October in the Big Cypress, opening day of Muzzle loading hunting season.
Like most Octobers in the Big Cypress Swamp it is wet, muggy and buggy.
Water is standing on the prairies and only the pine islands are dry. The
typical hunting day starts with an alarm clock going off well before daylight.
Someone gets up and starts the coffee, while the rest grab the last few
minutes of sleep. The new guys are excited about the hunt and also rise.
Soon everyone is up and dressed for the hunt. After coffee and something
quick to eat, everyone is off in different directions to pursue their quarry.
Each guy has his favorite method, some walk hunt and some tree stand hunt,
some hunt wild hogs and some hunt deer.
This story is about Tony, Tony likes to tree stand hunt for deer, but lately he has been taking wild hogs when he has the opportunity. He spent the previous day deciding where he would place his stand. He is an experienced hunter, woods savvy and knowledgeable about the habits of swamp deer. He has chosen to place his tree stand on a pine island, about 1/8th mile north east of camp. He placed it in from the edge of the standing water, but not too far, so he can see the open wet areas. He is leaving in the dark, he needs to be on the stand before the light begins to show on the horizon. He likes the noise to settle down from the commotion of getting to his stand, before it gets light. Tony is a very patient hunter, he will sit on a stand for hours.
On this particular day, Tony is enjoying a beautiful morning, the weather is nice, the sun is out and the wind is not stirring. A nice quiet morning, where you can hear the game coming for a distance. The only disturbance is the mosquitos that are constantly trying to get a little nibble of you. Tony is disciplined, he knows that deer see movement and he is trying to ignore the mosquitos and not swat them.
It is now about 9 o'clock, and the deer have not made an appearance. Tony hears a noise off to his right. Not close, but a distinct sound of an animal moving in the palmetto bushes. He slowly eases around where he can look in that direction. He knows a sudden movement on his part will send a deer running. He notices movement of the palmettos in the distance, but can not see the animal. Now his full attention is on the area, trying to pick out the head and hopefully antlers of a deer. The movement is now closer and Tony begins to realize that at that distance he would be able to see a deer. He is now deciding that it is probably a wild hog feeding in the palmettos. Yes! now he sees part of a dark object through an opening in the palmetto bushes. It must be a wild hog. Tony slowly positions his gun in that direction, after 3 hours on the stand a hog might be OK.
The animal moves closer and toward Tony. The area between Tony and the animal is more open and should provide a good shot. Now Tony can see the dark object coming out of the thicker palmettos. Woah! this is not a wild hog, but a black bear. Tony slowly lowers his gun and is excited to see such a rare sight. Although black bears are in the Big Cypress, that are rarely sighted because they are very wary. This bear stops to reach up on a cabbage palm tree and rake down the husks of the old branches. He bends down and must be feeding on the insects that live in the decaying branches. The bear now moves closer to Tony, stopping at each cabbage palm tree to repeat the reaching, raking and feeding. Tony is infatuated with this sight.
Now the bear is at the cabbage palm tree just in front of Tony. Tony now realizes that as interesting as this has been, the bear is a wild and strong animal, it is down right in front of him and Tony is on a tree stand leaning against the next cabbage palm tree. The bear looks up the next cabbage palm tree and sees Tony. Tony is now hoping for the bear to start making a quick retreat. Tony is wearing full camouflage clothing and the bear can't seem to make out that is is looking at a person. The bear stands on it rear legs and leans right on the eight foot ladder tree stand, bowing it the middle. The bear is sniffing the air and Tony, who has been known to put deer scent on him to cover the human odor, is looking at the head of the bear just two feet below his boots. Tony doesn't know what is going to happen, but isn't going to just sit there, while the tree stand collapses and he falls on top of the bear. Tony decides it time for action, and takes the butt of his muzzle loading rifle and bops the bear on the nose.
Expecting an angry bear, Tony is surprised that it gets back down on all fours, and just makes an low "annnnaaaa" sound. It slowly meanders off, in the same direction it was going, (which apparently was in the same general direction of camp) and disappears in the palmetto bushes. Now Tony is shaking, an adrenaline rush from fear. He is ready to get out of there and go back to camp. But, that's where the bear disappeared, so Tony waits. After a while of looking and listening, Tony decides to climb down and cautiously head back to camp. He doesn't want to meet this bear he bopped on the nose. Not while walking on the ground surrounded by palmetto bushes and certainly not while he is walking in boot deep water.
This story was told to me, while Tony sat in the camp kitchen, nervously drinking a shot of Crown Royal whiskey at 10:30 in the morning, all the while unable to take his eyes off of the surrounding palmetto bushes. I saw the look in his eyes and the heard the tremble in voice during the story and know it is true.
As a foot note, our hunting camp has been broken into by bears three times in the twenty some years we have owned it. What a mess they make!