Not all adrenalin surges are created equal. There’s the kind that happens when that big gobbler finally steps out in front of you. It makes your scalp tingle and your heart race.
And then there’s the kind when something scary happens.
This weekend, I experienced the kind of rush that induces the fight-or-flight response.
I was tucked against a giant root ball, blissfully surveying a 3-acre field that in years past has been the preferred strutting zone of discriminating longbeards everywhere.
A gobbler from the bowels of the adjoining swamp sounded off early in the morning, and then shut down for about an hour. When he picked the conversation back up around 7:30 a.m., I was delighted. After I delivered my best Mae West, “come up and see me sometime” yelp, a louder, closer gobble said he was taking me up on the offer.
So, I started to scrutinize every inch of the field, wondering where he’d step out. Would he gobble again or come the last several yards in silence? Would he strut into the field? I was playing out the various scenarios when a loud crashing through the woods behind me interrupted my thoughts.
Not wanting to get busted by a sneaky gobbler, I went as long as I could without moving. When I finally caved in and turned my head, I spotted a black bear about 60 yards away, bumbling towards me.
Now, my husband and I are abundantly aware there are bears in mid-Georgia. Over the years, we’ve had several bruins pose for our game cameras. It’s just they were always filmed at night. So Wes and I always kid each other about being careful when walking alone in the dark to our respective deer stands or turkey hunting hotspots. Seeing a bear in broad daylight was just not something I had considered.
At the precise moment I saw this bear’s ugly mug, “conscious brain” surrendered and was immediately superseded by a clump of nerve cells I call “instinct brain.”
Instinct brain’s first decision as the gray matter in charge was to begin coughing loudly. Conscious brain later concluded that instinct brain didn’t want to scare the approaching gobbler but thought it could fool the bear into thinking I had swine flu.
For a couple of seconds after the faux coughing fit, I didn’t hear or see anything. I desperately wanted to peer around the root ball and see the bear’s hind quarters romping away to the swamp. But, instinct brain had commanded my body to freeze.
Then suddenly, I saw him, all 250 pounds of this shaggy brute. He cleared the root ball that shielded my view to the left and stepped out 20 yards in front of me, swinging his big ol’ head in my direction. Bears don’t see particularly well, but their sense of smell and hearing make up for it. I’m guessing he was curious about what the heck smells of Neutrogena shampoo, insect repellent and pee.
Instinct brain took control again and had me shout “Go. Go away.”
Bear just stood there, staring dumbly at me. So instinct brain kicked off another grand idea - treat the big mammal like a foreigner who has just landed in America and doesn’t know a word of English. I yelled “go away” even louder. But cranking up the volume did nothing to improve bear’s comprehension, and he just kept looking at me. And the 20-gauge I had pointed towards his face meant nothing to him either. I didn’t want to pull the trigger. With my luck, a load of 6s would just put him in a bad mood. And so far, he seemed more dumbfounded than irritated.
Meanwhile, instinct brain, now grasping at straws, made my body slowly rise from my turkey hunting stool. This movement finally kicked bear into action and the next thing I know, he had swung his enormous rump around and galloped off in the other direction. Thank God, because instinct brain hadn’t let me in on what my next move would be.
I shakily gathered up my calls, Thermocell and other odds and ends and headed back to the camper. No point in hanging around. The gobbler, not knowing about the bear, was likely confused by the mixed messages I sent (Come here. No, go away!). I could just see him nervously flicking his wings before he changed directions, too.
I’ve hunted the same property for eight years now, the same family land that my husband grew up roaming around. Unfortunately, that could come to an end this year. While I probably won’t kill a turkey this spring, I’ve had an experience that I will never forget. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything.