The Majestic Snipe Hunt

As the mercury began to drop, I realized that if we’d had a longer thermometer, all of us would have frozen to death.  Grateful as I was to many layers of clothing, I wished that I could secure their closures with buttons and zippers, but due to a recent gain in stature, that was not possible.

A year or so before, I had joined a gym.  They had a workout room, card tables, pool tables, and an indoor heated salt water swimming pool.  They also had a cafeteria.  In less than four months, I had gained nine pounds.  None of my belts would make the trip all the way around my waist, and I was sure to be needing an entirely new wardrobe.  Lunch, as it turned out, was my favorite feature attraction at the gymnasium, then straightway home to take a snooze.

I had not been hunting in a while, so I’d forgotten about the probable fitting issues likely to occur with the designated hunting attire.  All of the previously purchased items were intended for a slimmer figure of a boy whose habits included exercise somewhat beyond regular naps.

After packing enough gear for a month’s safari, I headed into the Southern zone where deer season remains open into mid-January.  There I met up with my host and hunting guide, J. B.  He and his wife took me into their home, and I was made to feel welcome.  Before we began to suit up for the afternoon hunt, my host and guide felt it proper to advise me of the weather conditions:

“It’s going to get cold this afternoon–very cold.  Water will have to warm up to reach the freezing point.  Are you sure you want to do this?”

I assured him I was ready, and even bragged on the certainty I felt about my protective clothing.  So, we started getting ready.  I soon discovered very little of my stuff would fit me anymore, certainly none of the pants would come close to fastening.  Since it was expected to be well below freezing, I intended to wear multiple layers anyway, but for the sake of modesty, I kept adding garments to cover this ‘n that gaping situation.

Were it not for the multiple layers I attempted, dignity would have been at risk, as nothing seemed to want to button, zip or snap.  This proved to be of no benefit when nature called while fumbling in sub-freezing temperatures hoping to find appropriate appendices with fingers numbed by the cold, and not knowing a piece of elastic or a shirttail from a belly button.

The first afternoon was uneventful, as J. B. and I were the only living things that appeared to be alive anywhere within the thousand acre hunting preserve.  Considering the polar vortex phenomenon, there was little reason anything not native to arctic or antarctic regions should’ve wanted to venture out anyway.

I could inhale air, but whenever I exhaled, it condensed to water vapor which quickly frosted over my entire mustache.  As I sat there thinking I must have lost my mind to be there, I chambered a round.  It was the same bullet I’d been chambering for three years in some wild hope of needing it to be chambered.

After the sun went down, J. B. came to pick me up from my stand with his four-wheeler, and told me the ice sickles hanging below my nose were…interesting.  Neither of us had seen deer, feral hogs, or even a squirrel.  We joked about not luring the elusive snipe, even though we boasted of having burlap sacks and baseball bats handy.

The joke of a snipe hunt is to find a person, usually a child, gullible enough to “hunt” for an imaginary creature in the silly way of trying to call it into a bag or a pillow case.  Descriptions vary, but by “snipe”, I do not mean any of the relatives  of the sandpiper, but the difficult-to-find cousin that is more likely to be an associate of “Big Foot”, or perhaps related to the kinds of space aliens that like to capture earthlings and probe them with water bottle attachments you can buy at WalMart.

In other words, it’s all completely hoogy-moogy.  I’ve heard snipes described as lame as looking a lot like the extinct do-do bird, to a cross of something between a platypus and a goat.  But since it is all make believe, you can have it look like anything you want.

The next morning it was even colder than the evening before.  No sane person would venture out to go hunting, and only the barely sane would even go out to get the mail.  Well, we went hunting just the same, taking a huge risk of being declared at least incompetent, if not psychotic.  J. B. would ask me frequently, perhaps as often as every six or seven minutes as if there might be some stay of execution:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

He is a most accommodating host, and had I relented, he would’ve gladly gone back into the comfort of his warm house, and stayed there until Boreas and all other gods of winter retreated enough to allow for defrosting.  This time with even more layers of clothing than the night before, we challenged certain death and went out into the cold.  I think I tried to put on more clothing than some department stores have in stock, but it was still not enough.

So as you can imagine, the breakfast group at a local diner recognized me right away as a slave to fashion from the very moment we walked in.  Though we wore camouflage, our voices gave away our location, so the server was able to bring us our coffee, and ask the questions you often hear when you go out into public places wearing camo:

“So, y’all goin’ huntin’?  Whatchy’all gonna hunt?”

J. B. studied her face, and replied:

“I’m taking him snipe hunting.  He’s never been…”

“Snipe hunting?” she interrupted, “Lawd, you gonna take him…”

She looked right at me, and I smiled like a happy and eager child full of anticipation would do on a Christmas morning.  Then, she just shook her head, and trailed off with a muffled giggle.  She came back momentarily to take our order, but held the order pad so it covered her mouth to conceal her grin.

J. B. ordered the “Some of Everything” special, which was served on a large platter with some of everything on it.  I had the “Not Quite Everything” special, telling the server that I didn’t want to over-eat so that it would interfere with being able to move about quickly enough to bag the snipes.  Again, she turned and walked away, but I could see she was laughing, and shaking her head.

After breakfast, we prepared to head down to the hunt club where, according to what we’d told the server, the hunt club manager had gone ahead to release enough snipes to insure a good hunt.  The server ran off to hide, hoping not to allow her laughter to give away the joke she was certain J. B. was playing on me.  At no time did she seem to understand that the leg being pulled was hers.

Once outside, we realized the temperature was continuing to drop.  It became reasonable to question our combined intelligence for making the decision to even be out of bed at that hour, much less heading to the woods to succumb to frostbite.  So once again, J. B. asked:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

After we got onto the hunt club property, the plan was again to drop me off at a stand to await my chance of seeing any kind of prey that might be stupid enough to venture out in this weather.  Although we knew area schools had been closed, we didn’t know at the time most of the deer had also taken the day off, and possibly the week.

It was c-c-c-c-c-cold.  J. B. cranked the Polaris so he could back it off the trailer.  The engine started up right away, but no matter how much the accelerator pedal was pressed, it did not go: “Arrooom room room room.”  It did not go: “Bood’n  Bood’n Bood’n”, either.  No, it went : “Peddle dump, peddle dump, peddle dump”.  It was frozen in idle.  Putting it in forward or reverse made no difference, though he tried both several times.

We decided to let it sit awhile, which it was going to do anyway.  We scratched our heads, and asked each other wondering what it could be, and both of us declaring we did not know, though we had suspicions that it was due to the air being colder than the heart of a tax auditor.  About then, J. B. looked at me as if pleading:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

Our gaze returned to the Polaris, as the prospects of having to hike a few miles encouraged a retry.  This time, J. B. pumped the accelerator pedal multiple times before ignition.  This time when it cranked, the throttle was stuck wide open.  The last position of the gearshift had been in reverse, or else J. B. would’ve ridden the thing quickly over the short trailer railing  and onto the back of his pickup truck.

Instead, he flew backwards off the trailer heading towards the woods at full speed.  Looking a lot like a rodeo event, he jumped up and down on the brake pedal causing his bucking four-wheeler to mimic a carnival ride.  He made noises as if he were about to sing a hymn.  Grasping desperately for the key in the ignition switch while at the same time trying to hang on, he was finally able to shut it down just before disappearing into the underbrush at the edge of a thicket of pine trees.

I stood there in the quiet for a moment trying to think of what I would tell his wife, and also wondering if I could remember which one of a dozen or so dirt paths to take to get off the property.  I was halfway wondering if I should try to retrieve his body or just have someone else come back for it, when he walked out of the woods, obviously shaken up, but alive.

J. B. surprised me by telling me there was a second four-wheeler available.  It was in a shed just a short walk from where we stood.  This one was designed for racing, and would go from zero to sixty-five faster than I wanted it to.  At high speeds, the wind chill factor on that thing must have been a thousand degrees below zero.

I finally got to my stand where I would again load my rifle with a bullet that was beginning to show signs of wear on the brass.  Within minutes, I settled into a routine of shivering for the next four or five hours before any hope of being rescued would come by way of another bone chilling ride back to the camp.

Luckily, the tree stand had shade, so at least I was not exposed to the broiling sun all morning, though I prayed for it.  Just when I was certain it couldn’t get any colder, a nice breeze came up causing several of the trees including the one I was sitting in to blaspheme.  Until then, I’d always considered such behavior to be in the domaine of animals, particularly the human kind.

I saw no animals that morning other than three or four crows.  They did not seem happy.  One of them called out:

“C-c-c-c-caw!  C-c-c-c-caw!”

I think one tried to answer, but its vowels were frozen, so all it could say was:

“C-c-c-c-c!”

After a few attempts to crow, they flew off probably in search of any place that might be warmer.  I wanted to go with them.  About then, the insulation in my boots announced they had reached the limit of thermal protection.  Once your toes get cold, you cannot be expected to find a comfortable position, or a single thought that deserves to be said out loud in mixed company.

We did this for three days, and each trip to the woods was preceded with the sincere inquiry:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

When we got to the club on the morning of the last day, a buck was leaving as we were going in.  He was no doubt off duty, and headed home to go to bed.  We should have done the same thing, but we didn’t.  Instead, we mounted the rocket powered four-wheeler and went back out onto the frozen tundra.  Once again, I loaded my rifle thinking the bullet was going to be worn out before I would ever get a chance to spend it.

It was still very cold as the morning hunt came to a close, so we headed back to town with thoughts of some hot soup, and possibly sitting in a fire somewhere.  Once out on the road, we saw a bald eagle who was already having lunch.  Seems an armadillo had picked a bad day to cross the road, and had possibly spun out on some black ice and flipped over allowing the eagle to have what appeared to be ‘possum on the half-shell.  The bird was majestic, and had it not been for his unappetizing entrée, I would’ve been on the verge of feeling patriotic.

We went to lunch and I had a loaf of soup.  If you’ve not had one before, imagine a loaf of farmer’s bread hollowed out into the shape of a bowl, and soup poured into it so it becomes soggy.  After you scoop out a few mouthfuls of soup, there’s enough soggy bread left over to feed a family of five.

After lunch, we went by a hardware store to take inventory of things they no longer carry, and to comment on the prices of the things they do.  Then, it was back to the hunt club.  This time, we were greeted by an owl who sat patiently by a pile of tree limbs waiting for springtime to come and thaw out some mice and lizards.  J. B. noted this to be a nocturnal bird, and I felt the sign of nocturnal animals might be a good indication the deer might come back to work, but I was wrong.

Back at the stand, I once again took the bullet out of my pocket and let the bolt of the rifle seat it in its periodic and temporary resting place.  I remember thinking that if no deer or feral hogs came by to interrupt the calmness, I would get to take that bullet back home with me.  Well, call me Nostradamus, because that is exactly what happened.

The bullet is resting quietly in the gun safe where it can be at leisure ’til next season.  The deer, the boars, and the snipes can all go about their routines with no concern whatsoever of me interrupting their fun until quite some months from now.  Perhaps late next fall during some dark early morning hour, silence will be broken with the words:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Wayne Casasanta on January 12, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Maybe you will listen to the wisdom of someone (J. B.), who is trying to help you. Also, “Flo” at the diner, may have been gullible to think that you were going snipe hunting, but at least she kept warm. Maybe you should consider being a food server, rather than a hunter.

    Reply

  2. Fantastic story fantastically told.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Betty on January 12, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    You have my sympathy as well as my empathy !

    Reply

  4. Posted by Jane Leonard on January 12, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Thanks Van! I will need a supply of depends from Costco before I read another post of yours!

    Reply

  5. Posted by Mickey Foster on January 12, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    I have learned that it is essentially impossible, not to mention impractical, to breath in and out simultaneously, especially when one is scuba diving. However, nose frost should not be used in the same sentence as scuba diving. But, if the throttle is stuck in the wide open position a particular hymn comes to mind..Nearer My God To Thee…I got fairly cold deer hunting one time…shrinkage…shrinkage definitely becomes an issue, even when there are several layers of thermal underwear that simply do not live up to their claims…anyway I have a couple of bullets like the one you speak of that have been chambered, un-chambered and chambered so many times that I was worried that they might discharge prematurely…..maybe I’ll invest in some Depends as Jane mentioned, so I don’t have to be overly concerned with shrinkage should I ever find myself sitting in a tree in sub-freezing temperatures…..

    Reply

  6. Posted by little d on January 13, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Lots of Laughs VT ! Thanks for sharing

    little d

    Reply

  7. Posted by Nadeen on January 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Van, I think you are crazy (but that has been the case for a long time). As always, I thoroughly enjoyed reading another one of your amazing essays and want to go on record saying that you will confirm my evaluation of your craziness if you do not get your writings compiled into a book…soon.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Nancy Kemp on January 14, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    So THAT’s where the idea of giving Barney Fife only one bullet came from!

    Genius!

    Reply

  9. Posted by Bonnie on January 17, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    I shall call you Vantradamus.

    Reply

  10. Another funny hilarious Van Adventure. I enjoyed reading this immensely!

    Reply

  11. Posted by Terri Cothron on September 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    For those that don’t know I’m JB’s oldest daughter, Terri!! Van I haven’t laughed so hard and tried to keep quiet in a Beauty Salon in all my life!! Fearing that I would look stupid laughing out loud when no one else knew what I was so tickled about!! I pictured everything you said until tears streamed down my face!! I know you didn’t get anything but just spending time with my Deddy was probably just as good….. I’ll never forget when I shot my first deer!….
    Deddy was just as excited as I was that I had gotten a deer that beautiful and cold morning. I truly treasure all the special moments I shared with my Deddy!! Van, you and I share a joy for writing!!
    I know that it has really helped me!! I only wish I had the expertise of writing like you do!! Love ya Van!!

    Reply

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