I had been up since 4:30 a.m., and hadperched in a climbing stand overlooking a dry hollow for four long hours after daylight. Time to call it quits, in spite of the squirrels running in the oaks and the hawk overhead telling me the animals ought to be at their table.
The heater over my kidneys had stopped the shakes about an hour ago, and frost had melted from the grasses and the toes of my boots. But my feet still ached from the cold. The oak leaves that clung to the twigs had given up their silver glaze to dripping melt.
Let'em have another day, I decided and went to the house.
But not for long. Just as I stepped out of Nellybelle and one of the other hunterscame onto the porch to see if I had a deer, somebody shot. Down the hill, just a bit to the east. On our land?
“Call Marion,” I yelled and jumped back behind the wheel.
Down the hill I went, around the pond to the edge of the woods, where I crawled out, grabbed my shotgun, checked the load and safety, and slipped off down the path to the back line.
The path was narrow, only wide enough for cattle to walk in single file. We had not yet opened it into a Jeep track. Oak and sweetgum trees draped limbs that invited bucks to scrape, and I trod carefully to avoid stepping in them. One contained fresh droppings and stank of musk. Urine darkened the ground he had pawed.
I'll come down with a climbing stand.
The squirrels that lived here, along the branch, in these oaks, were quiet. No jay yelled. What Norman called alarm birds remained silent.
Where was the poacher? He probably didn't have on a red vest, but I did. No way was I going to risk being shot. I didn't have on my camouflage—I’d taken it off when I left the stand and reached the Jeep. The day was warming fast and I wore jeans and a wool green plaid shirt under the orange vest.
Although I was walking eastward, I was in a deep bottom and headed toward a high ridge, and the sunlight had not topped the trees. So I was not sunblind.
And fortunately not deaf to the approaching footsteps.
I eased behind a short sweetgum brush and waited for the poacher.
But the footsteps approaching were not human—something, some animal, was running, not hard but steady. A deer? Or a dog?
If a dog, it was trouble—we had something like a dozen feral dogs roaming in packs at any time, and they didn't run from people. I clicked off the safety, just in case.
The buck cantered toward me, jumped the fence, and slowed to a walk.
I gulped, unprepared for this near trophy instead of a poacher.
He came on. At thirty yards away, he stopped, turned sideways, and looked back toward whoever had spooked him.
Resist? Not on your life. I had two deer tags.
Seemly without any effort on my part, the shotgun rose to my shoulder, lined up with the buck's chest, and fired.
He jumped and ran off. I heard him fall.
Behind me, somebody came running.
“Are you all right?”
Marion had arrived.
“Oh, man, I can't believe it! The poacher musta run the buck to me! I just shot a really nice buck.”
Marion asked, “What about the poacher?”
“I hope he's gone now, but in case he's not, I gotta get my buck out of here before the poacher thinks he might come get it.”
Wildlife rangers are more than just possum cops or rabbit sheriffs or fish fanatics. Each one is a friend to landowners and legal hunters, even the ones they have not yet met. Every ranger I've known has stepped up with help when the situation asked for it. Marion didn't wait for me to ask—he helped pull that buck out of the thickets and loaded it onto the Jeep.
This article is a chapter from the book Possum Cops, Poachers and the Counterfeit Game Warden by Susan Lindsley, © 2016. Available on line or from the author, who is the “counterfeit game warden.”