I have had the pleasure of hunting with some very interesting characters. One of them was a game warden who lived in Coldwater. He has since retired, but it never failed that some gut-wrenching or off-the-wall funny thing would happen when we hunted with Tracy. He covered the Oklahoma border area and the territory around Sunshine where Buster’s bar is world famous. The ranches in that area are large and a place unto themselves.
We were scouting for some large white-tailed deer one day and met a grizzled old cowboy on an ancient horse wearing a hat and chaps showing many years of use. Tracy was acquainted with that fellow and asked about any big bucks or deer herds. In a German accent, the fellow replied that he had seen a few deer and pointed to where they had been. He then said that he had watched them go over a hill and rode quickly to the top of the hill — and then with obvious amazement on his face and in his voice — he said: “I rode over the hill and there they were—gone!!!” That collapsed all of us and we knew that the deer, as usual, had outsmarted us and our cowboy friend.
Deer are notorious for disappearing in minimal cover or in small spots. I’ll never forget quail hunting one day with three other fellows when we jumped a group of deer which included a nice buck. I was up on a ridge with a view, and the does ran like the wind into the distance. That buck casually went over a small rise into a shallow creek and laid down within 50 yards of my friends walking out that area — and they never knew he was there. That was a life lesson for me.
I hunted Wyoming unsuccessfully last week with a cow elk tag in my fist. I will have to go back — gun season opens the 15th and I can put up my bow. While I was there, I hunted a couple of pop-up blinds on a meadow that normally attracts the elk. They aren’t there this year. I watched a large black bear come out of a tree row about a half mile away and head up to the pond which was about ¼ mile from me. There is a small bushy area just above the pond. I wanted a picture of that bear and raced up above that brushy area and watched a 400 pound black bear walk into that brushy area which was about an acre in size. I had the wind, was set up and had gotten there well before he arrived. I saw him ease into that patch and disappear. I sat for 20 minutes waiting for him to exit. I could see all the way around that patch. He never came out. I carefully went around the perimeter of that area and then VERY carefully went through it. I don’t have a clue where that bear went. He apparently had a berry patch in his original tree row. I saw him two more times and still don’t have a picture.
That same process happens in our marsh on a different scale. It is hard to grasp the force of the migration that happens at the Bottoms. Right now, there are very few birds in the marsh. Two weeks ago when I took this picture, there were pelicans, cormorants, ibis, mallards, teal avocets and some yellow legs hanging out. Yesterday there were no pelicans, a few ibis and avocets, and some new gulls. The shorebird migration is apparently over. Big ducks and geese are just starting to show up. Even a few snow geese have been documented. However, if you drive the Bottoms right now you would think there aren’t any birds. I have entertained the thought that they might be holding up to honor the retirement of Charlie Swank. I already miss him. I know he will come to see the Whooping Cranes when they start back through. This pause in the process is always somewhat melancholy for me — but I know when the big ducks and white fronts show up the game is on again. Right now, we can take a rest and gather strength for the big seasons on the horizon. I am going to my deer blind and try to put some meat on the table — knowing full well that at any moment they can pull that same trick on me — “there they were gone!”
Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.