June 11, 2019

My mom had a saying: “The Lord takes care of children and fools.” Over my 28-year career here on the Bluff, this saying has applied to me on more than one occasion during my run-ins with wildlife. Some of these encounters were funny, some dangerous, and some just downright scary. This story was all three.

It was a chilly March morning, the first chance all season I’d gotten to turkey hunt for myself. I had been listening every day that week and had pinpointed the roost of an old Palmetto Bluff gobbler. As quiet as a mouse, I slipped along the edge of No. 8 Swamp with just a sliver of moonlight to guide me. After a while, I reached my destination, a slash pine flat right next to the fire line that separated the hill from the swamp. The gobbler had roosted every day that week at the other end of the flat. I nestled in next to a huge slash pine beside the fire line. This would allow me to have a shot at the gobbler if he came straight up the flat or a shot down the fire line if he tried to circle me.

It wasn’t long before the first glimmer of sunlight streaked through the forest. All the birds in the area were wide awake and singing, happy to see the morning sun. The first crow called, immediately triggering a response from the big gobbler that had, until then, been silent. He was exactly where I thought he would be. I started my calling routine with a soft, subtle series of tree yelps. He gobbled back instantly. After a few more tree yelps, I did a fly-down cackle, and with that, he double gobbled and pitched out of a tree less than a hundred yards away.

Once on the ground, the old gobbler started closing the distance, enticed by my seductive calls.

Hubba hubba, old fella.

I was sitting on the ground with my shotgun on my knee, fully camouflaged from head to toe, ready to harvest this unassuming gobbler that was thinking he was going to have some morning romance. Suddenly, he quit gobbling, but they do that often, playing hard to get, coyly hoping to get the hen to come the rest of the way up the flat. I wasn’t worried. I just quit calling. Usually after a few minutes, he will come looking for the hen. After about 10 minutes of silence, I noticed that not only had he quit gobbling, but also the birdsong had stopped. The dead calm hung heavy in the air.

Then, I heard what I knew could only be a snake slithering through the palmetto thicket behind me. Several minutes passed by, and the sound gradually got closer and closer to my tree. Now, I’ve never been afraid of snakes. On several occasions, they have crawled across my legs while turkey hunting. I was anxious, however, to see what kind of snake it was. With most of my attention on the flat in front of me, expecting to see the gobbler at any time, I heard the slithering noise behind me make its way to the tree I was sitting against.

Now, you can always hear a snake crawling through palmettos, but you can never hear a snake breathing! I turned to see what creature was breathing down my neck when all of a sudden, a bobcat—sure there was a hen turkey on the other side of the slash pine—pounced, and we met in midair. I think we scared about 10 years off each other’s lives. All that went through my mind was that show When Animals Attack!, and I’m sure all that went through her poor mind was “That is the biggest, ugliest hen turkey I have ever seen!”

The Lord takes care of children and fools, and I’m not a child. Had I been unaware of my surroundings and not heard the cat approaching behind me, I could have easily ended up with a lap full of angry kitty!

The bobcat had heard my hen calls and was completely convinced that she was going to get a tasty breakfast that morning. Bobcats prey on birds and rodents, but they are not a threat to humans or their pets unless they are cornered.

What felt like minutes was really only a few seconds. The cat diverted her leap and landed in the middle of the fire line less than five feet away from me. She sat down, panting, as frightened as I was. By now, I had trained my shotgun on her but quickly realized she wasn’t a threat. I pulled down my camo mask, so she could see my face, and said, “Go on! Get out of here!” She was so startled that she walked a bit farther into the woods then turned around and sat down again, still trying to catch her breath. After about five minutes, she got up and moved away, probably thinking about becoming
a vegetarian.

Written by Jay Walea