By Charles Towne
The pup had reached the end of the trail. With no idea what he had been following he had come face to face with his quarry. Yes, he had reached the end of the trail and it could very well be his last, for the formidable creature that he faced could kill, horribly. The young dog did not realize the danger it faced.
He had been following the old dog, eagerly watching as the veteran worked a covey of quail. The covey had been hunted only a short time before, and now, each time the old dog thought he had brought the birds to a stand the quail would break, running along the ground to the next bit of cover.
Disgusted, the old dog quit following the fidgety birds and began casting about. Near a stand of scrub oak, he discovered another covey. He began a circling movement to bring the quail to a stand.
Following the old dog’s lead, the pup was also trailing a fresh scent. Unlike the old dog the pup did not know what it was he trailed. This was an unfamiliar scent and his curiosity drove him on.
Whatever it was that he followed; it had passed through a large stand of scrub palmetto, and then alongside the full length of an old burned out pine log to finally circle a small clearing. Totally engrossed in the trail the pup was using his nose to vacuum any vagrant wisps of scent from the ground.
This was not quail that the pup followed, oh no. Nor was it rabbit. He had been cured of trailing rabbit. If a rabbit were to leap from cover right under his nose he would ignore it. He knew that his man didn’t want him to chase rabbits, nor did the old dog, and he wanted to please them both.
The scent that he followed was very faint, a strange musky odor, so vague as to be almost undetectable. He was sure the old dog would be proud of him. He continued on the trail. Hmmmm, whatever it was had entered a big gopher tortoise burrow! The pup forced his head and shoulders into the burrow and snuffed deeply several times. All he could detect was the turtle’s earthy scent. Backing out he immediately picked up the trail again.
He was approaching a small stand of scrub oak and was in the process of circling an old, fire-blackened pine stump when he came face to face with his quarry.
A peculiar, dry buzzing sound stopped him in his tracks.
His excitement was obvious as his tail wagged his entire hind end. The pup had worked the trail to perfection and he was proud.
The only problem was that his first trailing experience could very well be his last.
Only a few feet in front of his nose lay a very large and a very angry Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. The deadly reptile was loosely coiled, its head slightly raised, that black tongue slowly flicking out, tasting the air. The snake was telling the dog in no uncertain terms that it was ready to defend itself.
Over six feet in length and larger then a man’s arm, the powerful reptile turned away from the pup and began to crawl toward a large clump of scrub oak and palmetto growth. As the snake moved so did the pup, taking two steps forward.
This movement on the dog’s part was more than the snake could tolerate. It immediately stopped and assumed its full defensive position. Coiled, head raised a foot above the ground, the air filled with the castanet sound of its rattles, the diamondback waited.
The large venomous reptile knew that it couldn’t eat the dog and it didn’t want a confrontation, but what must be would be.
The previous year a German shepherd had confronted the snake. The diamondback had defended itself in the only way it knew. Struck full in the face the dog had received a massive dose of venom. It was highly unlikely that anyone could have helped the dog even if that had been an option. Abandoned, alone, the big dog died a terrible death, there in the stillness of the forest.
The pup, imitating the old dog in a beautiful point, was excited that he had been able to bring this noisy creature to bay. He had watched his teacher move in on a covey of quail with such stealth that he would come to a final point only inches from one of the birds. Then he would hold that point until his master arrived to kick up the covey.
The pup’s movements were beautiful to behold as he slowly lowered his foot and then leaning forward he once again assumed that statuesque pose. His intention was to approach as close to his subject as the old dog had been to the quail. Another small step and less than three feet remained to separate the youngster from an ugly death. But he had no way of knowing this.
Usually dogs will stay away from rattlesnakes. Sadly, every year there are those few that do get struck and this youngster’s curiosity was getting the best of him.
The diamondback, eyes shining brightly, drew its head back in preparation as it measured the distance.
If snakes thought in words as humans do its thoughts would have been, “Come closer foolish one. Just one more step and I will teach you a most unpleasant lesson, the last lesson you will ever learn.’”
The pup, as if answering the snake’s unspoken suggestion, began to raise his right foreleg, his body already moving forward. When he stopped he would be within striking distance of those deadly fangs.
Then it happened! There was a blur of movement and the pup was struck with such force he was knocked rolling, yipping in surprise and confusion.
The old dog had followed the pup. Taking in the situation at a glance he acted. Charging from the side he struck the pup with his shoulder, instantly knocking the young dog out of range of the diamondback’s strike.
The snake struck!
Its mouth agape, fangs erect, it struck hard and fast, passing through the empty space beneath the old dog’s body.
The old dog, rumbling a warning to the pup, led him away from the place as the grandfather diamondback crawled away in the opposite direction.
Soon the two dogs were back with their human. The man was pleased with the two dogs as they ran toward him. He thought, ‘that pup’s going to be as good a bird dog as his old man!’
The hunt had been a success. There were quail in the bag and more importantly, the dogs had worked like the champions they were.
Oh yes, and unbeknownst to their human, thanks to the old dog, the pup would be there to hunt another day.
Meanwhile, back in the thicket of scrub oak, and saw palmetto, lying loosely coiled at the mouth of a gopher tortoise burrow is the grandfather diamondback. After its encounter with the dogs, it had happened upon a luckless cottontail rabbit. The rabbit was not as fortunate as the pup. The snake lay relaxed, its stomach full. It would not need to eat again for several days, and tomorrow would be another day.
AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER
Dear Lord, praise you oh mighty God, praise you. Father, please lead me and guide me through the perils of this life. Keep me safe from the wiles of that old serpent, known as Satan, or the devil. I realize that I have placed myself in harms way many times, and you, gracious God that you are, placed yourself between me and great harm, even death. How many times have you stepped between me and perilous situations I will not know until that great day and you will be able to share with me how you kept me from harm. Lord, I love you, and I thank you, please stay with me, never leave me. Thank you almighty God, thank you and praise you, in Jesus’ most holy name I ask it, Amen
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.