- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

At the time the alligator whipped her huge tail back and forth, mouth agape and hissing, I didn’t think it was so funny. But now that I’m safely relaxing in a comfortable chair, the memories bring a big smile.

It happened near Lake City, Fla., while fishing for bass in several large, reclaimed phosphate pits that had filled with water and vegetation. Now, the pits were home to wildlife of every type — including, of course, the ever-loving symbol of the University of Florida, the alligator.

My fishing guide moved the boat close to a sandy spit to retrieve a snagged fishing lure, when I heard him say, “Holy Jesus, start the outboard.” He attempted to back up the boat with a weak electric trolling motor as a female gator who had been guarding her eggs charged the boat and nearly boarded it.

Thanks to a gasoline motor that started on cue, we got away, but the experience was enough to provide a week’s worth of dinner conversations.

“Guys like you must have some hair-raising experiences,” said one of my editors recently after I told him about the gator. “Tell me about some of them.”

I’ll do better than that; I’ll tell everybody. While you read, remember that these are just a few samples. Oh yes, and outdoors writers do not receive hazardous duty pay.

Only a little more than a week ago, while sitting in a deer stand in Southern Maryland, a huge, long-rotten oak tree as big around as a small Volkswagen came crashing down nearby without warning. There wasn’t any creaking, no popping sounds, no warning. It just happened. It hit the ground (taking close-by sapling trees with it) with such force that my deer stand, and the tree it was tied to, shook. It shook me, too, to the bone.

Imagine if such a tree fell on you. It could turn a human into squishy kindling.

Next, I recall a bear “attack.” Actually, it wasn’t so much an attack as it was a feint.

Five us were fishing for silver salmon and grayling in Alaska, slowly wading around a shallow river bend, when no more than 150 yards from us stood a half-dozen grizzlies also fishing — only they used paws, claws and teeth while we needed rods, reels and small Pixie spoons.

The biggest of the bears suddenly paid attention to the two-legged intruders and came running toward us at full speed. He stopped after covering about 50 yards, then turned back. We also turned, hustling back to where we started — me looking for the Imodium in a medical kit I carried in a jacket pocket.

That, however, pales when compared to a stunt pulled by the pro angler Roland Martin. While competing in a muddy Illinois River bass tournament, with me beside him, he jumped his boat across a levee to reach a clear-water oxbow. He backed up the boat, told me to hold on, and raced toward the levee, trimming the motor as he shot toward the sand-and-gravel bank, climbed over it with the outboard fairly screaming, then slipped down the other side as if he had done this a hundred times.

I told him that I’d just aged 10 years, then realized the superstar angler would have to jump back across the levee to return to our home marina. He did just that, so I aged 20 years one day in the 1980s.

What about the time I leaped across some cracks on the tops of huge river rocks in Venezuela’s Orinoco River? I wanted to reach a secluded pond-like enclosure behind the rocks, hoping hungry peacock bass might be hiding there. After stepping on one crack in particular, a couple dozen killer bees emerged and started stinging me repeatedly.

I screamed for my partner to start the outboard, and he threw it in gear just as I fell into the bow. The bees followed us for a short distance, hitting me once or twice more, but that was it. Imagine what could have happened if a full assault by a large bee colony had occurred. We would have died.

Then there’s the memory of a deer we thought was dead when it actually wasn’t. I recall a North Carolina buck near the town of Butner that had been shot by a friend. As it lay on the ground, we admired its body size and antlers. Some of us stepped over and around it, touched it, even lifted up its head to prepare for a photo or two.

Without any previous sign of life, the buck suddenly arose. He got up and galloped away as if he had been taking a nap, but now ran like demons were after him.

When it reached the far side of a field it fell and now really was dead. What happened taught me a lesson. Henceforth, any downed deer would be inspected to make sure it wasn’t breathing.

A similar thing happened during a squirrel hunt after I stuck four or five of the little speedsters into the carrying pocket on the back of my hunting coat. Oddly, I felt something scratching me. Now I like my back scratched, but not by an irate squirrel. Off came the coat and, well, you know what I had to do.

Finally, the most hilarious incident was one I had nothing to do with. It happened to a friend who’d shot a pheasant and because of the late hour, upon his return home simply stuck it in the bottom rack of a refrigerator, to be picked and cleaned later.

Next morning, when I joined him for breakfast, he wanted to show me his pheasant. He opened the fridge’s door and out came the colorful bird, alive as can be. “Cuck, cuck, cuck,” it sounded off as it flew around the kitchen and dining room, wrecking his wife’s expensive china, which rested on an open display shelf.

Thanks to a large towel that we threw over it, we finally caught the bird. Eventually it provided a fine dinner — served on plastic plates.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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