Sunday, November 24, 2013

Baggage ...

Onward through the slough; enterin' Carter Lake, before the salvinia scourge.
     Howdy-do!  Hope y’all are havin’ a great huntin’ season, and everyone is gearin’-up for the upcommin’ holidays.  So speakin’ of gear … I’ve been goin’ through most of mine, and sortin’ out the excess baggage.  Holy, sh¡t!  How much gear can one man carry out there in them woods?  Well, I guess that all depends on what-all one plans to do.  If I’m slough-stalkin’ … I try to carry everything I’d need so I don’t gotta be makin’ multiple trips back to a boat, truck or wherever I’m beddin’ down for the night.  I live by the motto, “Go Prepared” … but sometimes, I think I’ve gone friggin’ overboard!  Bet my beautiful bride wishes I’d actually fall overboard; say, somewhere out in a gator-infested swamp … so she can cash-in on my life insurance policy!  Then she might actually get to live-out the rest of her years in that Southern Living dream home with the wrap-around porch that she’s always wanted.
     Seriously, I’ve been sortin’ through all of my outdoor gear to see if I can streamline what-all I actually carry with me while I’m out there in them woods.  Now, I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout gear for a day-hike … basically, I try to pack everything that I might need on my back or around my waist for scoutin’ for at least a couple of days.  I wear a Camelbak hydration pack, which can pretty-much well contain most everything.  It holds 100 ounces of water, my one-man packable bivouac, a fleece comforter, plaster castin’ supplies, a custom First-Aid kit, a pair of binoculars, a night-vision monocular and a machete.  Hell, I couldn’t even begin guesstimatin’ what all this weighs.  And includin’ all the extra crap I’ve stuffed in pockets & pouches, such as trail food, bug repellent, a headlamp & rain-gear … that’s a lot of baggage!  And that’s just the gear I wear on my back …
How much baggage should one man carry 'round out there in them woods?  I generally travel light even when I'm
spendin' the night ... and don't like makin' extra trips unless I come across somethin' really significant.

     That don’t include what’s ‘round my waist … and I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout my damn beer-gut!  I wear a fanny-pack with a water bottle, and zipped inside is all the stuff I need immediate access to.  Let’s see … there’s my compass, cell phone, fluorescent orange trail-tape & reflective limb-lights, a Maglite Mini, an Olympus 1GB digital sound recorder, an 8MP digital camera, game calls (coyote, crow & wounded rabbit) and more trail food.  On my belt is a Garmin e-trex GPS, my sidearm with 2 extra magazines and a knife.  I keep a back-up pistol with extra magazine, keys & Copenhagen in my jean pockets.  And hangin’ from my chest on a harness is a Canon 35mm w/50x zoom.  Y’all getting’ tired yet?  ‘Cause when I’m out servicin’ my trail-cams, I also have to carry a custom tool pouch, batteries (24 “C” and 8 “AA”) and a can of 20’ wasp spray in-case I got squatters in my dang security boxes.
     Please keep in mind that all this baggage is mainly for goin’ off trail.  Now, I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout pullin’ up to some State Park where there’s a manicured designated campin’ area and all your gear is conveniently located in the bed of a truck ... nope.  Since the majority of what I do is slough-stalkin’ … everything either gets shuttled via bass-boat or by kayak to even get close to where I wanna scout or set-up a camp.  So like I said, my goal is to see if I can streamline what-all I actually carry with me while I’m out there in them woods.  I’m not sayin’ that I cain’t make due without some of this stuff.  Yeah, the back-up pistol is a luxury … but I don’t go many places without it.  The extra digital camera don’t weigh much, but if sh¡t can happen with electronics ... it usually will as far as my hapless-ass in concerned.  And even though my Galaxy S4 has a fairly decent camera … I try and conserve my cell phone battery for makin' calls.  On top of that, I done told y'all I ain't goin' to be postin' none of them-there "blob-squatch" photos.  I want somethin' clear, close & legit ... not some blurred or pixelated sh¡t!
     So, what-all can I do to lighten my load?  The first thing I tried was to weigh everything; I figured that if I actually knew an approximate weight ... I might psyche myself into tryin’ to do without.  With all of the gear mentioned above, I came up with 43 lbs. of baggage!  But when it was all said & done, I couldn’t really part with anything ‘cept maybe the plaster castin’ supplies.  If I do find somethin’ significant, I could always mark it and double-back … but the last time I did that, I got friggin’ Lost!  God forbid I should ever get pulled over; ‘cause if someone were to search the back of my truck … I’d have to explain what all that friggin’ white powder was!  I carry two canisters of plaster with the labels still on ‘em; however, I keep a bunch more castin’ material pre-packed into large zip-lock baggies.  These are what I carry in my Camelbak hydration pack.  If I find somethin’ worthy of castin’ … all I have to do is add water, re-seal the bag … mix it up, cut one corner and squeeze the mix into the track.

     Y’all are prob’ly thinkin’ that I’m nuttier than a squirrel turd for carryin’ around all this baggage!  Actually, it’s great exercise, and after doin’ this for a while … I kinda got used to it.  Like I said … this is the gear that I need for a couple of days & nights ... not just a day hike.  I guess I shouldn’t b¡tch about my baggage, ‘cause these are the items that I choose to carry when I’m walkin’ ‘round out there in them woods.  But if y’all really think about it, this ain’t nothin’ compared to the baggage that the folks in our armed forces or some of our first responders hafta carry on a daily basis.  So while we’re gathered with family & friends enjoyin’ the holidays, y’all be sure and say a prayer of thanks and keep the folks carryin’ ‘round the real baggage in mind.  Y’all take care, be safe and God bless!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Campin' ...

Our camp site on Horse Island in 2010
     Howdy!  This next installment concerns the night my son and I slept out on Horse Island in Smith’s Slough.  This is where we had Our Encounter with somethin’ large & hairy walkin’ ‘round out there in them woods!  Any of y’all like campin’?  To me, there ain’t nothin’ more relaxin’ than sleepin’ outdoors … ‘specially at night.  The sound of owls, frogs & crickets just seem so soothin’.  I even love to sleep out back in my hammock on those rare occasions when I don’t have to go to work the next day.  Matter of fact, if it weren’t for skeeters, I’d sleep out in that hammock a lot more often.  Now, different folks camp different ways; some consider campin’ stayin’ in an RV … but that ain’t for me!  I can’t tell y’all how many times I’ve been awakened by an RV showin’ up late to a camp site, settin’-up and then runnin’ a friggin’ generator or an AC all night.  Really?  Hell, I used to have this buddy that rigged a window unit for his tent!  I ain’t sh¡ttin’ y’all; as long as he had a tent pad with water and electrical, he was set.  Oh, well … to each his own.  But I’ve been guilty of them situations too; like when I took the family campin’ when the kids was little.  Or, usually somewhere I was fishin’ for a few days … and really needed electrical to charge my trollin’ motor & crankin’ batteries.
     But what I really enjoy is primitive campin’ … hikin’-in with as few provisions as possible, and goin’ to places where you ain’t goin’ to hear nothin’ but nature.  If it don’t fit on your back, around your waist or if you can’t carry it comfortably … it don’t go.  No ice chests, camp stoves, chairs or comforts ... just hard-core roughin’ it; I like to go to remote places that are off trail … which means those places where there ain’t no trails!  But once I got married … doin’ that sorta campin’ became a rarity.  The first time I camped with my wife, we stayed in a hen-house unit off of Dam B, at the Martin Dies Jr. State Park.  The screened unit and public shower were a must for her needs.  But pretty-much well after that, my wife transformed as far as campin’ went.  She became a Girl Scout leader, and could pack-in and set-up with the best of ‘em.  Her campin’ skills really showed after we went through Hurricane Ike, ‘cause other than the heat … she never wavered when it came to roughin’ it.  Our family was fortunate that we still had a roof over our heads, and our kids were fortunate that my wife and I are country-folk who know how to improvise …

     After my son and I had Our Encounter at Caddo Lake in 2009, we decided to scout around out there in them woods!  The area of our encounter was an island, which could only be accessed by boat.  My son had just turned 14 when we planned to go campin’ out there.  Even though he had been huntin’ and fishin’ with me since he was a toddler, he had never really roughed-it … so we planned to stay overnight durin’ Spring Break of 2010.  We started gatherin’ gear before the Christmas holidays, and the items we didn’t already have were purchased as gifts.  He usually got new huntin’ clothes, a jacket and boots anyways.  But that year he got a hydration pack, a fanny-pack, a one-man bivi and machete as well.  At the time, he was too young to carry his own sidearm, so I purchased a can of UDAP Bear Spray with a chest harness for him.  He is very proficient with my Smith & Wesson .357, so I opted to carry it on this trip just in case.
     The area of our encounter was definitely not designated for campin’!  Even though it wasn’t technically in the Wildlife Management Area, it was public land … but I didn’t really feel the need to build a fire (which ended-up bein’ a HUGE mistake).  I did have the proper APH (Annual Public Hunting permit) … which meant that I could legally carry my gun.  Even though I was not huntin’ … in the eyes of the law I had the means to hunt.  I had even purchased my son an LPU (Limited Public Use permit) just in case we wandered off into the WMA, so better safe than sorry.  I had arranged for us to stay with our friends in Uncertain, and bass fish the majority of the time that we were there.  God forbid that somethin’ went wrong while we was out roughin’ it … so I had my buddy I could rely on for back-up.  He knew exactly where we’d be … how long we’d be out there and when to expect us back.  My son was now very familiar with the area and knew how to operate our boat as well as navigate back to Cypress Village … even in the dark if he had to.

     After visitin’ with our friends and fishin’ for a day and a half … on Monday, March 15, 2010 I grabbed our gear, loaded the boat and headed for Horse Island.  My son took video of most of our trip, and I took plenty of pictures.  When I finally poled the boat through the Cypress knees and beached-it in the back of Smith’s Slough … it was already pushin’ Noon.  The first thing my son saw when we got out of the boat was a bear track!  It wasn’t that big, and was at the water’s edge so we couldn’t cast it.  We found a clearin’ about 150 yards from where we beached the boat, and decided that was where we’d make camp.  If we had to make a hasty retreat, it made sense to not camp too far away from the boat.  As we made camp, the temperature was pushin’ 75° … so I had assumed we’d have a fairly mild night.  Well, y’all know what they say about assumin’ … ‘cause this “ass” decided we wouldn’t need sleepin’ bags; I left ‘em at the poutin’ house!  Hell, we had a couple of fleece throws each, plus we had our huntin’ jackets & thermals. Why would we need sleepin’ bags?  That’s just more baggage for us to carry …
     We set-up camp, ate and went scoutin’ for a couple of hours.  I had carried in a Coleman® lantern just in case, hung it and gathered some wood for a fire.  I cleared an area of brush and leaf-litter, and prepped a campfire … ready to light if we had an emergency.  We never lit either one; the plan was for us to be as quiet as possible and observe … not to let the world know where we were by havin’ a bonfire.  I had also rigged a trip-wire system around our campsite, to alert us if we had any wildlife get too close for our comfort.  We set-up our one-man bivouacs about 20 yds. off the bank of the slough.  It was still too early for snakes, and I figured the same would apply for the gators.  I pitched the bivis together, and then covered ‘em with skeeter nettin’ … ‘cause evidently it wasn’t too cold for them.  The last thing I did was set-out my Olympus 1GB digital sound recorder so I could capture audio of our entire evenin’.
     As the sun finally set, we heard a barrage of coyotes off in the not-too-far distance.  After awhile, it was apparent that they’d found somethin’ to eat … or turned on one of their own.  Next came the barred owls … whose concerto-bizarro  lasted throughout the entire night.  Shortly after 8:00 p.m., my sinuses went berserk.  At first I couldn’t breathe, but after a while, my nose ran profusely.  I dug into the First Aid Kit and found some liquid Benadryl … which calmed me about an hour later.  Our first visitors of the night were the pack of coyotes, which sounded as if they were within 50 yds. of our camp.  By 9:30 p.m., they were so close and loud, I unzipped the bivy with my pistol in hand … and walked in plain sight of them.  They didn’t like that much … and left as quickly as they had appeared.
   The Benadryl must’ve finally kicked-in, ‘cause my son woke me a little after 11:00 p.m., and I could smell again.  Somethin’ was close to the camp, and reeked like skunk.  I whispered, “Do you smell that?” and he replied “Yeah!  We sat in silence in the darkness, listenin’ for any sound.  Somethin’ could be heard movin’ around us … but I couldn’t figure-out exactly what it was.  Within’ 15-minutes, the smell was gone.  This really puzzled me, ‘cause if it would have been a skunk, and that skunk would’ve sprayed … the smell would have lingered ‘til mornin’.  But the smell dissipated when whatever it was could no longer be heard.  That was real unsettlin’ … and the .357 clutched against my chest seemed to lose its comfort appeal.  But that wasn’t as near as unsettlin’ as what would happen after midnight …
     I awoke again, but not ‘cause of any noise or smell … but ‘cause it was friggin’ cold!  There’s nothin’ worse than a damp cold … and bein’ that we were camped in a swamp … we had to play the cards we were dealt.  I really felt sorry for my son, ‘cause it was my fault we didn’t have our sleepin’ bags.  I had bass fished the last day-and-a-half in shorts and a t-shirt.  How in the Hell did it suddenly decide to get so friggin’ cold?  We each had on silk thermal underwear … both the tops & bottoms, jeans, a t-shirt, a huntin’ shirt, thick socks, huntin’ boots, and heavy jackets with hoods!  There was no wind, and we each had two thick 4’ X 8’ fleece throws; and I ain’t talkin’ them cheesy-ass rags you see at your local sportin’ goods store near the check-out aisles … I’m talkin’ thick-ass, heavy-duty sweat-shirt material.
     I had finally got back to sleep when my son woke me.  Dad … I gotta pee.” he whispered.  Well, with what-all had already transpired with the coyotes comin’ into camp, and then the mystery animal that reeked of skunk movin’ about … you can’t expect a 14 year-old boy to hike out into the darkness to take a leak.  I unzipped the bivi and walked him to the edge of the slough.  He did his business, and we had just crawled back into the bivis and settled down.  Suddenly … I had to sneeze; I quickly buried my face into the crook of my arm and let go.  Within 5 seconds … we heard a huge splash in the slough behind us.  Now, I’m not talkin’ a beaver slappin’ its tail kind of splash … I’m talkin’ somethin’ penetratin’ the water, like a large rock.  Thing is … there ain’t no rocks out there!  I was now on full alert; we didn’t say a thing … we just sat and listened.  This happened two more times within’ the next hour, and then we must’ve finally fallen asleep.
     The next time I awoke, it was gettin’ first light.  After watchin’ my son finally sleepin’ peacefully … I got up and scouted for tracks or sign around the immediate area of our campsite.  I found nothin’ of any significance … except for coyote tracks.  There was no smell, either.  None of our gear was disturbed, and I made a quick hike to the boat … which was in the same state that we had left it.  While my son slept, I started packin’ gear and made another trip to the boat.  When he awoke, we talked about our night of roughin’ it while I fed him some granola and trail food.  What I needed to do was get him back to the poutin’ house for a hot shower and a proper breakfast.  We scouted some more after we broke camp … and then headed back to Cypress Village.  Thank God the boat ride back was not as cold as what we had endured the night before.  Once we got on Big Cypress, I let him drive so he could hunker behind the windshield …
     When we got back to our friend’s place … they had said that it had got down to 38° the night before!  I’ll never leave the sleepin’ bags again … and I’m sure my son would make damn-sure of that.  We relaxed the rest of the day, and didn’t fish ‘til Wednesday afternoon.  We scouted again mid-day on Thursday, and fished only in the mornin’s and evenin’s.  We left on Saturday, March 20, 2010 … two hours prior to the lake record bass bein’ caught on Caddo Lake.  My buddy called to see how far we had gotten, and told us the news.  We were fishin’ the exact same area where that bucket-mouthed sow was fought just the mornin’ before!  But another cold-front was comin’ in, and as much as I wanted to fish while the barometer started to drop, we had to pack our sh¡t & git ‘fore the weather got nasty.  I ain’t big on highway drivin’ while pullin’ a boat through nasty weather … ‘specially havin’ to drive through Houston!
     When I finally got to review my audio from the Olympus, I found that I had captured everything … includin’ the sneeze and the splash, as well as the other two splash incidents and a distant cry I cannot seem to identify.  It doesn’t sound like a coyote or a barred owl.  I’m not goin’ to say that it sounds like somethin’ when I ain’t really sure what it is.  That’s not what I do here … I only try and present evidence, not speculations.  One thing is for sure … I’ll be campin’ out there again!  I’ve already sat out there numerous times for several hours in my boat; say from sunset ‘til 2 or 3:00 a.m., but I haven’t had the luck that my son and I had that cold night in 2010.  As bad as the giant salvinia has gotten this past year, I can no longer get my boat back there … so maybe after huntin’ season is over, I’ll get as far as my boat will carry me … hike-in and do some more campin’.  And when I do, I’ll be sure and post whatever I may or may not encounter.  ‘Til then, y’all take care … and be sure to stay warm this winter!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lost ...

These are the actual coordinates of
the area of "our encounter". I don't
mind sharin' stuff; but if y'all decide
to venture out there, be real-dang
careful out there in them woods ... 
     How y’all doin’?  Hope all is well and folks are gettin’ back out & about after that whole shut-down fiasco.  I’m goin’ to be concentratin’ on a couple of new areas to do my sloughstalkin’ … and will wait ‘til after huntin’ season to do more time in the grime so I don’t mess-up someone else’s hunt.  Both areas will be in east Texas … and both are hot-spots for wood-ape sightin’s.  I have been studyin’ maps and satellite photos of both these areas, which are dense and sparsely populated.  I like to know what the terrain is, mainly so I don’t screw around and get myself lost!
     Any of y’all ever been lost out there in them woods?  I have, and it ain’t fun.  The first time I got lost was when I was thirteen and deer huntin’ on the Louisiana/Mississippi border.  I was told to stay in a stand, and after what seemed like hours … decided I was goin’ to hike back to the deer camp my ownself.  Well, my first mistake was not doin’ what I was told; my second mistake was not havin’ a compass, and my third mistake was not payin’ attention to where the sun was, even though it was one of them gray, overcast winter days.  Ahhh, to be young and stupid …
     Now, I had been dropped-off by my cousin on a Honda ATC 90.  If any of y’all don’t know what that is, it’s a three-wheeled ATV which was popular back in the 70’s.  It was still kind-of dark, and best as I figured we didn’t ride more than thirty minutes from camp.  My cousin continued past the stand he had dropped me off in, and I figured I could just follow his trail back to camp.  Well, I figured wrong, ‘cause as good of a tracker that I may have imagined that I was … I couldn’t find no tire-tracks through all that leaf-litter.  I could find a bent or broke saplin’ here and there, but no knobby tread imprints.  And on top of that, my Army surplus canteen was almost empty, and I was gettin’ pretty-dang hungry too.
     I had started my trek back at 2:00 p.m., and it was now pushin’ 3:30 when I finally found a dirt road.  The first thing that I noticed when I come outta them woods was what had looked-like a very large coyote crossin’ about 100 yards to my left!  I took the safety off and walked the road in the direction of the coyote, but when I finally saw its tracks … they were much too large.  Hmmm, this must be a wolf, I remembered thinkin’!   I followed that road for another thirty-minutes and decided to continue to my right back into them woods.  Not knowin’ what direction I needed to be goin’ in, I decided that it’d be a good idea to keep the sun in front of me … which sets in the west.  Mississippi had to be due east, and I was bound to find another road.
     When I did, I looked to my left and that wolf crossed the road again; but this time, only about 75-yards away!  At that point, I got scared … and fired a .30 cal. round at that canine as it disappeared into the thicket.  Now, my heart was racin’ and saw that it was now 4:15 p.m., and only had another hour ‘til dark.  I yelled, “Hey! Is anybody out there?” … but got no response.  I then fired three more rounds, rememberin’ that my cousin had said that if you ever get lost, fire three rounds in rapid succession and somebody will find you.  Really?  Well, I hoped he was right and I decided to stay on that road.  I was thirsty, but was now completely out of water.  I found a marble-sized rock in the dirt, cleaned it off as best as I could … and stuck it in my mouth.  After a while, the saliva flowed and I at least no longer had cotton mouth.
     A little after 5:00 p.m. I was about to cross an old, wooden bridge when I noticed not one, but two wolves boundin’ up the bank and dartin’ into them woods!  My heart was racin’ faster … and I was just about to fire three more rounds when I heard an engine comin’ down the road from behind me.  My cousin came a racin’ down that road on his ATC, and slid to a stop a foot in front of me.  Where in the Hell have you been?  I told you to stay put you dumb, sumbitch!  Now, hop-on; ‘cause if we don’t get back to camp soon … we’re goin’ to get our asses whipped!  After we returned and I explained to everyone what had transpired, I was told that, yes … there had been wolves sighted out there.  Life lesson learned without becomin’ dog chow, and I never went out in them woods again without a compass or a plan.
     After Our Encounter in 2009, I decided to scout the Smith’s Slough area of Horse Island.  I had me a Garmin e-trex hand-held GPS, and had marked waypoints for the places that I had deployed my first two game-cams.  Gettin’ in and out of them woods to service my cams was a no-brainer … that is until the drought started.  The water-levels dropped, which made polin’ my 1,300 lb. boat in and outta there a chore.  The real game-changer was a fallen tree, which kept me from accessin’ a specific shoreline.  Due to that tree, I now had to walk completely around a large swamp to get to my cams.  Gee … it couldn’t be that dang hard … just keep the swamp to my left and walk around it.  Plus, I have a GPS …
     Sometimes, technology will bite ya!  I told my buddy that I would be tryin’ to service my cams one September mornin’ … and exactly where I’d be as well as when I should get back.  I turned on my GPS before I left his place, knowin’ that it would take a while for my Garmin to search for satellites.  It was a weekday, and I didn’t see another soul on the water the whole 20-minute boat trip from my buddies dock to Smith’s Slough.  I motored in as close as I could get to that fallen tree, chained-up the boat, grabbed my gear and took off into them woods.  Before I did, I marked the waypoint as “BOAT” and buckled the GPS back into its case on my belt.  I also marked my way with fluorescent-orange trail tape just in case.  About 45 minutes in, I found somethin’ peculiar; a saplin’ had been bent and twisted about 3’ out of the ground.  It was just bigger around than what I could get my hand around, and the rest was layin’ on the ground.  Well, this was an island, and I knew that an ATV couldn’t have done this; it was bent and then twisted ... it could only have been done by somethin’ with hands!
     I took a couple of pictures, and went to mark a waypoint on my GPS … but to my horror, it was turned off!  Now, I knew damn-well that I had put brand-spankin’ new batteries in it, so what was up?  I powered the unit back on, marked the waypoint as “LMB_TWST” and hit the go-to feature for “THING_02” … which was one of my game-cams.  The GPS showed that I was less than 500 yards from my cam, so again … I buckled the GPS back into its case on my belt.  After about a 30-minute scout, I found THING_02, changed the batteries, switched-out the SD card and locked it.  I reached for my GPS to hit the go-to feature to find THING_01 … and the damn thing was turned-off again!  Really?  Well, I just figured that if sh¡t could happen, it would damn-sure happen to me!  Somethin’ must be wrong with my unit …
     I knew which direction that THING_01 was in, and knew that it was only another 500-600 yards ahead.  After findin’ my cam, I changed those batteries, switched-out that SD card, locked it and decided to eat some lunch.  Cell phone service is sketchy at best out there, but THING_01 was in a clearin’ where my son and I had set-up camp durin’ Spring Break of 2010.  I called my buddy, told him what I had accomplished and what I had found.  I told him that I wanted to scout around some more, and should be back around 2:30-ish.  He said he was headin’ to Marshall, so I said I’d call him as soon as I got back to his place.  I pulled-out my GPS to hit the go-to feature for “LMB_TWST” … and noticed the damn thang was turned-off again!  O.K., now I was startin’ to get p¡ssed.  Since I was in the clearin’ of our old camp site, I sat on a log and watched the unit search for satellites.  As soon as it said that it was “Ready To Navigate” … I hit the "Go To" feature and watched the screen closely as I headed back through them woods.
     I made a wide circle around THING_02 and headed for the area of the limb-twist.  All of the sudden, I watched in horror as the unit started to search for satellites.  I tried to find a clearin’ in the dense woods, but before I could, it powered off again.  Well, sh¡t on me!  Evidently, them woods are so thick that it cain’t find any satellites and powers itself off to conserve batteries.  Well, I knew the direction I needed to go, and also knew that I’d tied quite a bit of trail tape out there, so surely I could find my way to the limb-twist.  A good hour went by, and I hadn’t seen any fluorescent-orange tape, so I decided to find another clearin’ and call my buddy.  I pulled-out my phone, and the first thing I saw was the low-battery warning!  Well, sh¡t on me again!  Evidently, even though my phone was fully charged when I had left … due to the fact that it was roamin’ for cell towers all mornin’ the battery was drained.  I immediately turned it off!
     It was at that point that I decided to quit lookin’ for the limb-twist and start lookin’ for my boat.  That mornin’ … the sun was out, and I had made a mental note of where it was positioned when I chained-up my boat.  But what I now noticed was that it was gettin’ overcast, and the sun was disappearin’ behind the clouds.  After another half-hour of findin’ no trail tape, I found another clearin’ and decided to call my buddy.  I had minimal battery-life left when he finally answered.  I told him what my situation was, and he told me that he was still in Marshall, a storm was headin’ my way and that I needed to get outta them woods!  He said he’d be there in 45-minutes, and to turn-off my phone.  He said that when he found my boat, he would fire a round so I could work my way towards him and then fire a round every five-minutes.  He said that if I was really far away, for me to fire 3 shots and we could work our way towards each other.
    Well, what another fine friggin’ mess I’d gotten myself into!  I relied on technology, and screwed-around and didn’t think I’d need a compass when I packed my gear.  What a dip-sh¡t!  I started movin’ in the direction that I thought the boat was, and wandered into the edge of the swamp.  Due to the drought, it was dry … but the dried giant salvinia was like walkin’ on a giant sponge!  Every third step, my snake-proof boot would sink about shin-deep into the matted vegetation and find mud.  I was makin’ headway when I noticed that my legs were startin’ to cramp; not from the mire, but from dehydration.  At this point, I had already drained all of the water from my hydration pack, and only had what was left in the bottle on my fanny-pack.  My boots were waterproof, but noticed a wet feelin’ in the soles …
     I found a log and had just sat down to check my feet when I heard the rumble of thunder off in the distance.  Great!  Sounds like I was fixin’ to solve my water problem, but bein’ in them woods durin’ a thunderstorm ain’t the safest place in the world to be.  I had a great respect for lightnin’ … but if there were any high winds associated with the approachin’ front, I didn’t wanna have to dodge any of them drought-dead trees or fallin’ limbs!  I unzipped my boot and felt the burn as I slid it off.  The insides of my snake-proof/waterproof boots were wet from a mixture of sweat and blood.  As my feet perspired durin’ the course of my hike, the skin got completely rubbed-off the backs of both heals!  I had just placed pieces of gauze from my First-Aid Kit in between my socks and the backs of each ankle when I heard the first shot.  My buddy had come to the rescue!  I guesstimated from the report that I was just over a half of a mile off course.
     I covered that distance before he fired his third shot, and was yellin’ to let him know where I was.  Wringin’ wet with sweat, dirty and scratched-up from crashin’ through the brush … he said that he could “smell” me comin’ through them woods!  I said, “Daaamn! I thought I’d never get outta there!  He just laughed and said, “Son, this is Horse Island; people get lost out here all the time, and sometimes they don’t make it out!  Now, I don’t know if he was just funnin’ me or tryin’ to make me feel good, but I was damn-sure glad to see him!  The first thing he did after I shook his hand was give me an ice-cold bottled-water.  Then he said, “Here; this is a ‘lil souvenir from your great bigfootin’ adventure!  He held out his fist and emptied two spent 9mm shell casings into my dirty hand.  The rumble of thunder was gettin’ closer, and the sky was turnin’ purple-black to the northwest.  I stowed my gear, unchained my boat and cranked-up the Yamaha.

     We motored out of the slough, and I followed him down Big Cypress back to his place.  We had just unloaded both boats when the sky opened-up.  We sat on the porch of his guest-cabin and drank a beer while I carefully peeled the socks off of my skinless ankles.  Thank God he got me outta them woods when he did.  It rained over 11” by mornin’ … and the temperature had dropped 30°!  About the only thing I could’ve done if I’d have gotten stuck out there over night was to hunker-down in a tree-fall, put my “manpon” in and suck-it-up!  My buddy used to joke about that incident … until the two of us got lost in them same woods that very next summer!  We even had a compass, but it took us an hour of wanderin’ around in circles until we came-out on the bank of Big Cypress, and then another hour of walkin’ within’ eyesight of the bank of Smith’s Slough to wind our way back to my boat!  We don’t joke about gettin’ lost no more …
     I’m pretty-dang-sure that I’ll get lost again somewhere, sometime in the near future; but, I’ll betcha that I’ll be a little more prepared!  I now religiously carry my compass, wrap my ankles and try to carry as much water as possible.  I also pack a survival blanket and a pancho as well.  My fishin’ buddies used to laugh at how much gear I’d pack when we’d camp-out for one of our private little drink-and-drown bass tournaments.  They’d laugh, that is, until sh¡t would happen and somebody needed somethin’ fixed or the right tools to fix it.  I always seem to be the go-to guy when it came to fixin’ sh¡t!  But as far as gettin’ lost goes, the main thing I do right is to always tell someone where I’m goin’ and when they can expect me to return.  Too much can happen out there in them woods, and it’s always good to share the specifics of where you’ll be and about when you’ll be gettin’ back.  Always go prepared … and try to expect the unexpected.  I hope someone might learn from this, and that y’all will be a little more careful out there in them woods.  Take care, be cool … and y’all come back now, you hear?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gatto ...

Invasive Swamp-Yakin' 101; this channel in the back
of Smith's Slough is now impassible!  I wonder if I'll
ever be able to friggin' paddle through this area again?
    Howdy!  Hope all is well with you and yours, and I “Pray” that one of my earlier posts didn’t cause any decline in my readership.  I tend to get into a rant when it concerns somethin' I'm passionate about.  In the future, I’ll try to stick to the subject at hand: slough-stalkin’ ... so I figured that sooner or later I’d have to post this particular story.  Y’all know what a gatto is?  It’s Española for cat.  ¡Si, hablo Española, cierto?!  Let me translate; Y'all do speak Spanish, right?  Sad to say, I don’t really ... at least not as much as I actually should.  I’m Greek; which, if you think about it, is sorta-like a Mediterranean-Mexican; but I don’t speak much Greek ... what’s more Spanish.  I’ve made some poor choices in life, and one of ‘em was takin’ Latin instead of Spanish in high school.  There was this cute little Italian girl that I was sweet on, but I don’t think she had too much to do with me almost flunkin’ Latin!  See?  As usual … I’m gettin’ off track again, and alcohol ain’t the factor!  So, let’s talk about my gatto ...
     As mentioned in an earlier blog entry OPERATION: Pull-Out! my buddy from Uncertain called and told me of some possible big cat-tracks he found behind his property in the Caddo Wildlife Management Area (WMA).  So after scoutin’ the area one afternoon, we found (and casted) some pretty impressive big cat-tracks that surrounded a dried-up pond.  While I was down on my hands & knees mixin' plaster and castin’ … I got the doo-doo chills!  It was so dang thick back up in there, I couldn’t help but think that a big cat could’ve been close by and watchin’ us.  I told my buddy to keep an eye out, and he just laughed and said, “Why?  I ain’t scared.  If a big cat comes, it’s goin’ to get you.  I asked, “Why?” and he replied, “’Cause a big cat is always goin’ to take-down the slower prey.  I said, “Really?  What makes you think that my fat-ass cain’t outrun you?  He just looked down at his rifle and gave me one of his classic, smart-assed replies, “’Cause I’d just shoot you in the leg and pass your fat-ass up!  Y'all just gotta love my buddy!
     Again, as mentioned in OPERATION: Pull-Out! I had purchased a Moultrie® Game Spy M-80 Infra-Red Game/Plot Camera and decided to deploy it back there.  I had also contacted that area’s local field biologist as well as TP&W’s game warden/field biologist about my casts.  Both pretty much-well told me that, #1. - I could not have a game camera bolted to a tree in the WMA; #2. - that the tracks I cast were canine, not feline; #3. - that there were no large cats in the Caddo Lake WMA, and #4. - that there was no such thing as a black panther.  Really?  To Hell y’all say!  Well, that game warden/field biologist eventually found and removed my camera from back there, although she was nice enough to let me have it back.  When I finally got home, I was lookin’ through all them pictures on the SD card when I found this ...
Notice how low to the ground and how long this animal is, as well as the sway in its back.
This appears to be a signature "cat on the prowl" profile. Also, notice the time and temp!
     What the Hell is this?  Is this one or two animals; a couple of beavers, maybe?  I kind-of doubt it, but I guess I’ll never know.  My opinion is, it appears to be the continuous shape of one animal.  Compared to the other local wildlife I’ve filmed at night, whatever it is, it’s black; not gray, not tan, but black.  Check-out the night shots below taken by that same trail-cam showin' a deer and then a coyote.  Both of those animals appear gray ... not black at night.  What I'm callin' my "mystery shot" definitely shows a long, black animal.  But there's a problem; you just cain’t tell what kind of black animal it actually is.  It damn-sure ain’t no feral hog!  And compared to the daytime picture of the doe (below) that’s about to bed-down in front of the camera, whatever it was, it was long ... at least compared to that doe.  In my opinion, it looks like a cat stalkin’ somethin’ out there in them woods!  Hmmm, to tell y’all the truth, this is kinda-like one-of them-there “blob-squatch” photos, like the ones some folks try and pass-off as “Bigfoot” … ‘cept it ain’t that blurry!  Actually, since all you can see are a couple of black humps, maybe its some sort-of East Texas, forest-goin’ version of the Loch Ness Monster!  Chuckle-chuckle, y'all!  But, Hell; I cain’t seem to catch a break for nothin’ …
     Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s stance is that there ain’t no such thing as a black panther.  Really?  Try tellin’ that to my daddy, who grew up in East Texas and used to live on the Texas-Louisiana border in the little town of Bon Wier.  I’ve heard him tell us about when he was ten years-old walkin’ home from church and seen black panthers in them woods.  No such thing as black panthers?  The Hell you say!  When I was a kid, I could remember me, my sister & two brothers gettin’ stalked on the way home from church.  He elaborated, “We walked the railroad tracks on the way home and they would follow us through the edge of the woods. I asked, “So dad, they weren’t just cougars?” He replied, “Nope, they were solid black!
     Now, what my little brother and I saw in the late 70's was a large black cat; cougar-sized … but it was not a cougar.  We were on a family friend’s ranch which is in between Marquez and Buffalo, Texas off of Highway 79.  While fishin' a cattle tank one evenin' … we heard a couple of screams, the kind that made all the hair on the back of your neck stand-up.  Our friend said, "Okay, boys … time to go; the panthers are out."  Now she didn’t say cougars, she said panthers.  My little brother and I thought she was just funnin' us; you know, kinda like snipe huntin' or boogers … nope!  That next mornin' when we went to fish, she showed us large cat tracks on the bank of the cattle tank, as well as some smaller tracks (cubs).
     That afternoon, my little brother and I were walkin' in them woods between the main house and the cattle tank.  I'll always remember this; I had my trusty Crossman 760 .177 cal. pellet rifle, and my little brother had his Daisy one-pump "shake & break" BB gun.  It was after lunch and was too-dang hot to fish, so we took off into them woods.  While on a densely wooded-trail, a very large black cat jumped across about 40-yards in front of us!  We were friggin' terrified, and that was the longest-dang walk in the world back to our friend’s house!  Matter of fact, I was so scared, I had walked the majority of the way backwards.  That night, we were supposed to go thin-out the armadillos that were diggin' under their turkey barns … but all my little brother and I could think of out there in the dark was comin' across that big black cat!  My little brother remembers that big black cat; however, he constantly laughs at my son and me about our (in his words) "Bigfoot" encounter.  Yuck-it up, bro; if you ever see somethin’ that awesome … I’ll be sure and post it for ya!

     Incidentally, in February of 1996 … my wife, 2½ year-old daughter and newborn son were comin' back from Ft. Worth from my little brother’s weddin'.  We had stopped to eat outside of Centerville at a place called Momma Mike's (which, from what I've heard is no longer there).  The inside of Momma Mike's had wall-to-wall wild-game mounts, and pictures everywhere in-between.  While waitin' for our food, my wife was feedin' our son a bottle, and I had our daughter on my shoulder showin' her all of the animals.  There were photos of celebrities who had stopped there; folks like Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, Jerry Jeff Walker and ZZ-Top.  And there were lots of game pics; but one photo in which I'll never forget was of a hunter standin' under a ranch gate holdin' a rifle.  Hangin' from the crossbeam of that gate was a very large, soild-black cat.  And sittin’ against that same wall in a booth eatin’ were a couple of game wardens!  I wonder how many game wardens ate at Momma Mike's back in the day?  And, I wonder how many of 'em actually paid attention to that old photo?  I did, 'cause it made me think of how close Momma Mike’s was to our friend's ranch ...
     Now if any of y’all out there remember Momma Mike’s or the picture of that solid-black cat hangin’-up in there, please gimme a shout via e-mail me or submit a comment.  And speakin' of which, comments are always welcomed, moderated and I'd never post anyone's personal information.  But, y'all please keep in mind that if somebody comments anonymously, I have no idea how to get back ahold of ya!  My e-mail address is located on the bottom of this site for your convenience.  Now, if y’all wanna know more about black panther sightin’s or have a personal encounter you'd like to share, please visit the Texas Cryptid Hunter’s site at  I bet that Mike Mayes would love to hear from y’all ... he's the go-to guy on large black cat sightin’s.  And Mike ain’t no arm-chair researcher … he gets out in them woods and does his time in the grime as well; so please be sure and give his site a look-see!
     In closin’, I’ve prepared a diagram of the cast that I had made to show that this print was left by a feline, not a canine.  Accordin’ to what-all I’ve read and personally witnessed, canine tracks are more conical-shaped and pointed towards the toes, while feline tracks are round; and if you can draw a symmetrical “X” through the track, it ain’t no canine!  On top of that, feline tracks have three lobes on the rear of the pad, and canines only have two; so, how many do y’all see?  A while back, I showed my cast to outdoor enthusiast and writer Chester Moore, Jr. as well as Terri Werner of the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge.  They were guest speakers at an Extreme Wildlife Expo held at one of our local Bass Pro Shops.  Both Chester and Terri agreed that this track was left by one very large cat!  So why was that local field biologist out near Uncertain, Texas as well as that TP&W game warden/field biologist in Karnack tryin’ to convince me otherwise?  Are they hidin’ somethin’ about what’s lurkin’ ‘round out there in them woods?  Or are they just bein’ all hush-hush on acknowledgin’ the existence of black panthers?  Now don’t y’all get excited; I cain’t (yet) prove that the cat that made the track that I had cast was black.  I’m a workin’ on it, but first, I gotta figure-out another way to conceal and legally secure my cams out there in them woods.  Bein’ the persistent ‘lil pecker that my wife claims me to be, y’all just hide & watch … ‘cause I’ll definitely be comin’ up with somethin’ real soon!  Until next time, y’all be safe this huntin’ season … and God bless!