Searching for Feathers, They Found Scales Instead . . .
Snakes. Just the thought of them makes some folks quiver in their boots. But, thanks to the irresistible lure of the longbeards, even the most snake-wary turkey hunters find themselves trekking through prime snake habitat come spring. If you’ve turkey hunted long, you’ve no doubt had some snake encounters — quite possibly with the venomous kind. I’ve spotted numerous rattlers and water moccasins while out chasing turkeys, but always at a distance. Some of my turkey-hunting brethren have not been so lucky.
Four Rattlers, One Hunt
Eddie Stevenson, president of Driftwood Media, thinks the combination of odd Texas weather and his choice of turkey call could have been partially responsible for his unusual and extremely frightening snake encounter, but he can’t be sure.
Several years ago, Stevenson was hunting at Dove Creek Ranch in Mertzon, Texas. Temperatures were warm on the day he arrived for the hunt, but by the third day, it was snowing.
On the morning before the cold front came in, Stevenson walked in to his setup while the gobblers were still on the roost. He chose an area with brushy terrain and broken rocks.
Once the birds flew down from the roost, Stevenson started calling with his slate call. The birds immediately responded and started coming in to his calls.
“I heard movement in the gravel,” Stevenson said. “The birds were close and I didn’t want to scare them away, so I just barely leaned to the left and tilted my head to see what was causing the sound. That’s when I saw a rattlesnake 10 yards away headed straight toward me. I reached over, grabbed a large rock and whacked him with it, killing him. I grabbed him by the tail and threw him in the woods beside me.”
The birds were still gobbling and getting closer and closer, so Stevenson continued to call. Then, he heard the same noise on his right side. He looked and sure enough saw another rattler headed straight toward him from approximately 10 feet away.
“That time, I just took my shotgun and blasted him, which was a bad move,” he said. “Rocks and junk flew back in my face, teaching me a lesson about the dangers of shooting at an object at such close range. I thought, ‘you fool, you just blew your chance at getting that bird.’ But, the turkey continued to come in and I ended up killing it. I picked the bird up and sat down again.”
Stevenson had another tag to fill, so he continued to call. After about 10 minutes, he looked up, and believe it or not, another snake was headed right toward him.
“I stood up, picked up a rock and killed that snake,” Stevenson said. “Then, I picked up my bird and got out of there. I walked to the windmill next to a water tank where I was going to be picked up. My heart was still pounding from my three-rattlesnake encounter. I sat down under a shade tree to rest and heard a rattle. Sure enough, just two feet away was a coiled-up rattlesnake. I jumped up and ran. About that time, the guide drove up and I jumped in his truck.”
He said after the cold front came in the next morning, he didn’t see any more snakes. He even returned to hunt the same area without incident.
Stevenson said he thinks the snakes were on the move because they were seeking shelter from the imminent cold front. He also believes the snakes may have been attracted to his calling.
“I believe they were attracted to the vibration made by my call. Those snakes were pinpointing me. They weren’t going around me or by me, they were targeting me. I checked to see if I was sitting near a den, but I wasn’t. I believe they were coming because of that call. Perhaps the rocky terrain made the vibrations travel further. I’ve not had an experience like that since then.”
A Bite on the Butt
This story is not one that outdoor writer Laurie Lee Dovey loves to tell, but after putting up with my constant requests, she finally relented.
Dovey had been turkey hunting at Bent Creek Lodge in Alabama with champion caller Larry Norton. After a morning of hunting and coffee consumption, Dovey decided she’d better take a “potty break” before trying to locate another bird.
“I scooted behind a huge red oak tree, and as I squatted, I caught a stick and it really stung my behind,” Dovey said. “No big deal, stuff happens. I finished tinkling, and ran back up the hill to Larry. He said, ‘By the way, watch those big-tree tree wells. Snakes will often hide there to ambush critters.’”
With a sore rear, Dovey continued her hunt with Norton, who called in a huge gobbler for her to shoot. After celebrating and taking photos, they left the woods around noon so Dovey could make it to an afternoon quail hunt.
“Back at camp, I jumped in the shower,” she said. “When the hot water hit my backside, I flew out of the shower. The pain in my butt and down my right leg was excruciating. Luckily, my mom was on the trip with me. I hollered for her to come into the bathroom. I dropped my towel, pooched out my butt and asked her, ‘What the heck is right here,’ as I pointed. She said, ‘Oh, it’s a big red round spot with two holes.’”
When Dovey told the others at camp about it, one of the concerned men called a doctor who said it could be a snakebite inflicted by an immature timber rattler and to keep a close watch on her.
Dovey said the bite hurt, but she felt OK, so she decided to go on the planned quail hunt.
She returned home after the hunt, and as the days went by, the wound progressed. It changed colors and some of the flesh around the wound deteriorated.
“I endured severe pain for approximately six weeks,” she said. “I even had to sit on a foam donut. Some physician friends of mine actually surmised that I was bitten by a young cottonmouth and not a rattlesnake.”
Dovey said she made the mistake of telling Realtree founder Bill Jordan about the bite. He thought the story was so funny that he told it to the entire crowd attending an event he was sponsoring at a writers’ conference.
Dovey says the moral of the story is to look before you squat.
When a Prosthetic Leg Came in Handy
Pete Simmons, owner of Buck Run Hunting Lodge in South Carolina, says the most important thing to understand about his snake story is that he is an above-the-knee amputee.
“I lost my leg in 1984,” Simmons said. “This story takes place in 1985.”
Simmons was hunting on April 10, 1985, which turned out to be an unseasonably cold day with high temperatures only in the 20s. The previous day, the highs had reached the mid 70s.
“My best friend, John Richardson, and I were hunting turkeys on the Savannah River that morning,” Simmons said. “We split up. I set up to listen and call, but the owls, crows and woodpeckers were so noisy where I was that I decided to move locations. I walked about 200 yards through the swamp and let out my own owl hoot. A bird gobbled just 30 yards from me.”
Simmons immediately dropped to the ground against a wide oak tree to prepare for a shot. He put his head net and gloves on and listened to the bird on the roost.
The bird eventually flew down at 30 yards from Simmons, who could see him behind the brush strutting and drumming. When the bird walked behind a tree, Simmons lifted his gun.
As he lifted his gun, he could see movement out of the right corner of his eye. That’s when he realized a rattlesnake was striking his prosthetic leg.
“I’d actually sat on a rattlesnake,” Simmons said. “I guess my body heat warmed it up enough to where it could strike. I watched as it struck the knee side of my prosthetic leg over and over. Fortunately, the fiberglass prosthetic fits all the way up to my crotch and buttocks. The snake was stuck underneath me, but because of its positioning, I wasn’t real concerned about it biting my flesh.”
Simmons said he then had to decide whether he should shoot the snake or shoot the turkey, which was quickly approaching. He worried if he shot the turkey, the recoil would knock him off the snake, which was currently penned beneath him.
“I decided to roll to my right off of the snake, which immediately started rattling,” he said. “I didn’t want to shoot the snake and spook the birds, so I hit the snake with a large stick, immobilizing it. Then I moved around to the other side of the tree, which put me in a bad position. I got up and moved to a different location and immediately got set up on another bird. But then my mind started playing tricks on me. I became convinced that the rattlesnake had bitten me. The bird came to within 10 yards of me, but I couldn’t shoot it. I felt paralyzed. The bird pitched across the creek and flew so close to me that the wind from its wings moved my facemask, but it was no use. I’d convinced myself that the snake’s venom was running through my body.”
Even though other birds were gobbling around him, Simmons decided to seek the help of his friend. He drove his ATV to where Richardson was hunting. When he found Richardson, who’d shot a large gobbler, he told him, “John, I need to pull my pants down so you can look to see if I’ve been bitten on the butt by a snake.”
Feeling certain that Simmons had not been bitten, Richardson looked at him and said, “If you are bitten, you’re just going to have to die because I’m not looking at your butt. Anyway, you’ve got bite marks all along the lower part of your prosthetic leg.”
Simmons said he felt thankful that day for his prosthetic leg, and that he’s actually been bitten several other times while turkey hunting – always on that leg.
A Rare Encounter
William Sullivan, a longtime turkey hunter, was excited to hunt a new location in Okeechobee, Florida. Before heading out to the hunt, the landowner warned Sullivan that if he hunted in the cabbage palm hammock, to make sure he kept a lookout for coral snakes.
Coral snakes are secretive and seldom seen. They’re also the most highly venomous snake in North America.
“I’d never seen a coral snake,” Sullivan said. “I thought he was just pulling my leg.”
Sullivan sat up against a tree to prepare to call. All of the sudden, he felt something tapping on his upper leg.
“I looked down and realized that I was actually sitting on a coral snake. He wasn’t biting me, but he was hitting at my leg in an attempt to get out from under all 290 pounds of me. Sullivan jumped up and moved locations. After that experience, I was much more cautious about where I sat down.”
The sun was just beginning to light the trees when outdoor writer John Sloan slipped out of the boat and started his stalk on a Tennessee spring gobbler. As the gobbler announced his presence to the riverbank, Sloan knelt and began to quietly remove some leaves from under the big red oak tree he’d chosen for an ambush.
“In the dim light, I felt rather than saw something slithering in the double handful of leaves I had just picked up,” Sloan said. “At once, both my brain and my eyes registered COPPERHEAD! In an instant, I set not only the new state copperhead-throwing record, but also the highest jump from a kneeling position — not to mention, I screamed like a girl.”
Later, in a different location, Sloan did kill a gobbler, but says that kill paled in comparison to his snake encounter for excitement that morning.
John Brandon Mccaffety, an avid turkey hunter from Alabama, was set up against a tree in a woodlot by a hayfield waiting for several gobblers he could hear to show up. He kept hearing the leaves nearby rustling, but he didn’t want to turn his head to see what was making the noise for fear he’d spook a gobbler.
“The rustling sounded like footsteps, and the noise was getting closer and closer,” Mccaffety said. “I moved my eyes to see if I could spot a bird, but didn’t. I made a few calls with my pot call, but got no response. Then I looked down to see a 16-inch-long copperhead sitting right by my feet. I just stopped and paused for a minute. I sat real still not knowing what I should do. I thought, ‘you go one way, and I’ll go the other!’”
Mccaffety says he just kind of scooted up the tree on his back and then took one large side step away from the snake.