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?