Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Spendin’ …

Livin' large yakkin' the Ozarks last September ...
     Howdy y’all!  It sure was a busy year for me, and an expensive one at that!  I just got finished tallyin’-up all the road-trips I went on and realized how much I’d been spendin’!  Good Lord, for just the cost of my fuel alone, I was really thankful that gas prices were down.  I’ve been to Caddo Lake & back … twice … pullin’ a boat for a total of 1,100 miles; to the Ouachita Mountains and back … twice … for a total of 1,700 miles; and then went to the Ozarks and back for another 1,500 miles; and finally, to the Bowman Lodge for the NAWAC’s Annual Retreat for another 975 mile round-trip.  That comes to a total of 5,275 miles since May, which means spendin’ a minimum of 90 hours of time just drivin’ my truck.  Now, if I averaged about 15 miles per gallon, it means I must’ve been spent about $900 in fuel on just these 5 road-trips alone; and, that don’t even include all the extra crap I bought runnin’ in and outta gas stations!

     For example, here in Texas we got these huge super-stations named Buc-ee’s.  If you’ve ever passed one you’d definitely know, ‘cause everybody goes and their parkin’ lot is always full.  Goin’ in and outta one of these places is kinda like wanderin’ around a friggin’ “Y’all-Mart”.  Hell, all you need is a beverage or a bag of ice; but then, maybe a snack … or maybe some new road music, or, hmmm … maybe I’ll even get me one of them-there Yeti cups everyone’s been braggin’ about.  Before you know it, you end-up spendin’ almost $90.00, and that didn’t even include any friggin’ gas!  How in the Hell did that happen?  I don’t know, but I’d bought $75.00 worth of crap at that exact same Buc-ee’s the trip before!  I seem to remember that included more Texas road music CD’s and some t-shirts for my kids.  And then, there’s the Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets … OH, MY GOD!  My inner fat-kid is kept at bay unless it comes to Beaver Nuggets.  And if I really wanna binge, I’ll mix ‘em with a bag of Crunchy Cheetos.  Hey, don’t knock-it ‘til you try it, ‘cause it’s damn-near as good as a Lone Star Beer poured over a couple of scoops of Vanilla Blue Bell Ice Cream in a tall frosty mug!  The downfall of mixin’ Beaver Nuggets & Crunchy Cheetos (besides all the friggin’ calories) is gettin’ a mess of sticky nugget-shards and artificial cheese-dust on the black upholstery of my truck!  About the time that my sugar-high counter-balances the carb-crash is about the time I start to wonder, “Hmmm … I thought I’d just vacuumed them dang seats?”

     And then there’s road food.  I usually try to stick with somethin’ simple that I can eat while drivin’, such as a Whataburger with cheese & jalapenos.  This always seems to end-up drippin’ mustard down the front of my shirt or, of course, on my dang seats!  On this last trip to Oklahoma, I stopped at this place called Bigfoot’s Barbeque.  It was this ‘lil shack on the side of the road which had at least three big-rigs parked out front … so I figured the food just had to be good.  I walk in, and there’s this 7’ Chewbacca-lookin’ “Bigfoot” prop standin’ just past the entrance, and the TV was blarin’ on H2 with Giorgio Tsoukalos spoutin’-off about everything bein’ friggin’ “alien”.  So me bein’ the other weird Greek with effed-up hair, I sorta felt right at home … sat-right down and ordered me a full-rack of pork ribs with an ice-cold beer!  Actually, I wasn’t disappointed; that is … until I went to the men’s room to try and wash my hands.  The sink had tape across it, with a crude hand-written sign on the mirror that said, “Please use the sink in the Ladies Room” … and yes, I knocked first.  To my disappointment though, that sink looked backed-up as well.  As I paid, I reported this to the woman at the register, who quite frankly replied, “Yeah, I just saw that; but it kinda looked to me like someone had just gotten sick.”  I sh¡t you not, I won’t be goin’ back to that friggin’ place, no matter how good them dang ribs were!

Loggin' miles after my White River trip!
     Seriously, I estimated spendin’ at least another $100 per round-trip on food & drink while travelin’ … but that ain’t countin’ all the stuff you have to buy to eat while yer actually at yer destination!  I try to pre-cook the majority of all my meals a few days before and then freeze ‘em.  Blasphemy, you say?  Yeah, I like to grill-out myself, but there’s a big difference between grillin’ while chillin’ at Caddo Lake than there is while tryin’ to hunt in Area X.  Out there, your need to sustain is usually immediate, and then it’s back to business; I’d rather heat & eat than spend valuable time preppin’ & cookin’.  On top of that, it’s kinda hard to observe or watch yer dang back if you have to concentrate on cookin’.  I guesstimate I spent just under $150 on food for each week that I had spent in Area X … includin’ all the ice, water, coffee and Gatorade.  But then, there are your essentials, such as propane, batteries and back-up batteries for fans, flash-lights, etc., bug repellent, toiletries & hygiene products, specialty ammunition, clothes & gear.  If I added it all up here, I might as well start diggin’ a friggin’ hole, ‘cause my beautiful bride reads this blog as well, even though she won’t admit it …

     In retrospect, it’s been an expensive year for me so far … so I may wanna watch my spendin’.  That is, unless it’s spendin’ more quality time with my wife, our family or friends as opposed to spendin’ any more of our hard-earned money road-trippin’.  It is pretty-dang expensive doin’ all the things I do … and my beautiful bride has told me on numerous occasions that I am an expensive habit!  I really do love that woman, but the final nail in my coffin will most probably be the new Cabela’s that’s been built less than 5 miles from our place.  I just cain’t imagine what-all sorts of new stuff I might possibly find in there; however, I am sure of one thing … and that is that any future visits there will most definitely be supervised.  Come to think about it, I’d simply be better off usin’ all the friggin’ gear I’ve already got  … and concentratin’ on spendin’ more time on some local waters or somewhere out there in them closer woods.  Hmmm … both The Sam Houston National Forest as well as The Big Thicket are not that far of a drive, and both are rumored to possibly harbor wood apes.  Truth.  Right?  As a matter of fact, David "Big Sexy" Riojas and I are fixin' to head out shortly.  No tellin' what-all has been flushed outta them bottoms with all this dang rain.  Hopefully, I'll be able to report back shortly; but 'til then, y'all have a Happy New Year!  Be safe, take care … and y’all come back now, ya hear?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Huntin' ... Part 3

Those lush, thick Ouachita woods remind me of a tropical rain forest ...
     This is the third installment chroniclin’ my time spent in the North American Wood Ape Conservancy’s research area in the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma.  Again, these are just a few of the things that I personally experienced while there, and these were just from my first trip.  I would spend yet another week in late July to hunt the next full-moon ... but I’ll get around to that trip later.  As for now, I had left-off with me sittin’ in a cabin just before 6:00 A.M. and not the best state of mind.  I had just spent the past 3½ hours in a tree-stand, where I was s’posed to be the hunter for an animal that had basically turned the tables on me.  I had one of the most powerful big-game rifles cocked and tightly clutched while these animals were basically right under me, and I friggin’ blew-it.  I knew all along that these animals were real, even before it got way too friggin’ real while sittin’ up there in that tree.  That night was like a carnival ride; I was strapped-in and could not get off until the ride was over.  But this was why I was here; so now it was time for me to tighten-up, ‘cause losin’ it any further would just be too costly for everyone involved.  This is how it went down:

     After Alton recorded what happened, I felt something crawling across my left cheek.  I scratched and removed a large unfed tick, mashin’ it between my fingernails then grindin’ it into the floor.  Travis broke the silence and said that he was goin’ out on patrol, so I asked if I could go.  I thought to myself, Hell; you just got bucked-off so the best way to remedy the situation was to hurry-up & jump back on ... and I immediately asked to go along.  He agreed and said he wanted to do a very slow stalk, but for me to stay at least 20 to 30-yards behind him at all times, lookin’ in all directions.  I quickly crawled outta my tree-stand harness, guzzled a bottled-water … buckled my fanny-pack over my holster and waited for Travis to get well ahead of me.  No talkin’ and no noise, so it was goin’ to be a slow and quiet hunt as we headed west towards the creek.  I waited for Travis to get well ahead of me, then cocked the .45-70 … placin’ my index finger over the trigger-guard.  It was eerily quiet without the usual chorus of Carolina wrens or the hauntin’ serenade of a wood-thrush to break the silence.  The mornin’ mist hung low as we began our scout …

My vantage at trail's bend ... although it was much darker that mornin' on my stalk.
     After a hundred yards or so, the ATV trail made a bend to the right and then back to the left.  At that point, I briefly lost sight of Travis for a few minutes until I finally wound my way around the bend.  By the time that I got to the property gate at the creek, I was immediately overcome by a very strong “zoo smell”.  In my opinion, that meant that somethin’ was close.  I remembered thinkin’ to myself, Holy sh¡t! This animal just made its way between Travis and me, and neither one of us heard or saw it.  After crossin’ the creek, I finally caught up with Travis who, to me … had looked like he was motionin’ me to go to the right.  He stood there for a while, and then eventually proceeded to stalk to the left down the creek.  I headed to my right, along a trail that paralleled the base of the mountain.  I quietly walked through a shallow-water crossin’, pausin’ for a couple of minutes.  I was almost to the next shallow-water crossin’ when I heard somethin’ way off in the distance … ahead and above me to my right … possibly even up on the mountain.  What I heard was a faint but long yell, which sounded like someone screamin’, “Aaaaaahhh …” that seemed to continue for at least 30-seconds until it faded-out.  I could not even begin to explain what this was.  It sounded as if I were in a stadium and heard someone yell; However, due to echo I could not quite tell exactly where it had come from.

     At that exact moment, Travis radioed me … and I just about squirted a friggin’ grape!  The ear-bud was still in my front right breast pocket, but the sound startled me.  He asked where I was, and I whispered that I was headin’ towards the trail that went up the mountain.  He then asked, “Why?”  I responded that I thought that he had signaled me to go right; in which he responded, “Nope … I signaled you to stop.”  I asked where he was, and he said that he was along the creek headin’ to the cabin.  I asked if he had heard that yell, and he replied, “Nope … all I can hear is runnin’ water.”  He said that he was gonna follow the creek and then head-back to the cabin, so I told him that I would turn around and start the slow walk back.  At this point, I was probably about 300-yards away from the cabin, but was basically on my own.  Unlike hours earlier, at least now I could see ...

     I slowly made it to the gate within a few minutes, but smelled nothin’.  I started makin’ my way around the bend on the road when I noticed somethin’ standin’ in front of me.  Not 40-yards ahead was a solitary doe … just standin’ there eatin’ the grass growin’ between the ruts on the ATV trail.  We just stood there starin’ at each other, and she didn’t seem to even care that I was there.  She continued to feed, standin’ there chewin’ as her tail swished from side to side.  At that moment our silence was broken; I heard what was either a rock shift or a dull stick break off to my left, and that doe immediately looked to her right.  She immediately froze, puttin' one front hoof down two to three times in succession.  Her tail flashed and she bolted past me at a dead-run into the woods to my right!  My heart-rate accelerated as I stood there tryin’ to see what had startled her.  She didn't mind in the least that a man with a gun had just walked-up on her, but whatever it was that she saw caused her to flee for safer grounds!

My view into those thick woods from the trail ...
     I stood there for at least 5-7 minutes, but could see no movement nor hear anything further.  I continued my slow stalk back to the cabin where I saw Travis sittin’ there watin’ on me.  I asked him if he had smelled anything at the gate, to which he replied, no.  I elaborated about the yell/cry that I heard, and he said that he did not hear that, either.  Then I told him about the doe.  Tired, Travis said that he was goin’ to try and get some sleep and that I should do the same.  After he went into the cabin, I sat in front of my tent for a while to try and decompress.  I was too keyed-up from the events of the past several hours … so no matter how I tried, I could not sleep.  Alton finally came out of the cabin and told me to get some sleep as well.  I tried eatin’, thinkin’ I would carb-crash, but that didn’t happen, either.  I forced myself into the tent and lay down on the cot, but my mind was still racin’ so I tossed & turned for at least another hour.

     The rest of my teammates were now up and had gathered in front of my tent to discuss the previous events.  The wood-knock was definitely heard by all; however, Mason was the only one besides me that heard somethin’ smashin’ into the pile of rocks behind their tent.  I again told of what I experienced while sittin’ in my tree-stand, as well as what-all I had observed out on patrol.  I confessed to my teammates that I had failed; I had the perfect opportunity to possibly take one of these animals and I simply was not able to do it.  At that point … fear, anger and regret hit me all at once and I emotionally lost it.  I was both embarrassed & ashamed of myself, and don’t remember when I finally went into my tent to crash.  I evidentially dozed-off for a short while … gettin’ at least an hour-and-a-half’s worth of actual sleep.  I awoke sometime after noon, and we discussed our plans to go to out of the valley to get ice, water and check-in to folks via our cell-phones.  The plan was for me to drive, due to the fact that I had the largest vehicle, but more so because I needed to drive in and out to better learn those roads.  I had a few loose items that needed to be secured in the bed of my truck, such as the come-a-long, a chainsaw, extra fuel and tools, etc. but instead opted to leave them on the porch of the cabin.  We loaded our ice chests and containers for potable water, as well as a few bags of trash and headed-out.

Our Oklahoma road-block; was this simply a coincidence?
     Shortly after 2:00 P.M. we departed the valley; however, sometime after the second creek crossing, the trail was completely blocked by a large tree-fall.  I thought, how odd; Alton & I came in on Saturday, the women on Sunday and Travis on Monday … and now we mysteriously have a large tree over the road.  I suddenly remembered that I had left the chainsaw, bottle of bar-lube, fuel, tree-strap and come-a-long back at the cabin, but I did have 2 brand-new tow-straps under the back seat.  The tree was semi-rotted towards the base, but strangely it fell perfectly perpendicular across the road, which I felt was very suspect.  All of the trees on that particular side of the road had a slight lean down the mountainside; however, that tree mysteriously “fell” the opposite way.  I tried not to dwell on this, but it was what it was so I didn’t feel the need to stir-up any friggin’ drama by bringin’ it up.  After we hooked-up to it, I used my Chevy’s front tow-loops to pull the trunk in reverse to one side of the trail, and then it took all five of us to roll it to where my truck could finally pass.

     Shortly after we finally got about halfway to the highway, we all saw a very large turkey runnin’ down the gravel road just in front of my truck, and ended-up seein' a couple of roadrunners as well.  We finally made it to a gas station to get some food & ice.  While we decompressed … we each called friends & family and I made it a point to check the weather.  As per Weather Underground, storms with the high probability of rain would approach the followin’ evenin’ … and it was forecast to most likely rain through our departure on Friday.  We left “civilization” about 5:30 P.M. for the long, slow & bumpy ride back.   At a deeper creek crossin’ we stopped to refill our potable water, makin’ it back to camp about 7:00 P.M.  After we unloaded, I immediately went to the tree-stand and repositioned it … movin’ it to the left and about 2½’ higher up the tree.  Once bitten, twice shy; I was still unnerved from the previous night’s encounter.  After chow, I was told to get some sleep; however, I could not force myself to do so.   Alton made the call that I would not be gettin’ back into any tree-stand that night.  Disappointed with my head still spinnin’ … I remember bein’ awake in my tent ‘til well after midnight; but then, I don’t really remember much more until later that mornin’.

A deeper spot in the creek to the right of the frame made a nice 8' x 10' impromptu bath tub, complete with seating.
     I had first awoke at 7:00 A.M., dozed on and off ‘til 9:00 and didn’t wake again ‘til almost 11:00.  Travis and I went to the creek to bathe.  As soon as we got there, I sh¡t y’all not … there was a distant but very distinct wood-knock off to the east.  Obviously, these friggin’ animals had eyes on us the entire time we were there, watchin’ our every move.  Everything else that day was uneventful.  Alton and Graham went out to still-hunt while Travis went out on patrol, makin’ lots of noise, dischargin’ his sidearm and yellin’ loudly.  I opted for a quieter approach, slowly strollin’ back into the woods to where we had bathed earlier at the creek, and sat on a boulder for the next 2½ hours.  Via my radio, I learned that Travis would be sittin’ on the side of the mountain, about halfway back on my walk to the cabin.  I did not see him upon my return, but he said that he had watched me stalk past.  When Travis and Alton finally returned, Travis sighted-in 2 of the .45-70’s … and then we all sat in the front of my tent from chow until we would retire for the evenin’.  Knowin’ of the approachin’ rain, I had pre-packed as much of my gear as possible.  Everyone had said that I’d probably get more sleep if I stayed in the cabin, but stubbornly I wanted to be in my tent for my last night there.  My mistake …

My rock huntin' perch between the creek and the mountain ...
this spot didn't offer much cover, but gave a panoramic view.
     I had my Olympus recorder on, sittin’ on top of a storage bin in the middle of my tent when I heard what I thought was a rock hittin’ tin on the top of the cabin around 10:00 P.M.  Upon reviewin’ this recordin’ … you could plainly hear me yell, “Now, that was a f_#in’ rock.”  My teammates said otherwise, but due to the stress and sleep deprivation you could not have convinced me any other way.  My sudden burst of insubordination was obviously due to sleep deprivation, but I could do nothin’ about it at that point.  I was a wreck, and as far as everyone, includin’ myself was concerned it was time for me to get outta there.  It then started rainin’ like Hell, but by 1:00 A.M. it was friggin’ game-on again!  I began to hear movement all around me, but due to the rain … it was hard to pin-point exactly what was going on.  But even in that drivin’ rain, I could hear snorin’ comin’ from the cabin, meanin’ that everyone else was zoned-out.  At one point, I heard the approach of “splash, splash, splash, splash, splash, splash, splash” as ... in my opinion, somethin’ on two legs had just run past my tent.  It came from the east and ran west past the front of the cabin.  Shortly afterwards, I heard the same friggin’ thing, but this time from behind my tent … runnin’ from the east to the west behind the cabin.  Again I thought, how in the Hell could somethin’ do that in complete darkness … in hard rain … and not friggin’ trip over anything?

     But the most excitin’ activity for me to observe was yet to come.  Somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 A.M., I started to hear that same loud breathin’ that I had heard directly under me while sittin’ in the tree-stand.  This time, however … it was between my friggin’ tent and the cabin … mere feet from my head!  Clutchin’ my cocked Henry with my .357 at my side, I knew better than to even attempt to fire any shots with my teammates sleepin’ just a few feet away.  As loud as the rain was poundin’ on my tent … I could distinctly hear this friggin’ animal breathin’ in and out.  I was paralyzed with fear, but at the same time abso-friggin’-lutely amazed that this was actually happenin’!  Either this animal was purposely jackin’ with me; or, because of all the noise from the drivin’ rain and the sounds of my teammates snorin’ … it did not think that I was awake or could hear it.  I nervously and repeatedly pressed the call button on my radio, but got no response from anyone in the cabin.  After what seemed like several minutes, I finally nutted-up and forced myself to sit straight up on my cot.  Although I never heard any movement outside … the breathin’ immediately stopped.  I got off of the cot and sat in a camp chair in the middle of my tent.  I was facin’ the rear of the tent when suddenly somethin’ was flung … either water or mud, very forcibly across the back wall of the tent.  I actually saw the moment of impact; the whole back wall of the tent moved almost 1½’ inwards!  Needless to say, I did not get any sleep after that.

L to R; NAWAC investigators Shannon Graham,
Alton Higgins, Shannon Mason, Travis Lawrence
and myself before our departure from Area X ...
     Except for the rain … I heard no other activity from my nocturnal visitors.  By first light, the rain was subsidin’ so I began breakin’ down my camp.  This was a very tedious process, because I was on-guard and constantly lookin’ in every direction with every trip to my truck.  I was the first team member to be completely packed-up and loaded and was ready to ex-fill before 9:00 A.M.  My early-bird reward was to be able to take an impromptu “bird-bath” with the remains of some potable water, and then dried-off and changed into some shorts and a t-shirt for my drive home.  Waiting for the others to depart, I stared through the drizzle at the mountain … still wonderin’ how these animals could navigate such steep, rocky terrain at night.  As I stood there, I prayed in solitude and thanked the Lord that everyone was safe, askin’ that He watch over us on our journeys home.  Selfishly though … I caught my self askin’ God if I could please just see one of these animals before I left.  Almost immediately I caught movement comin’ down the side of the mountain, and could see a brownish-gray figure emergin’ through the thick, wet, green vegetation.  I could hear nothin' as the animal moved down the steep incline and out of the cover of greenery.  Dumbfounded, I was only granted the sighting of a deer that made its way about 30-yards from me, hastily retreatin’ back up the mountain as soon as it caught sight of me.  I took that as a sign for me to count my blessings and to not ask for more, especially after I had just been given so much durin’ the past week.  I realized that I was blessed to experience things that most ordinary people would never get to experience.  We all safely departed shortly afterwards …

     While I estimate that I only got between 1½ to 1¾ hours of sleep the night before, I’d only stopped twice between Oklahoma and League City, Texas … arriving home by 7:15 P.M.  Once there, I unloaded and unpacked, fixed a Crown & Coke … shaved and finally took a long, much-needed hot shower.  After finishin’ my third cocktail, I was still wired from my trip.  Wide awake, I couched-it in front of the TV and was up ‘til at least 2:30 A.M. … only to be awakened before sun-rise on Fourth of July.  Our family had previous plans to join some good friends in Crystal Beach for food, fun & fireworks.  Thank God that my wife drove, even though I rarely sleep in a vehicle.  I would still not fall asleep until well after 1:30 A.M. or so that Sunday.  After everyone else had retired, I had found myself starin' at the moon through a cloudy night on the upstairs porch of that beach house.  The couch on that porch was deep, and a stiff gulf breeze kept the relentless skeeters at bay.  I again found myself awakened before sun-up … and my lack of sleep pattern continued on that track for the next week or so.

     Folks, this was the final installment of my first trip to a place the North American Wood Ape Conservancy calls “Area X”.  Again, I urge everyone to visit our Web site at and read the NAWAC’s Ouachita Project Monograph … detailin’ several years of study performed by our members.  Remember, we ain’t sellin’ y’all nothin’.  Period.  No guided trips or “Bigfoot” related merchandise … no phishing, ads or pop-ups.  We all volunteer our time and personal finances to try and provide definitive proof of the existence of this yet undiscovered mystery primate.  Once that is finally accomplished, we will work just as diligently to fulfill our goal of protectin’ this species and its habitat.  Meanwhile, I’ll be postin’ what-all happened to me on my second trip in “X” … and to say that things got hairy that trip is a bit of an understatement!  Folks, let me clarify somethin’ here; this ain’t some exercise in creative writin’ …‘cept for maybe typin’ all this in “redneck-eze”.  Not in my wildest friggin’ dreams could I even begin to make any of this sh¡t up!  It has definitely taught me that there are things out there in this world that we don’t yet understand, and we shouldn’t take anything for granted.  Hell, this old man’s just been schooled, so remember … the truth is still out there!  Until next time, try and keep yer eyes & ears open while runnin’ ‘round out there in them woods.  Y’all come back now, ya hear?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Huntin' ... Part 2

A view of the thick woods growin' up the mountain just behind my tent ...
     The followin’ account is a continuation of events that I logged over the time I had spent in the North American Wood Ape Conservancy’s research area, deep in the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma.  Again, these are just a few of the things that I personally experienced while there, and I was both privileged and humbled to be among our team of veteran field researchers.  I had little doubt of what my son and I had witnessed back in 2009, but doubted that I would be blessed enough to encounter one of these animals on my first trip into “Area X”.  Bein’ wrong sometimes is a good thing; however, over the past few months, I often wonder whether it was an actual blessing or a curse.  I'd trained for several months prior to going out there, conditionin’ my body to endure the heat and harsh terrain, droppin’ over 20 lbs. and packin’ on some muscle.  But what actually happened to me out there was just way outta my comfort zone, because I cannot ever remember feelin’ so alone or vulnerable at any time in my entire life.  I’d always thought that what didn’t kill me was supposed to make me stronger …

     Well, since I’ve been back ... I had started smokin’ cigarettes again and gained back those 20 lbs. by endulgin’ myself in way too many beers on a regular, nightly basis.  Finally, towards the end of September I snapped out of it; I promised myself that, I was no longer goin’ to be weak and to put away my vices; or, in my case crutches … and to no longer do this to my body.  Even though what didn’t kill me had really friggin’ screwed with my head, I finally came to terms that this was their intention durin’ both of my trips.  I use the word, “their” in reference to the wood apes … who simply toyed with us, tryin’ to elicit responses to their ongoin’ escapades.  These animals were unlike anything I’d ever encountered, and in my opinion, they are way smarter than we give ‘em credit for.  But they are however, just animals … not monsters.  Those things that were goin’ bump in the night weren’t “haints” … but flesh and blood animals, albeit mischievous ones at that.  And at any time while I was out there, if any one of these animals had seriously wanted to hurt me, y’all simply wouldn’t be readin’ this.  Sometimes, things that happen are simply out of one’s control, so here’s what happened next:

     Alton Higgins came out of the cabin around 7:45 A.M., and I told him what-all I had heard from the night before … as well as what I’d observed that mornin’.  When the others awoke, Graham confirmed that she too had heard the rock slide at 3:15 A.M. as well.  By this time, my teammates could hear my now nervous tone, and told me that I needed to get some sleep.  Sleep deprivation is not good for anyone … especially in such a remote and dangerous environment.  And with everything that I had experienced so far, I needed to keep my wits about me … not only for my safety but for that of my team.  I finally retired to my tent about 10-ish, but was awakened by movement at noon; I watched Alton walkin’ away from my tent towards the east, and I then noticed Lawrence and Graham movin’ out about 15-minutes later.  I fixed a snack and noticed that Mason was still in camp.  Apparently, Alton was brushed-up to still-hunt in one position, Travis in another and Graham had just come back from doin’ her time in the grime.  The three of us were sittin’ in front of my tent at about 2:15 P.M. when we all heard three loud metallic soundin’ bangs or slams echo throughout the woods in front of us.  After confirmation and discussions with our team over the radios, Graham and I decided to make the rounds in separate directions to see if we could flush-out anything towards Alton or Travis.  While I did a slow stalk to the west, Graham had observed a doe feedin’ in a clearin’ durin’ her patrol to the east.  Other than that, I had only heard a slight rustlin’ through them woods, but nothin’ else.

The "bait" tent 20-yards in front of the cabin, and my tree-stand was another 30-yards to the right.
     No sooner than we arrived back at our camp site, we all heard two more loud metallic-soundin’ bangs.  This time, Mason went with us to try and find the source of the noise, but again we discovered nothin’ through the course of our stalk.  After arrivin’ back at the camp site, Alton and Travis had finally returned and we all had some chow.  Discussin’ our game plan for that night, it was decided that we would create a diversion by walkin’ down a trail with flashlights down towards a creek crossin’ past where I had erected my tree-stand.  I would wait a few minutes and then climb into my stand in complete darkness.  Mason and Graham would sleep in a tent just in front of the cabin and act as bait, while Alton and Travis would observe and guard them from the cabin.  I had thought that I would be able to see anything that might be comin’ down that trail or movin’ away from the cabin.  By 9:00 P.M. I was told that I had better get some sleep because it would be a very long night for me up in that tree-stand.  Travis turned-in to the cabin and I went into my tent; after tossin’ and turnin’ on my cot for an hour or so … I finally fell asleep.

     Alton woke me up around a quarter of two; already dressed except for my boots, I immediately put my tree-stand harness on and put my newly charged radio into my front left pant pocket.  I ran the ear-bud cord over my shoulder, clippin’ the mic onto my left lapel, around under my collar and tucked the ear-bud into my front right breast pocket.  I wore a shell-belt and holstered S&W .357 over the harness, with four speed-loads of 180 gr. Grizzly rounds, as well as a pouch with 14 extra rounds of 430 gr. Buffalo-Bore for the Henry.  I had a fanny-pack with a water bottle attached … and two extra bottles of water, a flashlight, extra headlamp for back-up and an Olympus sound recorder.  I checked my Henry .45-70 and tested the bright green tactical light inside of one my boots before puttin’ ‘em on and exitin’ my tent.  Upon our teams’ diversion, I crept slowly through the darkness for seventy-five paces to the tree and my stand.  At that point I could clearly hear somethin’ large movin’ through the brush well ahead of me to my right.   After a brief pause, I quietly climbed-up the tree, onto the stand and secured my safety harness to its tether and sat.

     I waited until my diversion team passed and then heard whatever this animal was to my right move out into the woods well in front of me.  At that point, I was assumin’ that it was movin’ towards them.  There was a long period of silence, and after things had settled, I reached for the fanny-pack that I’d hung from one of the ladder rungs.  Quietly unzippin’ it, I felt for my Olympus voice recorder, took it out of its case and turned it on.  In my cupped hand, I could see the glow of the screen and hit the record button, in which I saw glow red.  I then slid the recorder back into its vinyl pouch, snapped it shut and secured it with the elastic arm-band onto my left arm, slidin’ it up to the shoulder.  Reachin’ into the fanny-pack back, I realized that the 2 extra bottled-waters made a considerable amount of a crinklin’ noise … so the main 16 oz. bottle on the outside of the fanny-pack would have to suffice any thirst for my hunt.  I then got comfortable and began to settle-in for the night.  Even though there was a full moon, I noticed that I could barely see my hand in front of my face.  The trail below looked lighter, but due to the dense foliage I really was sittin’ blind … and would have to rely on my ears to alert me of anything that might be approachin’.  I also went ahead and cocked the Henry, so if anything was to get too close I wouldn’t get busted from a simple click.

I had zoomed-in for a closer view of the "bait" tent from the ATV trail just in
front of my tree-stand.  In the darkness, I could barely even see their light ...
     From my 12½’ tall perch, I could barely see light through the foliage as Graham & Mason settled into the tent.  At some point, I thought that the animal that I initially had heard was comin’ down the road, but I never heard any foot-falls.  I then started hearin’ noises in the woods to my west, as well as noises through the east, towards where our vehicles were parked.  I then heard sounds of movement coming from a trail leadin’ to the girl’s tent.  At that point, somethin’ sounded like it came out of the woods onto the road at the corner of the trail and stopped.  I then heard a slight huff, and then one long, loud inhale … followed by one long, loud exhale; loud as in whatever it was, was way bigger than I was!  All went quiet for a short time, and then I heard more movement down the road, possibly comin’ towards me … but still no discernable foot-falls.  Then at exactly 3:15 A.M., I heard a massive wood-knock … not 40’ from the right of my tree!  It sounded like somethin’ had taken a very large piece of firewood and smacked-it as hard as it could against a large tree.  As it echoed throughout the surroundin’ woods, it startled me … especially bein’ that dang close!  This was my very first experience to hear a genuine wood-knock; although, my heart sank a bit as I thought to myself, “Uh, oh … this sh¡t is fixin’ to get friggin’ real.

     Shortly afterwards, I heard more rustlin’ through the brush, comin’ from the area behind the girl’s tent.  Then came the mouth-pops; I can now clearly remember hearin’ those sounds … as if someone were to put their finger into their mouth against the inside of their cheek and then pull their finger out abruptly.  (After viewin’ Alton’s video, I remember now that I had overlooked this upon the de-briefing with my team; but ever since that night I still cannot forget those sounds.)  At first, I heard one in one direction in front of me, and then one across from me, one well behind me and one or two more come from down the road to my right.  They seemed to be close, but between the tree-knock and now the mouth-pops, I suddenly realized that it was now game-on.  I also had the sudden realization that there were several animals movin’ through the pitch-black woods with ease and in my opinion were communicatin’ each other’s position.  Only a mere hundred feet or so from my team and the cabin, I suddenly felt very alone and very friggin’ vulnerable.  I also remember wonderin’ what the women were thinkin’ sittin’ alone out there in that tent …

These are one of a few piles of rocks in those woods, just behind and to the left
of the bait tent.  These were probably the rocks that I heard scatterin' that night.
     After a short while, I heard the animals move closer-in towards the tent.  I then heard rocks shiftin’ … rocks clackin’ together and other sounds as if rocks were bein’ tossed, but not thrown, very close to their tent.  Shortly afterwards, the next thing that I heard were rocks bein’ smashed, soundin’ as though somethin’ had thrown a very large rock into a pile of rocks … as the ones that were impacted scattered!  If that wasn’t unnervin’ enough, I immediately got this overwhelmin’ feelin’ that somethin’ was movin’ directly under me.  I felt this huge rush of adrenaline, worse than any buck-fever that I had ever experienced after years of deer huntin’!  My heart rate escalated, so I immediately started to try and control my breathin’ … but simply could not.  Within a few seconds, I began to shudder like a scared child; I put my left hand over my mouth, but it did not help stifle any noise.  I tried to cover my mouth with the crook of my left elbow but that did not help, either.  I then craned my head straight back against the tree, starin’ skyward, which seemed to help a bit … but not for long.

     The next thing that I heard was very heavy, steady breathin’ directly under me; it sounded like this animal was inhalin’ through its nostrils, not its mouth.  What I heard was loud, steady inhales and exhales, about 2 to 3 seconds apart, and it wouldn’t stop.  It sounded massive ... like a bull, but not a snort; it was just breathin’ steadily and loudly in and out.  My heart began to pound outta my chest, and I’m really surprised I didn’t have a friggin’ heart attack.  I again craned my head straight up, tryin’ to calm my breathin’ but I could not control myself.  I put my head back down tryin’ to see anything below me, but it was just pitch black.  I noticed that when I had craned my head straight up, I could see lighter patches of twilight sky, with the foliage well above me bathed in moonlight.  But lookin’ down I could not see a thing … just blackness.  I remember thinkin’ that this animal could surely hear my breathin’ ...

     At that point, the cocked .45-70 was my security and my right finger was across the trigger-guard.  My right hand had a solid grip on the stock of the Henry, and my left hand was grippin’ the fore-stock as the weapon lay across my thighs.  My left index finger was restin’ on the button of my mounted tactical light, so all I really had to do was to stand-up and try to light this animal up.  I wanted to see it so bad, but because it was directly under me, I would have had to have stood-up and leaned out a ways just to try to light it up; while at the same time tryin’ to aim through the foliage below my stand and then possibly attempt to shoot.  By then, my legs were shakin’ so bad I simply could not stand, and I still could not control my breathin’.  What alarmed me more than anything was that I did not hear this animal approach.  Period.  It was just suddenly there; nor, did I smell it.  I was in total shock, caught like a deer in the headlights.  How in the Hell could somethin’ that friggin’ big git-up on me like that?  I never heard any foot-falls!  Did it crawl or knuckle-walk?

     I do not know if it could see me through the branches below my stand, but it just stayed there, breathin’.  I then heard a rock or a nut get tossed, not thrown, about 20’ to the side of me, to my right.  I could hear it penetrate the foliage and then bounce through the leaf-litter.  The next sound that I heard was a stick or piece of wood being tossed about 20’ to my left.  It hit a few branches and then I heard it flatly come to a rest in the leaf-litter.  In my opinion, my realization at that time was that I had more than one of these animals in close proximity to me, but they either did not know what I was or exactly where I was.  Or, I could be dead wrong.  In retrospect, I really think it was the worst-case scenario … they were tryin’ to flush me out.  At that point, I do remember prayin’ … prayin’ to God that I would do the right thing.  Should I try to stand and take a shot?  Could I ethically shoot blindly at somethin’ I really couldn’t see?  And then I decided, no; just sit-it-out … but if one of these friggin’ things came up that tree, then shoot!  My breathin’ started to calm, but only after I no longer heard that animal breathin’ directly below me.  That didn’t mean that I was no longer anxious; I’d say that I was more so nervous at that point, because I really did not know what was comin’ next.  I guess I really never knew true fear in my meager life; but right there and then, I pretty much-well figured-out that I’d just met it.

My tree-stand as viewed from the ATV trail; yeah, Travis ... it wasn't high enough!
     The breathin’ sound had stopped, but I never heard anything movin’-out from under me.  I did hear somethin’ movin’ towards my right, but what disturbed me more is that I now had somethin’ comin’ up from behind me.  At that point I remembered twistin’ my left wrist and glancin’ down at my watch … the luminescent hands showed that it was shortly after 5:00 A.M.  I continued to hear more movement rustlin’ through the brush, and whatever was behind me now seemed to be gettin’ closer.  I didn’t know if this animal could actually climb my stick ladder or would attempt to climb the tree; but if it did, I would have definitely unloaded the Henry!  All I had to do was twist, point straight down and pull the friggin’ trigger.  It was now startin’ to get light, enough for me, at least to see a little better.  I now was gettin’ excited about finally bein’ able to possibly see what-all I’d been hearin’ throughout the night.  The road below me was not so dark anymore, but then I suddenly realized that I was about to be able to be seen more easily as well.  I continued to hear the rustlin’ to my right as well as whatever was comin’ up behind me when I saw a flashlight comin’ towards me from the cabin.  In all of the excitement, I had completely forgotten that I had asked Travis to come and get me at 5:30 A.M.  As he approached, in warnin’ I immediately yelled, “Check my 6:00! Check my 6:00!” and we both lit-up and scanned the woods behind me with our tactical lights … but saw nothin’.  Travis did say that he saw a coon; however, there was no way in Hell that coons had been my culprits for the last 3½ friggin’ hours!

     Alton came from the cabin as well, and I was still shakin’ so bad I didn’t know if I could make it down my ladder.  I remember sendin’ the fanny-pack down on a line, and shoulderin’ the Henry to eventually climb down.  At that point I was an emotional wreck, and had a hard time tryin’ to git my sh¡t together.  Again, we briefly scanned the woods around us, and then walked straight to the cabin where Alton would interview/video me for a debriefin’.  Watchin and listenin’ to this video afterwards, I basically sounded like a scared teen-aged kid, not a 53 year-old seasoned hunter.  And right after the debriefin’ … I remember takin’ the Olympus recorder out of its pouch on my left shoulder to play the audio that would verify everything.  To my horror, I discovered that it had only recorded for less than a minute before it was inadvertently turned off!  Sh¡t!  I must have turned the damn thang off when I slid it back into its pouch, or when I snapped its pouch shut.  I was told later that this was called the “Bigfoot” curse.  This same type of ‘eff-up had happened to several others from time to time with other equipment.  My adrenaline rush had subsided a bit, but I was now amped-up with the anger from my failures.  A simple recorder, one used several times in the past; but more importantly, a perfect opportunity to possibly obtain a type specimen, blown!  All I had to do was stand-up … light-it-up and shoot.  At that exact moment I recalled; even after all of the excitement of the past 3½ hours, still hearin' my wife’s voice clearly sayin’ to me, “Be careful what you wish for.

     This is the second installment to this blog entry.  It is an edited-down version of just a few of the many things that I personally experienced durin’ my first few days in a place that the North American Wood Ape Conservancy calls “Area X”.  And again, I urge y’all to go to our Web site at and read the NAWAC’s Ouachita Project Monograph, which details the years of study performed by our members.  These folks have all volunteered serious time, effort and personal finances to try and provide definitive proof of the existence of this yet undiscovered mystery primate.  I will continue to keep y’all abreast of what-all happened to me on the rest of that trip; however, I’ll tell you right now, it was not pretty.  From fear to anger to sleep deprivation along with further wood ape activity, it was a serious downward spiral for me.  And if any of y’all think that any of this is bullsh¡t, you might wanna think again.  Our members as well as our Board of Directors read this blog, and would never allow any of our investigators or members to tell anything but the truth … especially concernin’ the North American Wood Ape Conservancy and its ongoin’ field research, nor would they ever allow anyone in our group to give any misinformation about wood apes.  We only report the facts.  Period.  On top of that, not only would they publicly call me out, but most of ‘em would take me to the wood-shed as well!  Remember, the truth is still out there … so until next time, y’all come back now, ya hear?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Huntin' ...

     It’s been a few months since my last post; however, durin’ this time … much has changed in my life.  Ever since a very brief and insignificant encounter with an animal I really knew nothin’ about in 2009, I have been obsessed with findin’ out exactly what that animal was.  Delvin’ into the bounds of what is fact and what other folks have speculated that this mystery animal might possibly be, I wanted more than anything else to see it again; but this time, up close and personal.  After becomin’ both a member and then an investigator for the North American Wood Ape Conservancy, I finally got the opportunity to do some real huntin’.  I was goin’ to be a part of a team that, hopefully sometime very soon … would finally provide definitive proof of an animal that has not yet been scientifically documented.  My wife of 26 years simply told me to be careful what I wished for.  Sometimes … a man tends to take for granted what his partner in this journey we call life has to offer; well, in the form of advice, that is.  And sometimes, those of us who are way too driven are also blinded by arrogance and become ignorant of the truth … no matter how strange that truth may be.  The followin’ accounts are from the first of two different weeks that I’d spent this summer in the NAWAC’s research area.  These are just some of the things that I personally experienced, and I was both privileged and humbled to be amongst our elite field research veterans in the quest to finally obtain a type specimen of this mystery primate.

Southeast Oklahoma was pretty-dang hot this summer, in more ways than I'd ever imagined ...

     Deep in the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, I found myself venturin’ through the last leg of my destination in four-wheel drive through miles of privately owned land that is basically out in the middle of nowhere … just past much-of nothin’ else.  I discovered that I had just entered an area that seemed vastly different to any other woods I’d ever traversed.  I noticed that I was now in a paradise surrounded by virgin forests with centuries-old growth that did not have so much as a hint of the defecation from man’s senseless demarcation.  Out of all of the old-growth forests I’d ever been in, there was absolutely no trash in the leaf-litter here; no wind-blown debris in the tree-line or no rubbish on the road … which was not much-more than an ATV trail through a thick canopy of vegetation.  I remembered that song, Never Been to Spain in which Hoyt Axton wrote, “Well I’d never been to heaven, but I’ve been to Oklahoma” which pretty-much well summed-it up.  I also could not get that friggin’ tune outta my head!  Thank God that my team leader, Alton Higgins had escorted me into this valley, because I do not think that I could have found this location otherwise.

     After our arrival, Alton took me for a quick walkin’ tour of the area to show me the lay of the land.  And upon our return to camp I unloaded a plethora of apparatus that, to a veteran such as Alton was simply just overkill.  To his amusement I began to ex-fill an entire truck-load of gear, settin’-up my camp within’ about an hour.  Hell, my thought was that if we were to be here for a week, I would rather have than to have not.  We spent the remainder of our evenin’ discussin’ the team’s plans for the week, and then I became totally engrossed in Alton’s tales of this valley and the NAWAC’s quest for a type-specimen.  The group’s master plan began to fall into play, because until we finally had definitive proof, only then could we begin to take the necessary steps to protect this species and its habitat.  And from what I had witnessed on the drive in, that goal became paramount.  Until the takin’ of such specimen was accomplished, we’ll remain to be perceived by the masses of the uneducated as a bunch of nuts chasin’ friggin’ unicorns!  I had no doubt that these animals existed; however, in the back of my mind … I did not have great expectations for any “ape activity” on this particular trip.  Again, I’ll admit to both my arrogance and ignorance, as my perception of the situation began to escalate to the point of fear and sleep deprivation on my part.  Sometimes, ya just gotta love bein’ wrong …

One of the many trails in the valley around our camp ...
     Around 6:30 P.M., Alton and I were surprised by the sound of coyotes goin’ off on the mountain behind us, and both noted how odd it was to hear them yip & howl like that durin’ daylight.  We stayed around camp and talked until Alton retired to the confines of the cabin around 10:45 P.M.  I settled into one of the cots in my 13’ x 9’ tent, which was pitched a mere 10’ east of the cabin.  I had all of the windows unzipped in an effort to circulate some-sort of airflow in the stifling hot summer night.  Surprisingly, the temperature dropped to an unseasonable 65° by around 2:00 A.M., when I was awakened to movement outside of my tent.  I had tried to sit up in my cot, but the joint on the frame where the cot folded made a slight pop, and all movement ceased.  After about 30 to 40 minutes, I could hear Alton snorin’ again in the cabin and the movement around me continued; but again, each time I tried to sit up, any and all movement would cease.  I continued to hear the movement in front of my tent, behind my tent and between my tent and the cabin.  All of this movement, by-the-way … sounded bipedal.  I distinctly heard something on two feet walkin’ quickly through our camp.  And as remote as this location was, there was absolutely no way that our visitors were human trespassers, unless they could walk for miles in complete darkness through the rocky, thickly wooded terrain.  I now felt excitement!

     In discussion with Alton that next mornin’ … he revealed that he had heard some movement across the back porch of the cabin in the wee hours as well.  While drinkin’ coffee and eatin’ breakfast, I was tryin’ to get used-to the constant barrage of nuts fallin’ from most of the trees around us.  They would strike the tin roof of the cabin with a loud metal bang, as well as makin’ a dull thud as they hit the rain-fly of my tent. This didn’t explain all the rocks that had previously been collected off the roof of the cabin for the past few years.  We performed some maintenance around camp, and that afternoon we went out on patrol through the perimeter of the property.  We both decided to still-hunt in two separate locations until dusk, and then awaited the arrival of two more team members … Shannon Graham & Shannon Mason.  Upon their arrival, we stayed in front of my tent until almost midnight; whereupon they all retired to the cabin, though I opted to again sleep in my tent.  It began to drizzle that evenin’, so I had to zip the windows of the tent closed.

     Around 1:30 A.M., the fun began.  I first awoke to coyotes going-off on the mountain directly behind us.  Just as the night before, I slowly began to notice movement all around me, immediately notin’ the loud snorin’ comin’ from inside of the cabin.  But just as the night before … somethin’ just didn’t sound right.  In my opinion, it sounded as if those coyote calls were incomplete, and that they were coming from different directions and locations.  And in my opinion, it was almost as if those coyote calls were bein’ mimicked.  Again, I had tried to sit up and noticed that the sounds of movement that I had heard from the area around my tent had immediately stopped.  At 2:15 A.M. I heard more movement; smaller branches cracking along with a low grunt immediately followed by a short huff as soon as I sat up.  That huff came from out of the darkness no more than 20-yards from the front of my tent.  I then heard branches break as whatever it was moved off into the woods just south of me.  At 2:45 A.M. I heard what sounded like a 120-qt. cooler being drug across the rocks in front of the cabin where we had parked our vehicles!  What the Hell could make this friggin’ sound?  At 3:15 A.M.  I heard what sounded like something smashing against tin just outside the perimeter of camp.  There was lots of action, but I still could not see anything.  Again, each time I sat up all activity would cease, as though I were being watched through my tent.  I thought about calling Alton on my hand-held radio, but heard nothing but snoring coming from the cabin.  Since my tent windows were zipped … I couldn’t ever see anything anyways.

NAWAC members hikin' down the mountain towards camp.
     It had been a long night, so I slept until almost 9:00 A.M.  After we all had coffee & some breakfast, Alton took us up the mountain that bordered the valley behind the camp.  We began at noon and about halfway up, I had to sit and take a break.  My legs were fine, my breathing was okay but my heart felt like it was about to pound out of my chest.  All of my training from a few months prior on the 420 stairs at work had helped, as well as walkin’/runnin’ in full sweats and a hoodie with a 30 lb. pack 3 days a week.   But, nothin’ compared to going up that mountain in 92° heat carrying an 8 lb. rifle, at least 6-7 lbs. of belt w/extra ammo and a .357 … as well as an 8 lb. fanny pack full of water & gear.  After restin’ a bit, we proceeded back down towards camp.  My shins burned a bit, but no biggie; we all had made it back by 2:30 P.M.

Alton Higgins watches as I secure sections
of ladder to a tree not far from our camp.
     We were awaiting the arrival of another team member, Travis Lawrence.  After a break and some chow, I put-up my ladders and tree-stand about 150’ from the cabin.  I had 5 sections of 4’ stick-ladder, but actually put the tree stand only about 12½’ up, just above an out-croppin’ of branches in a hickory tree.  I assumed that if somethin’ was to wander-up, and that somethin’ just happened to look up … those branches and surroundin’ foliage would provide me with ample cover.  I could still see the ATV trail below me, but could not see directly under the base of that tree.  The plan was for our two female team-mates, Graham & Mason to act as bait in another tent which was pitched in front of the cabin; Alton and Travis could observe and guard over the tent from inside the cabin.  I would be on point in the tree-stand if anything were to approach from the ATV trail.  I tested everything from harness to tether, and both stood-in as well as sat-in the newly deployed stand.  After I was comfortable with everything, I climbed down and headed back to the cabin.

     Afterwards … Graham, Mason and I went to bathe at a spot in a nearby creek, which was much needed for me after sweatin’ for 3 days.  The two women had let me go first, so I hurriedly bathed, dried and changed into some fresh clothes to give them a chance to bathe before it got dark.  I sat with my back to them facin’ the mountain, scannin’ for movement.  By the time the three of us hiked back to camp, we were all drenched with sweat again.  A slight afternoon breeze through the valley was our only salvation from the heat.  At least the bugs were down from the lack of rain.  I had been takin’ 1,000 mgs. of garlic each day for the past couple of months to combat the ticks, and still sprayed-down with as much Repel as I could stand.  The garlic-laced sweat combined with Deet burned my eyes more times than I could count.  We all went through bottled-waters sometimes 2-3 at a time.  Travis finally arrived sometime before 8:30 P.M., and I hurriedly showed him where I had placed my tree-stand before it got too dark to see.  He climbed-up and quickly commented that he did not think it was high enough, which was somewhat disconcertin’; he asked why I didn’t think a 7’ to 8’ tall bipedal primate couldn’t just reach-up and touch my tree-stand?  He also had said that he was not going to hunt that night due to his long drive in.  We sat around in front of my tent until midnight and then everyone turned-in.

     Like clockwork, the fun began again at 1:30 A.M.  I heard rustlin’ and such, but nothing significant.  By this time, I was used to the nuts hitting my tent and the cabin.  Sometime durin’ the night (around 2:15 A.M.), I was awakened to the sound of crashin’ metal, as if something had picked-up a clothes dryer and smashed it down onto the rocky ground!  Like the sound of “the 120-qt. cooler being drug across rock” this was much louder, but also much farther away.  It sounded like it came from the woods to the southwest.  At that point, the snoring ceased in the cabin, but started-up again by 2:30 A.M.  At 3:15 A.M., I heard some more rustlin’ comin’ from behind my tent.  All of the sudden, I started hearing boulders (cantaloupe sized up to basketball sized) come tumblin’ down the side of the mountain.  If that wasn’t unnervin’ enough, it sounded like something large was slidin’ down with the rock, and then regained its footin’ as I heard the sound of very large footfalls goin’ “thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump” as somethin’ ran away from me through the woods behind the cabin!  This really got my attention, so I was up for the rest of the night.

     I heard faint footfalls through the course of the night, past a clearin’ and into the woods just beyond our camp-site.  At 5:30 A.M., I slowly unzipped the right door to my tent, which hung down diagonally.  I had a camp chair in my tent, so I sat starin’ into the woods in front of me, with my .45-70 laid across my knees.  Into them thick woods, I could both see and hear a squirrel barkin’ and watched it nervously movin’ up and down a tree, tail flarin’ back & forth.  Somethin’ was there, but it never moved and no further rustlin’ through the thicket could be heard.  This went on until 6:15 A.M., so I remained seated and motionless.  About 7:30 A.M., I walked over to investigate the rock slide, but did not see any tracks.  I remember thinkin’, how could somethin’ be able to run through there without trippin’ over anything?  I was havin’ a real hard time wrappin’ my head around everything that had gone-on for the past few nights.  I cain’t say that I hadn’t been warned … ‘cause I had already heard other team members accounts of all the “ape activity” that’s been goin’ on for the past few years.  But I could clearly recall my beautiful bride sayin’ to me, “Be careful what you wish for.

     What I’ve relayed to y’all so far is an edited-down version of just a few of the many things that I experienced during my first few days in a place that the North American Wood Ape Conservancy calls “Area X”.  If you have not already done so, I urge y’all to go to our Web site at and read the NAWAC’s Ouachita Project Monograph, which details several years of study performed by our members, who have all volunteered serious time, effort and personal finances to try and provide definitive proof of the existence of this yet undiscovered mystery primate.  As far as my actual huntin’ went, I’ll keep y’all abreast of what-all happened to me on the rest of that trip, as well as the second week I spent out there in late July.  For anyone who hasn’t had an encounter with these mystery animals … I now know more than ever and can personally vouch beyond the shadow of a doubt that these animals are real.  And if you think I’m lyin’ … prepare to embrace the suck when a specimen is finally obtained.  What I can also tell you is that, like myself, y’all need to put aside childish things such as these overly-dramatized, so-called “reality TV” shows and documentaries when it comes to this subject matter.  And if y’all decide to do any huntin’ out there on your own, remember … “Be careful what you wish for.”  Be safe runnin’ ‘round out there in them woods, and y’all come back now, ya hear?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Paintin' ...

New hanging tree-stand and ladder sections pre-painted ...
     Howdy-do!  Hope you & yours are all doin' fine in this wonderful summertime sunshine!  Yeah, it's been a month since my last post; but, on top of all the other activities and honey-do's I've got goin' on, I'm already gearin'-up for huntin' ... and I ain't talkin' 'bout deer.  Last fall, I had bought me a brand-spankin' new hangin' tree-stand and a 20' ladder to put me in a different perspective while I'm hangin' 'round out there in them woods!  But instead of scoutin' for deer, I'll be spendin' my summer lookin' for a different type of critter.  And as far as huntin' it goes, I got two choices; I can sit on the ground all camo'd-up in my new Browning Strutter huntin' chair, which is the up-close & personal approach.  Or ... I can sit 10' to 20' up in a tree and see a bunch more terrain.  The thing is, the Browning Strutter was aleady camouflaged, but my new tree-stand was not.  And most tree trunks are brown, tan and gray tones ... but that new ladder was a dark olive-drab.  Well, it pretty-much well stuck-out like a sore thumb against most trees.  Bein' a hunter ... I wanted a more natural look.  Read-on, and I might teach y'all a trick or two about paintin' ...

     Needin' a tree-stand that was light and packable, I chose the Summit Raptor RSX Eagle ... which is all-welded aluminum weighin' a mere 7.2 lbs. and sports a 21" wide x 28" deep durable platform.  Its foam-stuffed saddle-style seat is comfortable enough and was camouflaged in Realtree AP; however, the aluminum frame was not, which is one of the reasons for this post.  It, by the way, came powder-coated in a dark olive-drab.  The ladder that I purchased was the Millennium 20' Stick Climber, which weighed a total of 15 lbs. and consists of 5 stack-able 4' sections that nest together for easy transport.  Again, this also came in a dark olive-drab finish.  Hell, y'all ... I'd have paid extra for a camo finish, but that option was not offered for either product.  But, with a few colors of flat camo spray-paint and some fresh-picked foliage, I'm fixin' to show y'all how I rectified that minor dilemma!

Various twigs & sprigs to use as nature's stencils ...
     Y'all don't need to be artistic to pull this job off; if you can spray-paint ... you can camouflage.  It does not need to be a perfect, photographic design.  Remember, foliage ain't uniform ... and at a distance any tight patterns look like a "blob" anyways.  The main thing one needs to remember is to attempt to break-up your camouflage paint-job with shadows.  For this method, I prefer to paint startin' with the lighter colors first, and finish-up with darker colors and black.  It's good to be familiar with the trees in the area you are goin' to hunt; however, in my situation ... I'll have this tree-stand set-up in several different patches of woods.  I'd decided to camo my ladder to mimic a very basic bark pattern, but the tree-stand was a different issue.  Due to unfamiliar terrains, I wanted to try and simulate a medley of thicket, piney-woods and hardwoods.  To achieve this effect, I used nature as my stencil.  Walkin' our property, I collected various branches, sprigs and leaves to stencil with.  Most stencils use the interior space to spray-paint within; however, in the case of my stand I did the opposite; sprayin' over the different elements that I had collected.

The base-coat is basically a free-styled woodland camo ...
     As far as any tree-stand goes ... the only thing that really needs camouflagin' is the bottom, 'cause its what anything might see from the forest floor lookin' up.  I used various colors of camo paint to spot-spray in large areas, and then used my foliage stencils to break everything up.  I began paintin' in layers ... just a little at a time, which allowed both the tree-stand and my stencils to dry in-between coats.  I'll be huntin' in full camo (a Tru-Leaf Mossy Oak Break-Up suit) and the tree-stand's seat is already camo'ed in Realtree AP.  The final result is the bottom of my newly painted stand shown in the photo below.  The variations of all three patterns will help break-up any uniformity while helpin' me to blend-in to most heavy foliage.  In years past, I had been in bow huntin' situations in the Sam Houston National Forest where other hunters had walked right past me and even directly under my stand ... not noticing that I was even there!  Now, I'm not claimin' that this was due to any home-made camo paint job I'd had on my old ladder & Loc-On stand.  It could have actually been due to those particular hunter's poor observational skills; however, I'm sure the painted ladder & stand helped my old set-up to not stand-out as much ...

Well, it's ain't Mossy Oak or Realtree quality ... but it works!  At a distance lookin' up, this once uniform shape is broken-up.

My improvised junk-mail bark stencil!
     The harder part of this project was paintin' the ladder-sections.  Viewing most tree bark from any distance, the pattern is obviously vertical; however, the olive-drab ladder stuck-out due to bein' darker and monotone.  Actually, it was pretty-friggin' obvious at most any distance that somethin' was amiss!  Here was the trick that I used to give the illusion of bark: I took a junk-mail magazine cover and slightly wet the folded edge between the two staple points.  I then pinched-out about ¼" off of the middle of the folded spine.  When the folded cover was opened, I now had an irregular vertical stencil to simulate the indentations and creases in bark.  I used base-coats of gray and tan to spot-spray the ladder sections, and then used my junk-mail bark stencil to break-it up usin' those same two colors as well as dark brown and black.  If I'd had the time or wanted to get fancy, I could've used a large textured sponge to go back over everything in a light gray or dark brown to further give the illusion of natural bark.  I chose to only paint the front & sides of each ladder section, because the backs face the tree and are a non-issue.

The finished faux-bark treatment; these ladder sections may stand-out here, but blend well at a distance against a tree.
     Here's a quick comparison of what the painted ladder looks like against a tree.  The section of ladder on the right is actually the back-side of another section, to show y'all what the dark olive drab would've looked like if I hadn't bothered to do any paintin'.  Hopefully, next time I'll be able to post an update after one of my upcommin' trips ... showin' y'all what this finished project looks like deployed somewhere out there in them woods!  And hopefully, one of my buddies can take a few shots of me in full camo as I would appear in an actual huntin' situation.  But, before I could even think of usin' any of this freshly-painted gear out in the field, I had to thoroughly wash everything with a non-scented detergent.  I then left everything outside in the elements to acclimate.  To seal the deal, I'll give everything a good dousin' with a non-scent spray after it has set-out in the weather for a couple of weeks.  The last thing I need is to get busted by my prey due to everything reekin' of fresh spray-paint!  As long as my fat-ass doesn't fall asleep, take a dive or get knocked out-of a dang tree ... you'll get to see just how well this 'lil paintin' lesson pans-out.  Chuckle-chuckle, y'all ... I always use a safety harness & climbin' strap!  Until then, y'all stay hydrated and be cool runnin' 'round out there in them woods ...