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Too-close encounters with reptile kind

Spring turkey hunters who are very active now over much of the Mid-South should be on the look out for dangerous snakes. Watch your step and carefully examine the spot where you intend to sit and use as a stand.

Cottonmouth moccasins are most numerous in the Delta. Those who hunt in the hill country need to watch out for timber rattlers and copperhead moccasins.

I clearly remember one morning a good while back when my son Mabry and I were hunting on the Burke property along the Mississippi River in Coahoma County, Miss. There had been high water that spring and heavy deposits of leaves and other duff had accumulated around the base of trees that had been covered with water.

I placed Mabry (at the time a small boy) in a nice clean spot and walked away a few steps. Then I began raking the duff away from the base of a big cottonwood tree so I could sit.

On the first rake of my booted foot, I raked up a very mad cottonmouth that differed with me on my choice of a hunting site. It showed it disagreed by trying to strike my foot. I am thankful it missed.

I broke a rule of early morning turkey hunting by putting him out of action with a load of No. 4 shot, greatly surprising Mabry, who was out of sight.

Take great care if you decide to sit on the edge of a stump hole with your feet dangling down into the hole. I tried that once without looking and had the daylights scared out of me when a big blackish snake appeared right at my foot.

As it turned out, it was not a cottonmouth but a rather rare Southern hog-nosed snake that can make you believe it is dangerous by spreading out the skin back of the head somewhat like a cobra.

I gently removed him from the hole, but then decided to take a stand where I could be sure that I would not disturb a snake — be it poisonous or non-poisonous.

Something that has always interested me is how hunting dogs react to snakes and snake bites.

When I was a very young boy I had a fine little half-beagle/half-something-else that was bitten by a cottonmouth. The dog survived without treatment.

From that point on, instead of being afraid of snakes, he turned into a snake-killer. He was obsessed and excluded no species. If it crawled, he would dive on it and bite down on it and shake it until he was sure it was dead.

One Thanksgiving morning I was hunting quail with my Dad and Uncle Mabry Dorr in the loess bluff hills of Tallahatchie County, Miss.

Dad's old settler, Kate, pointed a covey on top of a big hill that overlooked a gravel pit. When we shot, one bird fell and rolled into a deep hole dug to determine how far down it was to the gravel.

The hole was about 3 feet square and about 6 feet deep. Old Kate saw the bird fall into the hole, so she dived right in, picked up the birds and reared up on the walls of the hole so I could reach her and help her out.

Suddenly she dropped the bird and let out a yell. I realized she was stepping all over a big timber rattler. He bit her twice before we could get her out. Within minutes she was unable to walk.

I dragged her to my house, which was just under the bluff. I had no idea it would do any good, but I cut off as much hair as I could from the wound sites, squeezed them in hopes of removing some of the venom.

As an afterthought, I soaked her legs in kerosene — a cure-all, according to the old folks.

She did not move from her house for at least 24 hours.

All I could do was to force a little water into her mouth from time to time. Late the next afternoon she slowly crawled out of her house, walked around rather stiff-legged and seemed quite all right. By the next day she was frisky again and ready for another hunt.

All dogs are not so lucky. In the same territory, Hot, a young pointer belonging to a friend, stuck his nose in a sink hole covered with beech tree roots and was struck by what must have been a huge timber rattler.

Hot staggered back to us and within 10 minutes was dead, proving that not all snake bites to dogs are non-fatal.

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