I live and hunt in dangerous game country. The mountains and forests which surround my home are filled with grizzly bear, black bear, wolf, mountain lion, wolverine, bobcat, and lynx. I’ve encountered most at one time or another (griz yet to go, but it’s more a matter of when, than if). It’s a place where one is best advised to follow Niccolo Machiavelli’s maxim, “Before all else, go armed.”
In that spirit, I ventured forth the other day for rabbit. I don’t have a fondness for the meat, but the boss likes ’em and it’s good to have a few cached in the freezer against times when tastier fare gets scarce. At my side, or rather on point, Skadi the Wonder Mal. She’s a big girl (29 inches at the withers, 110 lbs.) and full of wild-eyed mischief, but she’s already proven a reliable trail dog with a nose for small game.
No Kidding, There I Was
The hunt took Skadi and I up “our” mountain into dark timber without a single blip on said dog’s sensor array. We cleared a slight rise, and I stopped cold. Skadi froze, head forward in Malamute target lock. There on the trail, in the middle of the trail, pointed toward us and lumbering closer, came the most feared animal in these parts. A skunk. Thirty yards became twenty-five.
Having been trained to handle difficult, even life threatening situations, I put in motion the plan I had rehearsed in my mind countless times. First, I assessed. What was the animal doing? Did it detect us? How did it react if it had?
The odoriferous beast seemed out for a stroll. It just plodded along, nose twitching over the dirt and dried pine needles. If it saw us, it didn’t appear to care. On it came. Hitchcock would have been proud at the suspense.
While the skunk had closed the distance, given its pace and nonchalance, I did have one precious commodity. Time. I intended to use it well.
Bear with me while I explain a few things about shotguns, and in particular the one in my hands at the time, a well worn but trusty 12 gauge, Mossberg 500. This old thing came from the factory with two barrels, a 28-inch with modified choke for birds and clays, and a cylinder bore 18 incher for up close and personal work. I use the latter during summer for good reason.
Rabbits usually burst from cover just before you step on them most times so the shots are close and fast; a wide shot pattern comes in handy. I use my favorite upland bird load for rabbit as well: number six copper plated shot in a 2 3/4 inch shell. The copper cladding penetrates tough feathers better and more to the point, leaves little to no lead residue in the meat. You really don’t want to eat much lead over your lifetime, I’m told by smart people.
Now, copper plated shot is two to three times more expensive than regular lead shot and if I have a choice I’d rather not waste one on vermin like Mr. Skunk here. I carry a few cheap, low-wall lead shot rounds for such occasions.
With deft hand, I plucked a low-wall shell from my cartridge belt and slid it into the Mossy’s magazine tube. I racked the slide to eject the fancy copper-plated round from the chamber and ran the vermin special into battery. I stood ready.
Oh, Skadi? She did what most Malamutes do. Stayed stone still and waited to see what the skunk would do. You see, Malamutes are master tacticians, they don’t give away their position or intentions until it’s necessary. So she waited and I waited and the skunk didn’t.
Red Wire, Green Wire
I had a decision to make. Do I blast the skunk into bits or not? I weighed the pertinent factors. It was mid-morning. Skunks are nocturnal and any one you find up after hours is liable to be rabid. Score one point for the nuclear option. Second point. One particular skunk, whom I have not been able to catch, has killed several of my best geese over the last few years. I didn’t mind a little payback just now even if this probably wasn’t the perp in question. Something about doing things the Chicago way. I went to Def-Con 2. Things didn’t look promising for the skunk’s day.
Skadi gave me a quick glance over her shoulder. The, “Well, ya gonna blast it or not?” look.
All the voices in my head decided the skunk was toast if came any closer (I really don’t hear voices, but you have to admit, it adds drama). Another second and I’d shoulder the Mossy and deliver. Then said skunk noticed us; really noticed. It took an immediate ninety-degree left and trundled into the brush. Okay, now what?
I worked forward ten yards to see if I could reacquire the target.
A word about the trail. I’ve nicknamed the area in which we stood, “The Bunny Bowl.” It’s the downhill side from the trail and forms a shallow hollow about seventy yards wide by sixty feet deep before the floor plunges again in a steep run through the timber for another two hundred yards. It’s a bit unusual: it is not too thick with ponderosa, Doug fir, and spruce. Reminds me of Colorado–before the dark times, before the Empire. The name derives from the fact I’ve terminated many a hasenpfeffer on the hoof there.
|The Bunny Bowl|
The Great Escape
Mr. Skunk had motored along quite fast. I caught a striped glimpse here, then there. Soon he’d travel out of the Mossy’s range. I held my fire because the beast posed no imminent threat. I let him slide into the Great American West without impeachment.
Careful What You Teach
Things would have settled back down but for Skadi. She thought since I had moved toward the skunk, they were now on the menu. We had an enthusiastic discussion about the issue for a few minutes. Then, with the skunk gone, she relented and fell back into ranks to continue onward. She’s a clever thing, bit too clever methinks, and now I await the potential moment when there’s less distance and less time and she finds out why skunks are the most feared animal in these parts.