I joined a friend of mine recently and we took a ride out to the old Iron Bridge in the Croom WMA to do a little catfishing on the banks of the Withlacoochee. It was a hot and steamy afternoon not long after a shower had passed through and on one of the trails leading me to the fishing hole, we came across a young Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. Now folks, he wasn’t the least bit ornery, as most of them are quite passive. He never coiled to strike or rattled his tail in warning, he simply acknowledged our presence and continued going on about his day. We took the opportunity for a couple quick photos and bypassed him on our way to go fishing. It was a fun, albeit unexpected encounter and simply made my day.
There are a lot of people, I’m afraid, who would criticize my having not taken advantage of the opportunity to kill a poisonous reptile. And in my youth, it’s possible that I would have. After all, they’re delicious when chicken-fried and the skin and rattles make for an attractive wall hanging. But, these days, encounters are becoming quite rare with rattlers and I hate to see their numbers dwindling. Stomping around the palmetto flats seems to lose some of its appeal without a chance encounter and that old familiar buzzing rattle.
Thinking on the irrational fear of rattlesnakes that seems to plague some people, I posted a question on a social media outlet, asking outdoorsmen what they’re most afraid of in the woods. Out of the first hundred responses, sixty agreed that snakes are pretty scary. Now, having lost a quarter of my left foot due to the resulting infection after a strike by a cottonmouth water moccasin, I can totally understand why some would be overly concerned about snakes. But, not all snakes are bad and not all snakes are poisonous, so if you don’t know the differences between them, it’s best to remain vigilant and avoid them.
Watch where you place your feet. My mistake, back in ’97, was to step over a fallen tree instead of stepping up onto it and looking over. I stepped over, into a blind spot and the moccasin was there hidden from my view. Sure, he struck me out of self-defense, but it was only after I’d performed an impressive dance upon his head and disposed of the body that I considered why and how I’d gotten myself struck. Wasn’t the snake’s fault I had been careless.
The next scariest critter mentioned on my survey with fifty-six out of a hundred agreed that spiders are the next scariest thing they encounter in the field. And I can’t confess to being scared of spiders, however it’s the unexpected encounters that give me a start. Many’s the time I’ve been sitting in my stand or blind, look down and notice one of them thumb sized fuzzy spiders that always makes me jump to shed him. No thank you, no hitchhikers.
My worst encounter with a spider occurred in the Ocala WMA many years back. I was attempting to sneak into a treestand location before daylight and without the use of a flashlight. I’d been down this particular trail many times and was confident in my navigation skills in the dark. That is, until I walked face first into a giant banana spider web! Normally, not a big deal, I’ve walked into thousands of webs over the years, but this particular web I walked into, was occupied by a giant of a banana spider, which unfortunately happened to be on my side of the web as I approached and upon walking into its home, the web wrapped completely around my head, trapping that very confused spider against the bridge of my nose. It was at that point that this fat man began a display of ninja skills that would impress Jackie Chan and in the process of untangling the web from my head and ridding myself of my wriggling friend, I lost half of my gear and all of my pride.
From that morning forward, I’ve always used a flashlight in the dark and even carry a long stick to move spiderwebs out of the way and always watch where I put my feet. So when you’re out and about, stay alert, be safe and as always if there’s anything you’d like to share with me, I can be reached at [email protected].com. God bless and good hunting!