion.
Still rattling to beat the band.
A size 12 bootprint in the mud, no more than 15" from him.
Flabbergasted and with a heart hammering away at 150+ beats a minute - I am at once relieved but yet mesmerized.
A head the size of a kid's fist, held low and squat - black beady eyes stare unblinking at me (and at you, too... you are still right here with me, aren't you?) and he is coiled in a manner that does not allow you to see his tail and rattlers.
Once I realize an immediate seizure or coronary disorder is not imminent... I consider what to do.
I have long wanted a rattlesnake skin to display - and while I have only killed 2 other rattlesnakes in my life and seen them by the dozen - this one is a beauty.
What I want to see, however, is the rest of him.
I ask him to uncoil.
He just stares.
I poke at him with a little stick...
He coils tighter - the coils riding on top of one another now - making him ride higher in the air.
The buzzing reaches a new level of frantic sound....
Finding a larger stick, I poke at him - a little more aggressively... and he opens up slightly - I see a set of rattlers that must be at least 12 sections long.
OK, I gotta take this one....
Turning the stick around, I use the larger, blunt end to bust him in the head.... he whips violently one time, I whack him one more time for good measure...and he lays still.
I sit on the tree (looking around real well before I do!) and relax for a moment.
I decide to forgo the swamp hunt - I shoulder my belongings and then, using a fairly long stick, I balance my new prize on the branch and head out of the swamp.
I make my way to the four wheeler and plop him in the basket on the front - and drive back out of the corn field to where the truck is parked.
At the truck, I slowly feed him into a large cloth bag I have... keeping well away from the business end of him. He may be dead, but hey, who wants to take chances.
I hunt a stand on the edge of a cutdown but do not see any deer.
Returning to camp, I find the boys on the porch, with the grill going, a few cold beers in evidence - you know - a standard hunting camp scene. I note the smell of sizzling beef, with some great anticipation!!
That "standard scene" is about to be altered and I mean in a hurry.
I fetch the bag from the truck and walk up in the darkness.... and up on to the porch.
"What you got in the bag, JimBob?".
A snake, I reply...
Canebrake. Wanna see?
"Heck, yeah,,,, lesse what you got there".
Five hunters around a picnic table...some moving closer now.
I open the sack and dump the snake on the floor, giving the bag the slightest of flourish as I do so.
I wanted my entrance to be grand.... but not this grand!!!!
That snake hit the floor - ALIVE - and I mean some kind of ticked off when he did so.
Forget the posturing of a big inflation scene this time... he immediately started striking at everything within distance and his rattlers were buzzing to beat the band!!!!!
Hunters scatter like startled quail and one guy recovers, with a pistol in hand and is about to dispatch my "trophy"!!!
"NOOO", I scream "don't shoot... I will get him.... just gimme a moment!!!".
Quick as I could, I pin him down with a handy broom, step on his head, trying not to flatten it and destroy it... and feed him backwards back into the sack - and then take the broom and "sweep" his head back into the sack....
I wish I could say bravery helped me do that - but I was still scared to death of him - I just did not want holes shot all in him!!!
Later that night, as I sat at my camper with a bowl of soup and some soda crackers - with the snake safely stowed in the freezer - I wonder if it was something I said that caused me not to get a steak and a beer????
He is a great specimen.... 61" long with 13 rattles.
I will board mount him and get some photos posted just shortly.