Yesterday's post about the skink reminded me of my most memorable snake encounter.
It's the Island King's most memorable snake encounter too but for some reason our stories vary greatly. We were laughing about it last night and when I said I was going to write a post about it, the Island Girl suggested that after I tell my side of the story, I let the Island King tell his side. So that's what we're going to do - and you can decided who to believe.
The Island King has been camping and hunting on the Choctawhatchee River since he was a little boy. He and his grandfather would spend weeks up there, running the river and traipsing through the woods squirell hunting.
Other relatives and friends would go too but they had a hard rule that no women were allowed.
Until I came along.
I would beg and plead and threaten to sue for discrimination and after several years of this they gave in and let me come along on one of their trips.
I was told that I would be given no special treatment and that I had to stay at the camp while they were out hunting. "You can keep the fire going" they said.
Well, one morning while we were there I decided that I wanted to go with them as they took the boat downriver to squirell hunt.
I don't hunt but really wanted to go for the adventure. So I begged and pleaded some more and after wearing the Island King, his best friend, Shawn, and the Island King's brother down they agreed that I could come.
"But we will NOT bring you back if you get bored or cold" they tell me.
No problem, I'm up for the adventure and would why I want to come back - I can handle whatever comes my way.
So we get into our 16 foot river boat and off we go downriver.
One thing I don't go into the woods without is my trusty little 38 and this morning was no different.
We rode along for a while and then the Island King turned the boat up into a little slough. A slough is a small finger of water that runs from the main river up into the swamp and they're usually very narrow and tunnel like, with the trees closing overhead.
This slough was particularly narrow and the current was running really strong so the Island King was having to work hard to keep the boat from being pushed up into one of the many logjams along the way.
A couple of minutes into the slough I see the Island King give Shawn a funny look. I don't know what it was about that look but I knew immediately that something was up.
I glanced around, and there, coiled up on a tree limb, right at eye level and only about 5 feet from my face was a snake. A big snake.
Well, I did what any snake fearing woman would do and pulled my 38 out and swung around to shoot the snake.
I was calm and wasn't even going to put my finger on the trigger until I cleared the others in the boat.
It was a small boat and the 4 of us were really close to each other so I knew I needed to wait until the gun was pointed directly at the snake before I started shooting.
I'm not an idiot, you know.
After that, things get sort of fuzzy. I heard someone yell "GUN!" and then before I could even blink the gun was yanked from my hand, I was thrown face down into the bottom of the boat and Shawn's boot was planted firmly on my back, preventing me from getting up.
Shawn, the Island King, and his brother are all screaming like girls, the Island King has lost his battle with the current and the boat is being slammed by the current into a logjam.
They were screaming, cussing and rocking the boat and all I could think about was that snake falling into the boat - which would have been REALLY bad considering I was still pinned to the bottom of the boat.
After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a couple of minutes, the Island King got the boat under control and headed back out into the main part of the river.
He stopped the boat and Shawn moved his foot so I could get up.
All three of them were glaring at me and cussing worse than anything I've ever heard.
And me? I started to cry.
I mean really cry. Blubbering, snot running, kind of crying.
Why on earth was I attacked and disarmed like that? I just wanted to shoot the snake so it wouldn't fall into the boat, I wasn't going to shoot any of them and now all three of them are glaring at me and are more pissed off than I'd ever seen them.
"I want to go home! Take me back to camp right now!" I'm saying over and over again and that just seemed to make them even madder.
"We're not taking you back. I told you that we weren't going to take you back until we were done hunting and I meant it! Be quiet!!" the Island King snarls at me.
And of course that made me cry even harder.
The three of them are stilling sitting there rehashing the whole ugly event and saying things like "That woman damn near killed us" and "This is why women aren't allowed to come on hunting trips"
None of which made me feel any better.
After a few minutes the Island King drives on down the river and stops at a high spot along the bank. They get out of the boat and start to stomp off into the swamp.
And I'm certainly not getting out of the boat and going with them after they've been so mean to me AND refused to take me back to camp.
"Can I have my gun back?" I ask
The Island King and Shawn turn and look at me like I've lost my mind but the Island King's brother softens a little. He hesitated for a minute and then walked back to the boat.
He was carrying his shotgun as well as his 22 rifle and he hands me the rifle and tells me that I can sit there in the boat and shoot at trees across the river while they're gone.
"Don't give her a %#^&(*@ gun!" the Island King screams. His brother looks at me and says "Do you swear that even if you see a snake you won't shoot at ANYTHING on this side of the river and that you'll only shoot at trees on the OTHER SIDE of the river?"
I promise and he hands me the rifle and then catches up with the Island King and Shawn. As they stomp off into the woods I can hear both of them raising hell with him and asking why he would give a gun to the woman who just tried to kill them all.
I spent the next hour sitting in the boat, still sniveling and shooting at trees across the river.
Oddly, even though he gave me his rifle to shoot that day, the man, to this day - 18 years later, won't go into the woods with me if I have my 38.
After what seemed like hours, they came back and it was finally time to go back to camp.
They seemed to have calmed down and weren't as mean to me on the way back and by the time we got back to camp they were fine.
I, on the other hand, had stopped crying and gotten madder by the minute.
I'd been disarmed, manhandled and treated like a crazy woman. I had no intention of shooting them. I didn't even have my finger on the trigger when I swung the gun past them. They were the ones who panicked. Screaming and carrying on and then being so mean to me.
All I wanted to do was shoot the snake and if they hadn't freaked out, I'd have shot the snake and all would have been fine.
And I've never been allowed to go on a hunting expedition again. I can stay at the camp but they will NOT take me with them when they go off to hunt.
Ok people I have to correct a few inaccuracies in this story. The incident in question did not actually unfold quite the way Sandcastle Momma remembers.
Lets get to the facts:
The “Men”…that’s me, my best friend Shawn, and my brother have planned an early morning hunting trip down the river.
PaPa (More about PaPa later in another post) always said don’t go “down” river always go upriver in case the boat breaks down but us boys…aka “men” tend to enjoy a little adventure so we decided to go down river anyway.
It is small game season so we are going to bag some tree rats for dinner.
Momma starts asking to go with us. We are not sure about this as we plan to be going into some swampy places…..and these places aren’t for “girls”.
The last thing we need is an “I have to pee, can we go back to camp?" incident.
But since women seem to have some sort of super natural power to convince men to do things they normally wouldn’t do, she wins the argument and gets to go.
We load up our 16 ft river boat with 4 souls on board. Our destination is about 4 miles down river to an area of higher ground populated by a beautiful oak hammock.
This is an area of the riverbank that is high and has towering white oak trees and mostly dry ground. The oaks are plentiful with acorns, which are a major food source for tree rats…aka grey squirrels.
From previous years we know this is a good hunting spot. The river is not high this year and the ground is dry and heavily loaded with acorns.
We reach our destination. I am driving the boat. It is a small boat and although big enough for four people it is cramped and we are all sitting shoulder to shoulder.
I am steering the boat with the outboard motor and seated in the rear. My brother sits in front of me and next is Momma and then Shawn at the bow of the boat.
We slow down as we approach our destination. There is a narrow slough leading off the river into the swamp. Because the river is not high the slough has a swift current flowing through it due to the high sides and the lay of the land.
I have been in this slough many times and know it well. The slough is about 12 feet wide with many sharp turns. There are several areas where trees have fallen near the bank, making it even harder to navigate.
We decide to enter the slough and travel a distance inland by boat to shorten our walk versus traveling further down river and landing on the river bank.
As we enter the slough we are moving with the current, which is flowing quite swiftly making it difficult to control the boat, especially with four people on board.
Due to the current we are moving faster than I would prefer but using continuous reverse and idle I am able to skillfully weave the boat into the slough and around the numerous fallen trees and sunken limbs/obstacles. We move through several hair pin turns bumping along the bank as we go and ducking the numerous tree limbs extending out into the slough.
This is no small task especially with a woman who continuously shifts her weight from side to side, squeaking at every branch, spider web and acorn that hits the boat.
So now we come to a part of the slough that is somewhat straight and open, allowing her to relax a bit and begin to enjoy the scenery…BUT the next turn is extremely sharp and due to the current it will force me into the far side of the bank no matter what I do. The only thing to do is brace for impact.
I see this coming and say “hold on we’re not going to make the turn”. Under normal circumstances this would be no big deal…but today is no ordinary day.
I begin to turn the boat so that the stern will swing around to the bank and allow me to power out after we hit.
Now, being an experienced hunter I immediately look at the bank where we will hit. There is a large fallen tree with thick leaves and branches that lays just along the bank. Perfect, I think because it will be a soft hit. We will just mush into the branches and be fine.
Well, holy s#$%. Right there, coiled up at eye level on a branch is a perfect specimen of a large Rat Snake about 3 feet long. The others are distracted by my command to hold on and do not see the snake.
I have seconds before I run right into the tree and the snake. Knowing the certain peril that I will face should the snake fall into the boat I attempt to get Shawn's attention by motioning and turning my head toward the snake. Shawn sees me and spots the snake.
Unfortunately Momma sees this as well and whips her head around and sees the snake too. In a split second I see the flash of Saturday Night Special 38 swing around right at my head. I am between the snake and the gun. My brother yells “oh S@#$” and I yell “GUN!!!!"
The boat crashes into the tree. I duck and and fall hitting the motor gear lever and throttle, throwing the motor into neutral and the engine revs to wide open with a loud vrrummmmm!!!!!
Shawn springs to action, shoving Momma down to the deck, face down. I grab her hand with the gun. Shawn pins her down to the deck with his boot in the middle of her back.
My brother just tries to get out of the way, nearly falling out of the boat.
Momma is screaming in panic about the snake.
I disarm the crazy woman and get the gun while Shawn holds her down on the deck with his foot.
Holy crap….I have just avoided certain death by “head blown off from crazy woman with a cannon in her hand”.
We get everything under control. Check all our body parts. Make sure there’s not holes in the boat and secure all the guns so that Momma can’t get to any of them.
Sheeewwwww…..We are sitting there, jammed against the bank with the current just ramming us into the tree and the snake is still there, like 1 foot from my head.
Then I notice the snake's head has been blown off by a bullet - not by Momma though.
Turns out, after getting our whits back, it was dead to start with. An earlier hunter entering the slough had encounterd the snake and shot it, then perfectly placed it at this very spot knowing that the next boat in the slough will hit this same spot.
It is impossible to make this turn without hitting that side of the bank, and they knew it. I am sure those guys were back at their camp just laughing their butts off thinking of the next boat to come down that slough.
Problem is they never expected a boat with a crazy woman with a fanatical fear of snakes carrying a 38 Special to be in the boat.
After that, us men were quite upset and pretty much cussing every thing in sight. I got us out to the river where the crying and cussing continued.
From here on Momma has the story correct. After that we were so mad we just pulled up to the bank got out.
And hell no we weren’t taking her back to the camp. Hell, I expected “I gotta pee” not a 38 Special barrel in my face.
Now she says her finger wasn’t on the trigger but I am here to tell you folks that by God it was. I can assure you that if you ever have a loaded 38 Special pointed at your head from about 1 foot you can damn sure see the finger on the trigger.
So fellas, if you take a woman hunting with you - make damn sure she doesn’t have gun.
Well, there you have it, folks - pick your side.