Along the Trail 5-10-12

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Editor’s Note: This is a series of articles written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles will center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship. Look for more articles coming in future editions.

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“Don’t make eye contact, don’t move”, I subconsciously told myself as the buck freshened the scrape not 10 yards from my perch. “He has no clue that I’m here, 15-feet up the side of a red oak. Don’t make eye contact”, my inner voice screamed.”

The buck continued to paw and rake the black dirt as he added his own scent to the mixture. A trophy by any hunter’s standards. A tight, tall racked 10-pointer with long brow tines and a scarred up face from years of rutting battles. Pope and Young class for sure and one that I’d be more than willing to fill my freezer with and add to the wall. The old boy was facing me, dead on and I was frozen in position.

“Don’t move, don’t blink, don’t let him hear you breathe”, my mind thought. All he needed to do was turn.

“Just turn”, I pleaded under my breath. “Quarter away, already!”

But he was having none of it as he was content to scrape the ground like an angry bull and chew on the “licking” branch that hung above his head, all the while relieving himself down the hocks of his rear legs and stirring it into soup with the dank, musty soil. My muscles cramping and twitching from being stationary…

“Do not move!”

The longer the cat and mouse game was played, the better his odds became. I had the wind and I was pulled tight against the tree’s trunk, doing my best to become part of it. Pulse racing and heart pounding – consciously telling myself to calm down, relax.

But my feeble attempt at becoming the tree and keeping the wind in my favor paled in comparison to his natural defenses, his superior nose and uncanny hearing. This was his world and I was just a part timer here.

“Turn”, I silently said. I pleaded and prayed for the buck to just give me my chance, but no – still facing me head on. I could feel my shoulder blade tense and tighten as my arm pulled the bow’s string from instinct, but no shot. “Breathe”… I had to remind myself…

Then it happened.

The jig was up!

He looked my direction, but through me. It was going to be now or never. His tail flared wide and the hair on his haunches stood on end. His ears like radar rotated trying to pick up some foreign sound. In an instant, he spun 180 degrees and three powerful leaps later, was 40 yards away, tail raised, stiff walking up the hillside into the hickories looking back over his shoulder.

“What just happened”… “He didn’t see me, he didn’t smell me”… “I didn’t move”, my mind raced through the questions. Did the wind betray me? Then, the slightest, faintest snap of a twig…the most delicate, quietest crunch of a leaf, almost undetectable. Not even sure of what I heard, I just knew that I “heard”. Something that caused my sixth sense to fire, on full alert.

Slowly, not even moving my head, I just glance my eyes down and to the left and there it was, the culprit that caused my deer to spook. The source of the noise, like an apparition, a bobcat appeared, sneaking along an unused trail. Sinew, muscle and fur.

He hops on a log, not a sound and slinks across a small ravine as my jaw gapes open in disbelief. He jumps off the log just as quietly and melts into a stand of pawpaw trees and vanishes like a puff of smoke. “Did I just see that?” I thought… Not my imagination, not a hallucination, it wasn’t misidentification. A real, live, in the flesh, breathing Hoosier bobcat!

I sat down and stretched as blood flowed to my stiff muscles and deer hunting was the furthest thing from my mind. I had just experienced an encounter that will more than likely be a once in a lifetime event. Yes, I’d seen bobcats in other states on hunting trips, but this was different.

This was something special.

Bobcats are endangered here in Indiana and just a few short years ago, they weren’t even believed to be here and I just got to see one up close and personal, less that 15 yards from my spot. I don’t even know anyone else that has seen one in the wild in our parts. Rarer than rare. A true gift – a blessing really.

It was special in that he was a truly wild animal – not like a whitetail or coyotes or squirrels that have adapted and thrived with humans. This animal is wild, secretive. He’s elusive and goes out of his way to avoid contact with people. He represents wilderness and wild places.

The sighting gave me hope.

Hope that we still have a little “wilderness” left here in Switzerland County, in our little slice of the country. Proof that we still have some truly wild and raw places that hold a surprise or two. And, that is what keeps drawing me back…

– David Hewitt