The Bobcat and the Raccoon

The morning is humid, the rains lasted most of the night, finishing just as the moon was setting. Its October in the Big Cypress, still rainy with water standing everywhere but in the pine and palmetto areas. I have traveled slowly in the dark, following the southwest path from camp, toward a spot that I have had good luck finding wild hogs. Because of the rain, the trees are dripping drops that hit the palmettos with a sound not unlike a hog stepping on a twig and snapping it. This makes it very difficult to still hunt. Every drop sounds like it could be a hog moving in the brush. In thick country like the Big Cypress, it is rare to just spot a wild hog walking in an open area. They are best found by listening for their noises made as they travel from their night time feeding spot to the area they will lay up in and rest, just after day break. Most of the old timers in the Big Cypress will tell you that wild hogs feed during the night and soon after the break of day will bed down in a shady thick area until about 10 o'clock in the morning. Then they will get up an start moving again. Nothing in my years of hunting experience has proven the old-timers to be too far wrong.

This morning as the light of day is just beginning in the east, I have slowly worked my way toward an area that hogs have previously bedded down in. I have walked quietly avoiding the standing water in the low cypress areas. This means that at times I have left the trail and walked into the thick palmettos. Quietly pushing the palmetto branches to the side, so not to make noise, has not stopped them from soaking me from the waist down, with the wetness the rain has left on them. This dampness causes my camouflage pants to stick and chaff my legs. Mosquitoes have been nibbling on me from the moment I left the cabin. I dislike mosquito spray, using instead, a rub on stick of insect repellent. Covering only my exposed hands, face and neck with the repellent, has left frustrated mosquitoes trying to bite through my thick camouflage long sleeve shirt and hat. Every once in a while, one of them succeeds, causing me to shift in my shirt to break the connection sucking blood out of me. If all this sounds unpleasant, its because it is. Only the most determined outdoors men, whom have discovered the sights and sounds of the Big Cypress, return again and again on mornings like this.

Now as the twilight of morning has started to brighten the way, The mosquitoes can be seen buzzing around my head. No longer are they just a buzzing sound in the dark, but are still just as annoying. I have reached a spot near the hog bedding area. I stop to listen, hoping that I will hear the foot steps or the grunt of an approaching hog. As I stand back in the palmettos, just short of an open prairie, I notice movement a short ways out in the prairie. I see a young raccoon moving along a game trail. It is intently looking in the shallow water for something to eat. Its movements are slow, occasionally pawing in the waters bottom, feeling for a meal. As it works along, its body, not much different in color from the prairie grass, is mostly hidden.

Suddenly, just twenty feet from me on the edge of the palmettos, a bobcat appears, slowly walking along. This cat looks half drown, its body all matted from the nights rain. It looks as though it has spent a miserable night and is just waking up. It is close enough to me, I can see that mosquitoes also like the taste of bobcat, as they swarm around its body. This cat looks very unhappy, as I intently watch it. I then look straight out and notice that I am not the only one watching the bobcat. The young raccoon is sitting up on its hind feet peering through the prairie grass at the bobcat. The raccoon is looking quite distressed, knowing full well that a hungry bobcat would try to make a meal of him. The raccoon is frozen in time, knowing that it can't run fast enough to get away, it has chosen to freeze, hoping that it will not be seen in the grass. Although sitting on its hind feet makes it more visible, if it gets down on all fours, it will not be able to see the bobcat and the movement might just give it away. So it remains frozen, only its ears move, switching from listening to laying back in a distressed look of not knowing what to do.

The bobcat has now stopped and crouched down in full sight of me. The mosquitoes are intently trying to bite the bobcat,  anywhere they can get a sip of blood. Since the bobcat is covered in hair, only the eyes and nose are good sources for the mosquito. Since the mosquitoes are trying to land on or near the bobcats eyes, it is keeping them shut or near shut.  It is neither aware of me or the raccoon. It is lifting its front paws one at a time and licking the wetness from them, every once in a while shaking its head, sending the mosquitoes into flight again. Now turning to lick the dampness from its coat. It is slowly waking up, but with its eyes scrunched shut, it looks half asleep. After a very long time of preening, it is back on its feet and slowly continuing in the direction it was going, which is into the hog bedding area. Opening its eyes to see where it is going, it keeps quickly shutting them to keep the mosquitoes off. I watch the bobcat until it has disappeared into the palmettos and then look back for the raccoon. Getting a brief glimpse of a relieved looking raccoon face, the raccoon ducks down and I see its shadowy outline through the prairie grass, as it rapidly travels in the other direction from the bobcat.

Knowing the hogs are not going to be bedding in an area that smells of bobcat, my hunt is over in this spot. I turn and slowly hunt my way back toward camp. Enjoying the morning as the sun is now breaking the horizon, listening to the birds as they awaken and start the day, I slowly meander back. Soon the wetness on the plants will steam off, joining the humid air and rising, it will start the next rain of the day. As the sun rises the mosquitoes retreat to areas of shadow, giving up on a little drink of blood in the heat of the day. Its not always a pleasant place, October in the Big Cypress, but today was a joy for me. My experience with nature and a sight most people will never see, delights me. A raccoon doesn't become a meal, because little mosquitoes cause a bobcat to not see its surroundings. These are the natural ways of the Big Cypress and nature. Its a successful hunt and my harvest is the experience of nature, the way it is every October in the Big Cypress and the reason I always return.

This story written by Steve on August 26, 2001
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