- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

Thoughts of nutty behavior by wild creatures came to mind when a fishing partner last week cast a 5-inch-long, thick-bodied plastic worm to a sunken tree branch, felt a slight tap and, thinking it was a bass, set the hook. He soon reeled in a bluegill that was only slightly longer than the artificial lure.

What was that little thing thinking? The sunfish wasn’t snagged by the hook. No, it had it firmly inside its narrow mouth. We laughed, wondering whether the plastic bait had the fish or the fish had the plastic bait.

Conversely, the same angler — Dale Knupp — who caught the bluegill on a 5-inch-long lure, a couple of weeks ago had a rockfish of around 40 pounds inhale a tiny plastic grub. We’re talking about a 3-inch rubbery wonder known as a Sting Ray. That huge rockfish snatched it up as if it hadn’t eaten in a month, which is highly unusual. Stripers of that size normally prefer a foot-long menhaden or a big white perch.

I enjoyed both incidents because I’m a fellow who’d rather fish and hunt than eat — which is saying something considering that in my lifetime I’ve been booted out of two all-you-can-eat restaurants for overdoing it.

As concerns odd happenings with wild creatures, those of us who spend more time outside than inside sometimes happen upon things that your average city cliff dweller normally doesn’t.

Take for example the day I was sitting on a deer stand, high up in an oak tree, when a hawk apparently mistook my head for something edible. Yes, it’s laughable because compared to the diminutive size of a Cooper hawk my head resembles a fully inflated beach ball. The hawk swooped down on me and tried to bury his talons in my cap. I nearly jumped from the tree, it startled me so. Luckily, the feisty little bird of prey did an evasive maneuver only inches from my face at the last second.

Whew! What a close call, but not nearly as close as the one that occurred to a friend who joined me for a week of black bear hunting in Canada a few years ago. While waiting for his prey atop a tree stand in a north-central Ontario woods, he had the unnerving experience of having a 300-pound black bear silently come up from behind, unseen by my pal. Bears, in case you don’t know, can move about as quietly in dry woods as a snake can in wet grass.

To this day, my friend insists on anonymity because his pride was seriously damaged. He looked off into the distance, never hearing or seeing the bruin climbing up the very tree stand’s ladder that my pal had scaled only a few hours before. In an instant, the bear was face to face with the human but just as fast beat a hasty retreat before the hunter could collect his nerves and pick up the rifle hanging by its strap on a branch.

“It was the last thing on my mind at that moment,” he later recounted. “Right then I was more interested in finding a toilet — if you get my drift.”

I also recall the time I sat in a Dorchester County, Md., duck blind, dozing off, the waterfowl not flying about as I had hoped, when I felt something crawling up my pants leg. Without thinking, reacting instinctively, I slapped the spot where the crawling sensation came from. Bam! Bam! Now there was a wet spot on my leg. I had slapped a mouse to death. The wet stuff was mouse blood. Oh great!

What was that critter thinking? The nerve of that rodent.

Another friend, Fred McHone, was hunting deer one day, standing at the edge of a long draw, when out of nowhere a fine buck came charging up the hill and nearly ran Fred over.

“There was no way that buck could not have seen me. But he kept coming straight for me,” said Fred. “I sidestepped him and he kept right on going. I couldn’t shoot because he was heading toward an area where some people might have been. He got away.”

The stories of odd wildlife incidents could fill a large book. Think of a marlin that leaped at the precise moment when the mate brought in the leader line for a charter fishing client and the marlin came across the gunwales of the old boat and buried its bill in the wooden sides of the cabin. There it was, stuck.

What about me reading my own newspaper while waiting for a friend to show up in a dense upland forest in Allegany County, Md., when two wild turkeys showed up and started picking off dead insects from the bumper and grillwork of my truck? That’s not supposed to happen, but it did.

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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