The Skreech!

One of my favorite stories from my childhood involved the most surreal event that ever took place on one of our deer leases.  There deer lease seemed to be a place where lots of strange things happened.  I remember seeing my eight year old cousin try to shoot a sawed-off ten gauge single-shot shotgun (so, so very violent).  I remember seeing the same cousin a couple of years later gut-shoot a jack rabbit with a 308.  I felt bad about that.  It was unfortunate and unnecessary, but I assure you, the rabbit felt no pain.

I also was there to see that another youngster (age eleven) had killed a ten-point doe- no kidding.  The game warden was called out to see what to do about it.  Since, in Texas, deer tags say antlered and antlerless, the warden decided that it had to carry a buck tag because it had antlers.  This made some sort of sense, but it did not make the boy and his father happy that they had to use one of their buck tags.  The game warden did thank them for killing the deer.  He said that management officials were aggressive about weeding-out freaks from the population before they had a chance to reproduce.

I also remember my dad and me climbing a 20 foot wooden ladder to a box-blind on a gun lease only to find out that a family of ring-tailed cats had moved into it during the summer.  I still don’t know how we kept from getting hurt on that day, as we held our rifles while a couple of angry and frightened ring-tailed cats tried to exit the blind on the same ladder that we were climbing up with rifles in our hands.

Note: Ring-tailed cat odor is not pleasant.  Think of cat pee mixed with sweaty feet and feces.

However, the strangest thing that ever happened occurred on the Possum Kingdom bow lease that we hunted until gun season started every year.  We stayed in a popup tent trailer that my dad owned.  It had a bed on both ends, a booth style table that converted into a bed, and a little kitchenette area that never got used because all of the cooking was done in a community fashion outside around a large campfire and with a couple of Coleman stoves (including a Coleman oven).

I was probably about eight at the time, because I fit in the cramped bed that converted into a table just fine.  It must have been early in the season because it was hot enough that we had the canvas flaps on the sides of the tent-portion of the popup trailer down (unzipping these would reveal a mesh screen underneath that would allow a breeze to flow through the entire trailer), and the top half of the door was open.

My dad was on one end of the trailer, there was the kitchenette and door, and I was sleeping on the table-bed.  My uncle and his dog (a small terrier of some sort that looked like a wiener dog with longer legs) were above me on the other end-bed.

We kept no light on, and it must have been overcast, because I remember it being the darkest dark I had ever seen.

For some reason, even though I had a little fear of the dark at home, I never had trouble going to sleep on the deer lease.  I guess all of the activity combined with the fresh air put me to sleep quickly. 

On this particular night we were all sound asleep.  At some point in the night my father felt the dog curl up next to his legs for a while.  He did not mind because the dog was an extra source of warmth, and even though it was still warm in the daytime, October nights would eventually get cold.

Later, I felt the dog lay by me.  I have always liked dogs.  Finally, ‘the dog’ moved up to the bed with my uncle and attempted to lay next to…The Dog!  That is when all hell broke loose.

Have you ever been awakened after you had already gotten into the delta wave portion of your sleep?  It is hard to get your mind to focus, but I find that extreme terror has the ability to bring you back into focus as well as anything.

The animal that crawled up next to my uncle let out an unearthly cry that woke up everyone in the camp, not just our trailer, immediately.  It was a high-pitched wail that seemed to go on for a minute (believe me it seemed like forever at the time).  At once, the real dog began chasing what we thought was ‘the dog’ around the inside of the trailer.  They made two complete circuits of the inside of the trailer rounding both end beds twice and crossing my bed four times.  All the while the creature wailed and the dog barked, and as they went by on their second round, it found the door, and sounded something like a siren as it retreated into the night with the dog close on its tail.

Many theories were developed regarding the creature that visited the trailer that evening.  Some creatures were dismissed.  It was too big for squirrel.  An armadillo or a rabbit could not have made it over the half-door, and it was probably not a skunk, or it would have left more evidence.  We were pretty sure it was not a bobcat or a coyote because there would probably have been more damage.  This still left a host of possible candidates including:  an opossum, a raccoon, a ring-tailed cat, a weasel, a marten, or a fox.  I have since added a few other possibilities including a Jaguarundi, an Ocelot, a Swift (also know as a Kit Fox), or a black-footed ferret.  We will never know for sure what creature visited us and frightened the hell out of us that night.  It has since become part of the hunting lore of my family, and forever will be known as the Skreech.

For some reason, the door was shut completely when we went to bed after that.

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Death From Below

I have a few stories that I refer to as my “The Lord is My Shepherd Stories.”  These stories contain a common theme.  In each case, I give the Lord credit for either flat out saving my life, or helping me to get out of the situation before everything went to hell.

The first one took place on a deer lease that my father and uncles had in the Possum Kingdom area in Texas.  This particular lease was a bow hunting lease.  It was a great place for a kid to bond with the men of his family, and to learn many good life lessons, such as where food comes from, and how great that food can taste when it is cooked on an open fire in the great outdoors.

There were several perils for the average 10 year old.  Oddly, there were a couple of mountain lions on the lease.  These were part of a re-establishment program instituted by game officials. We knew something was not normal when 45 lbs of deer offal disappeared in about 30 minutes one day after a hunter had made a kill and field dressed a deer.  We questioned game wardens when they came onto the lease, and they admitted the existence of the cats, and reminded us of their protected status.  They had been relocated to the state park which backed up to our lease, and had moved onto the ‘mountain’ on our lease.  After that, the men carried pistols for protection.

Once, a large rattlesnake was killed about 30 feet from camp on the way to the two-hole outhouse.  On another occasion, a skunk waltzed into camp with a dog present.  This was not so dangerous, but sure smelled that way.  It was funny how suddenly a beloved pet became referred to as ‘that damn dog!’  I also remember eating armadillo a couple of weeks before I found out that they can carry leprosy.  Luckily, I have not lost any body parts yet.

Probably, the most likely things to cause pain to a 10 year old with a short attention span were the plethora of well placed cacti that seemed to be all over the place.  Prickly Pear cactus hurt, and those spikes can raise a nicely festered sore wherever they get you, but the worst are the little furry ones that are shaped like silos, known as a barrel cactus.  That’s not fur.  It is a bunch of evil that only the devil could dream up.  Rub a sock up against one of these, and you might as well throw it away.  You’ll never get all of those little hairy needles out.

Then there was the Skreech, but that is a story for another post.

With all of this danger lurking around every corner on the deer lease, it was surprising that I it was such a small thing that could have actually killed me.  The fateful day began with breakfast, of course, and then we got ready to go gather some wood for the fire.  It was early in the season, so it was still warm, and I started to put shorts on.  My dad, however, told me to wear pants.  I am not sure why, it had never been an issue for him before, but he did not back down even though I know I laid on some pretty good whining.

On this particular lease, there were frequent large piles of trees and stumps that had been uprooted by either the land owner, the oil company that leased the land or the Corps of Engineers.  These were prime varmint and snake habitat, but they were a great source of dead, seasoned firewood, as much as we could ever want.  We only had to drive about 200 yards from camp in order to saw up the wood, and load the truck up from a big pile of wood.

I was too young to wield a chainsaw, and was just in the way for the most part, stumbling around and watching the men do the real work.  It was while I was kicking around the edges of the woodpile that I felt a pain on the back of my neck.  Almost immediately, I felt a pain in my left arm, and then one on my right arm.  I realized that I was being stung.  It is these types of events where time seems to slow down.  I looked down and saw a little hollow stump about four inches across and three inches high between my legs.  There was a hole on the middle that went into the ground, and out of it hundreds, possibly thousands of what we later determined to be wood wasps (small yellow and black striped insects that look like a tiny hornet with an enlarged head).

I took off and ran as fast as I could all the way back to camp, receiving a couple of parting shots as I ran on my arms.

My father and uncles followed me back to camp, and that is when I realized that I would probably have been killed if I had won the argument over the pants with my father earlier in the day.  My uncles proceeded to take a couple of sticks and rake hundreds of the little wasps off of the legs of my pants and into the fire.  I guess this is what the Bible means when it says, “Honor your father and mother, and your days will be long upon the Earth.”

In the end, I was stung only five times.  My dad, who was twenty feet away, took one in the neck, and one of my uncles received a couple of stings also.  My dad tried to impart a little wisdom to be by saying, “Boy, if you had just stood still, and not ran, they would not have stung you!”  I countered this argument but reminding him that he had stood still, and still got stung even though he was twenty feet away.  “And besides that,” I added, “I think that the bees would have noticed the big thing that was standing over their nest that was not there a minute ago.”

One of the other hunters chewed tobacco (gross), and he wet some (no, not in his mouth), and put it on my stings.  It seemed take the pain and swelling away almost immediately.  I recommend it, though I am not a doctor.  To this day, I have a slight phobia associated with the flying, stinging insect, and I still do not have any regrets for running as fast as I could away from them that day.