Sweetness in the Hunt
— by Kenneth Fore
It was late November in the dark swamps of south Alabama. The leaves were about gone, and it had been raining off and on for four days and nights straight. Now it was almost dark, the wind was picking up, and rain started to drizzle on me. I was sleeping when I awoke, shivering. Ominous black clouds were looming in the western sky. I stood up slowly and stretched out my arms and inhaled the cool damp air, which smelled of soggy swamp mud and the odor of decaying leaves, a scent to which I’d grown accustomed. I picked up my longbow and rested it on my right shoulder.
My washed-out green eyes became like a sponge when I looked across the bottoms at the crowds of strapping oaks, cypresses, poplars, sweet gum trees and white oaks that stood strong and dominated the bottoms. I saw a slough curl, then curve back against a beaver dam crammed full of red, gold, gray, yellow, brown leaves. The leaves floated on the surface of water, and cypress knees rose like spikes three feet above the gravy-colored water.
The raindrops multiplied, producing designs like shooting targets with rings that grew, then dwindled on the flat surface of the water. I looked high into an oak tree and saw a cat squirrel steal an acorn before scooting out of sight.
After a few moments I started to slip in long strides, carefully placing my rubber boots on the damp leaves. Years of experience had taught me to crouch like a lion as I eased along. I never got in a hurry, as there was too much to see.
I never missed an opportunity to observe animals. Watching animals in their natural habitat are highlights of most my hunts now. And in over forty years of deer hunting, I’d bagged several big bucks while slipping out from a hunt.
I stopped and watched a nervous gray squirrel work for acorns at the base of an oak tree. The squirrel didn't see me. After a few moments, I started easing along the trail again. I had gone twenty yards when a screeching brown woodcock flew up like a wobbling football. I clenched my bow and saw the plump bird arc into the air, then appear to fall short of its intended landing. Then I heard a sound. It came again. The trees were fast merging into one. The sound was stalking me. I felt eyes pressing on my back. The last place I wanted to be was in the swamps with an enormous whitetail trophy buck in the rut.
It is fitting that only a hunter sees and feels such magnificence and sweetness that are in the hunt. Remove the sights, the thrills, and the danger of the hunt, and hunting becomes as dull and uninteresting as a gallon of water with a single drop of whiskey.