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Angry snakes, exploding firewood and duct tape

by Jefferson Weaver

A few years back, I accidentally became friends with a producer of so-called reality shows. He and his buddies were fascinated that the man wearing a three-piece suit was also a trapper. For several months, we discussed the possibility of a television show.

That all came to a screeching halt when one of the sub-producers said they needed to find a way to make it more “dramatic.” We were talking about a trespassing hunting dog I’d caught, and the dog hunter’s reaction when a Wildlife Officer met him to give him his dog back. The dog wasn’t hurt, since I use modern wide-faced traps; truth be told, he seemed grateful when I shared my breakfast sandwich.

The California carrothead (not my friend) suggested I intentionally trap a hunting dog, so they could tape the whole encounter. I politely told him that wasn’t going to happen, when I really wanted to tell him to go lick some duct tape.

If I have many more weekends like the one just past, and I might just have to call the folks in Hollywood and invite them east for a visit – and tell them not to worry about the drama.

Our policy at home is that any creature, within reason, is welcome within the confines of the yard and pasture, as long as it behaves. Bears who scratch the trunk of the car in search of horse feed are not welcome. Egg-thieves of the procyon, didelphian, vulpine, latrans, lynx rufus, reptilian or avian families are not made welcome, since coons, possums, foxes, bobcats, snakes and some birds realize that there’s more meat in a whole chicken than in one egg.

Normally, we just secure the outside food sources and count on the donkeys and dogs to deter ne’er-do-wells. The cats handle the snakes. Deterrence is always the best way to avoid problems with wild things, but some just get need a shot of Darwin.

Saturday morning, one of our resident blue jays was screaming bloody murder. I went outside to see what was going on, since a pair of redtail hawks have been eying our chickens and kittens as walking snacks.

Rhonda spotted the rather vocal jay bouncing from one side of a limb to the other around an irregular lump. Then the lump moved. It was a snake.

The snake in the tree was just a ribbon garter (that’s the traditional name  I grew up with, by the way, and likely not accurate). He was just doing what snakes do; he had a hankering for baby blue jays. But our policy is inviolable – do what you must, but not on my lawn. It was with some regret I knocked the snake down with my beloved .410, but the baby possums enjoyed their first meal of real meat. All in the circle of life, and besides, I couldn’t waste a good snake.

Not two hours later, another ribbon garter found itself in a bit of a pickle. The snake was climbing down the same tree – perhaps it had succeeded at the meal its mate missed – but found itself surrounded by cats. Our cats looked for all the world like a pack of hounds treeing a coon. This time, I was able to capture said serpent and safely release her across the lane, much to the disgust of the cats.

Then there was the black snake at the driveway.

On the way into work Saturday evening, I locked the gate and discovered a black rat snake caught in the erosion mesh by the driveway. Pocketknife in hand, I began carefully snipping the strands from around the poor critter (after finding, then checking the head to be sure I wasn’t on the wrong end of a cottonmouth).
He was a feisty little fellow, only about two feet long, and while I was finishing the rescue job, two yellow flies landed on my hand and began gnawing. Whether the snake feared yellow flies or was tired of my ministrations, I do not know. I can, however, testify that the yellow fly bites hurt far worse than the snake’s teeth, and the ungrateful wretch bit the daylights out of me.

Then there was Sunday morning.

Rhonda recently tracked some puppy sounds through our woods. We suspected a fox den.

Sunday morning, sure enough, a fox was heading across the pasture — maybe 20 feet from the kittens–watching a hen. Rhonda saw the creature and yelled. My normal varmint rifle was locked up, there were no .22 Magnum cartridges handy, and I didn’t want to sting the fox with birdshot (those pellets can fester and cause a long, painful death). Ergo, I grabbed the next available ready piece — the SKS set up for hog hunting. Kind of like using a railroad tie to smash a fly, I know, but I just wanted to scare the fly, in this case.

The vixen was focused on the chickens, but she tensed when I jacked a round in the chamber. I had time enough to see her “sow belly” and milk stained fur, so I was sure she’s a nursing mom. That meant there was no way I was going to kill her, so I fired a couple of warning shots, reducing a piece of firewood to flying splinters, as she fled into the woods — and down the ditch, so she could pop out in the front yard.

The equines had panicked at the first burst, then herded up around me.  So I’m standing there with a hot, vertical barrel, trying to quietly move 3,800 pounds of horseflesh out of the way, whilst the vixen was blatantly standing there, watching her Sunday chicken dinner.

Finally, the donkeys decided the fox looked like a coyote, and began stalking her. She noticed, and started watching them. I crept along between them, using the donkeys for cover, then blasted another piece of rotten firewood (a safe distance away from my donkeys). The herd stampeded again while the vixen ran into the woods. I also caught a hot, spent 7.62 x 39 cartridge in my shirt collar. It hurt about like a yellow fly bite.

The coonhound, William IX bayed courageously from the front yard until the rifle went off. Before the extractor could catch the rim of the fired cartridge, he was hiding in the living room. Walter and Wesley, however, deployed like the professionals they are — Walter out the back door, Wesley out the front door, looping to back me up.

And that was all before church, before Miss Rhonda finished bottle-feeding the baby possums who aren’t old enough to eat snake.

Maybe I’ll call the California people this week, and invite them to come sit on the porch for a few days. If they don’t think snakes, yellow flies, gunshy horses, exploding firewood and scrambling chickens are dramatic enough – well, I have some duct tape they can lick.

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