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?