by Kurt Zuelsdorf
Then it appeared. Big, dark, and muddy...a sippie hole! A place not fit for man nor beast...carved deep by the unlucky drivers who dared cross her.
Tommy Taylor is a good-old Southern boy who loves the outdoors. He called when the hogs started tearing up his hunt-lease somewhere just south of Tallahassee. I paused momentarily, then reacted instinctively.
The next things I knew, there were five hunters packed into my Trooper. We sputtered into town on I-10 with a bad water pump and a shit-load of camping gear. During a parts delay at the local repair shop we agreed to make the best of a hotel. After check-in we called Tommy about the change of plans. Our hearts longed for camping in the Great Appalachacola Forest -- 750 thousand acres of slash pine, cypress heads, & gum swamps. Our excitement would have to wait until morning.
Tommy pulled into the parking lot at 4:05 am driving his wife's two-door blazer with a loaded 270 Remmington ready on the dashboard. I thought it was a bit peculiar, but he made sense. "In case a big old buck jumps the road...I'll be ready." How do you argue reasoning like that?
Once underway Jimmy, a rotund -- lifelong sportsman from St. Pete, began his antics. His choice for the day... fox urine. For anyone who hasn't gotten a whiff of this pungent piss, don't. It'll make you sick. As all good hunters do, he developed an immunity to smelly urine's and other stinky scents. But it's funny... have you ever noticed how the person in control of the biting scent is the only one immune. Anyway, he quietly detonated his scent bomb, all the while sporting a crafty grin. Tommy was the first to notice and wondered who brought the litter box with them.
The stench flooded the truck and circulated through the heating ducts -- it was a dizzying breeze. Five men strained their necks out the windows like dogs catching the wind. As discomforting as it was I admit to enjoying pranks like that with the boys, it's what ads character and humor to my hunts -- and somethimes the humor and comrodery is the only thing I take from the woods. Yes, Jimmy The Fox is truly a master of his own game when it comes to concocting blends that stagger the scences -- a true asset to any hunt group.
Circumstance had it, that we happened across a fresh road-killed Red Fox this morning. Jimmy nearly jumped out the window to get at the trophy tail -- explaining how lucky having one can be. Tommy took the suggestion to heart and pulled the truck around. With a quick flick of his pocket knife the tail was his, he didn't even mind the ticks and fleas that fell from it when he hung it from the rear view mirror.
Miles of dirt road passed as we shared tales from past hunting trips and harvests. Ronnie recapped an adventure that involved (as many of his stories do) doing his morning duty on a mound of red ants. "The dam things make it all the way up to my ass before they bit. Then it felt like I'd been shot with a hot load of double 00 buck!" When he offered his bare-ass as proof I got the point. One thing about Ronnie though, he could shoot a shotgun slug better then anyone. I once saw him pull a double on a deer hunt while balancing on a barb-wire fence. Two deer broke cover during a cattail drive and two deer went right back down again -- high-quality shooting that could only come from years of carrying a shotgun.
Terry relived a moment spent with a pack of wild hogs in the Green Swamp. "Oh those suckers were everywhere. I could smell em', and when they broke cover I just started shooting. There must have been 5...maybe 11 hogs held up in the palmetto's!" He discovered what happens when common sense fails and the natural urge for survival takes over...he called it a Phobie. "In a situation like that you don't want to be short on lead. I'm loaded to the teeth with ammo now and when my 45 gets rolling... boy you'd better be out of the way!"
Tommy talked about the time he cornered a 250lb sow in a water hole. They were about to give up when his partner noticed a snout and eyeballs sticking above the water.
"I knew I put a good hit on her," Tommy said, "but the arrow passed right through. Boy I tell ya', it's as if the skin sealed up around that wound and it didn't bleed a drop. So we put 'old Jake' on the scent...he's a Paskagoula Hog Dog and boy can he track! By the time we got to the hole, Jake had locked on to her snout and was being swung around like a raggdoll. But that old pup wasn't gonna let go cause he knew he'd get the barrel treatment." (A technique that I'd heard of for breaking a dog of chasing deer. They put the dog in an oil drum with an old deer hide inside and seal it up. Then push the barrel down the road with the front bumper of the truck. "Old Jake held on long enough so is I could snatch her hind legs...from there I just held her till she drowns."
Moments later we arrived at the hunt camp. It wasn't what I expected...a few old trailers tucked under the overhanging pine bows. The mess tent floor was a dozen wood palates nailed together. A bunch of old screen doors strapped together formed the walls, and a rip-stop tarp made the roof. Two picnic tables were in the center and a big bulletin board on the wall, on it was a map detailing all the tree stands on the property -- each one distinguished by a pushpin. If someone was in one of the stands, a simple washer-spacer was on the pin -- an ingenious layout.
Soon after marking off our stands the hunt was on. Our first steps away from camp were punishing. Brambles, Blackberries and palmetto thorns peeled the skin off our hands. We tried to keep pace with Tommy but he moved through the swamp like a snake. He slid over logs and through the thickest part of the swamp then disappeared. I could hear Terry behind me complaining about the terrain and his 'bad knee'. We lost Ronnie and Jimmy shortly after departure and they turned back. Terry and I pressed on to follow Tommy. By the time we found him he bagged a nice sow. I asked him where the fatal hole was he said, "What hole? What gun? I caught him bare handed and slit his throat with my knife!" He stuck his fingers through the fleshy neck meat and kindly pointed out the juggler. "Ya get em right in here and they shut down right-quick-like." Terry and I stood in disbelief that he did it so quickly. The next task at hand was getting the 'rooter' back to the truck.
During past hunts we discovered the best way to extract a pig from the swamp is by pole. We tied the legs together and slid a stiff branch between them then tossed her between a couple of big shoulders. Before I knew it we were back to the truck, strapping the hog up top. As the blood drooled down the windshield Tommy mentioned his wife's last request to keep the truck clean.
I didn't care, we had a hog on the truck and few beers in the cooler...it was time to head back to camp and celebrate.
I didn't remember passing any mud puddles on the way in, but on the way out we labored through few that made me a little nervous. We planned on the Trooper doing the mud work and I wished we had it now. Then it appeared. Big, dark, and muddy. A sippie hole! A place not fit for man nor beast and certainly not suitable for a street vehicle. It was thick with mud, carved deep by the unlucky drivers who took a chance to cross her. I could see how she lures the drivers in -- on the surface she looked shallow and serene. On the bottom she was soft and deep. I could tell by the convincing look in Tommy's eyes that he could take her. He eased his was in. The front wheels dropped off the edge and water crashed over the hood. He stood on the accelerator and dumped the rear. The front wheels slammed against the steep side of the hole and within seconds the tires spun free.
Mud and water flowed into the cockpit. It seeped in through every crack and crevasse and worked its way up my shins. The boys had a troubled expression on their face when a black water moccasin slid its way in the window. Terry panicked and scrambled over my shoulder and out the window. He clawed his way through the muck and made it to dry land. I tried to open the door but the steep sides of the hole pinned the doors shut.
The snake, startled by the hollering, turned inside-out and fled. I didn't want to leave the truck with a snake in the water, but something happened to change my mind. First the left front wheel dropped about a foot followed by the right. I've heard stories of park rangers disappearing with their vehicles in the Florida swamp never seen or heard from again. I didn't want to become a statistic, so I dove out the window.
When I reached dry land I saw Tommy still sitting behind the wheel. He was laughing. "My wife is gonna kill me boys!" He gunned the motor and tried over and over again to free the truck, but it was no use, the sippie hole was holding too tight.
Terry and Jimmy got lucky and flagged down a big mudder pickup. A huge man stepped from the cab and scolded us for being out there with a two-wheeled vehicle. He freed the fallen vehicle from the depths of the hole with a quick snap. Tommy angled his truck on a side hill and opened the doors. The water rushed from the cab but the mud was stubborn. We used our hands to scoop the mud from under the seats and dash...it was sloppy and it stunk like sulfur.
I admired Tommy's sense of humor when it came to returning the truck to his wife. He laughed all the way back to camp and entertained thoughts of claiming it stolen so he wouldn't have to face her. In the end he did the right thing and went home.
I haven't returned to the Appalachacola Forest since I wrote this, but I've tangled with a few off-road hazards -- I know that when I least expect it, I too could be singing The Sippie Hole Blues.
Kurt Zuelsdorf. Writer, Urban Tracker, Outdoor Enthusiast at Kayak Nature Adventures kayak and sup rentals