Sportsmen face many outdoor dangers in Louisiana
Venturing into the woods during the hottest months of the year can produce some delicious foods, but that is when the most dangerous animals are active. Yet nothing will stop me from my fun summer activities like daytime frogging, wade-fishing secluded river ponds, scouting for deer, harvesting fruits and hunting mushrooms.
Last year I was able to harvest the two biggest rattlesnakes I ever laid eyes on in one day while seeking mushrooms and hogs. Or should I say, they laid eyes on me. However, I struck first to get two beautiful hides and some of the tastiest meat available in the wild.
I’ve had most of my many close encounters with angry mother bears with cubs during the summers when they are roaming around not used to seeing other people in the hot months. It’s now to the point where it is actually uncommon to not see a bear in a full day of exploring. The major problem during the summer is that the undergrowth is so thick, that by the time a bear is spotted its often less than 20 yards away.
Last season I heard some strange noises up above me while in a cutover during an April turkey bow hunt. Before I even had a chance to see what was up in the tree, I heard the eerie clacking jaw noises of the mother bear that was standing on her back legs. It was cubs making noise in a treetop above. I saw that same group of bears several times that week as I found a hen turkey on a nest, but never saw any gobblers.
And don’t expect the water creatures to stick to their aquatic lagoons during the warm months. I often see alligators just sitting in the middle of the dry woods and on trails. Usually they are on hog paths waiting for a piglet. Last summer I ran right next to one while chasing after hogs in the middle of the woods on a daytime frogging trip. I never knew that big 8 footer was sitting there until I watched my headcam video a week later.
Usually the alligators won’t mess with me when I’m wading in the water daytime frogging. Yet, last year I had a massive alligator explode up hidden under duckweed snap at me when I stepped right next to it walking in knee deep water.
Once while I was stalking hogs about 10 yards from a pond, a big alligator charged through submerged shrubs and onto the water’s edge very angry at me. At first I thought it was a large hog exploding from cool water, until all the earth being moved was coming my way. I later found out that gator had babies nearby, which is when they really get aggressive.
Still it’s the snakes that present the biggest threat in my opinion. Nothing is scarier than when I accidently step on vipers without seeing them because I only wear old running shoes. It’s the highly camouflaged copperheads that remain hidden the best, but those moccasins blend in very well too.
Back during my high school and college years, I used to catch and sell lizards, snakes, turtles, beetles and frogs for my job. I’d go alone every night to the furthest locations of swamps where others didn’t go to fill my cages with critters. Busting through shoulder high briar patches and going in waist deep water left me home bloodied and bitten up from head to toe nightly. My legs looked like I had 3rd degree burns year round from all of the hundreds of pickers that stuck me nightly.
Fortunately, in the days before I used a cell phone when no one knew where I was venturing off to, I never got bitten by a poisonous snake. However, getting bit by non-poisonous snakes was a nightly occurrence; often several times a night because snakes yielded the highest pay. Still it was all the stinging and biting bugs that hurt the most especially the dreaded wheel bug.
I only sold non-poisonous snakes, so the only poisonous snake I’d ever harvest was the canebrake rattlesnake because those are one of my favorite foods. Still it was the water moccasins that always came within inches of me since I was often walking in ditches looking for tree frogs. Catching lizards sleeping in all of the tall brush at night meant there was no way to see what you were stepping on beneath the branches. Which was scary since I only wore old shoes. Wearing boots was pointless since I had to cross many 6 feet deep canals.
Stepping on snakes is one thing, but reaching into rotten logs and feeling a snake always freaked me out more. Still that was the only way to dig out the big beetles I would sell. The snakes don’t appreciate someone’s hands reaching into their lair and breaking it apart. Still catching hundreds of beetles from a single rotten stump or tree made for some fun days on the job.
Luckily, when it comes to rattlesnakes, they alert you before you step on them – well usually! On my first day of hog hunting during last year’s shotgun September nutria season, a massive rattler as long as me didn’t make a sound as I walked right over the massive snake. I jumped as fast as ever when I realized what I was walking over as it began to coil up into a strike position.
I couldn’t believe I didn’t get to down a hog that day after several close pig encounters. But to my excitement, I came across another giant canebreak rattler that afternoon. This was a beautiful silver-colored one that alerted first by rattling its 15 buttons.
The next day I struck down a nice sow hog for a picture taken with the snake hides that I self-tan.
I got another rattler for the pot a couple weeks later while hunting pigs. Amazingly I found a shed and caught a nice snapping turtle after downing a hog. That was one productive weekend.
The pigs aren’t really any danger unless I walk up on their nest. When I see a big pile of brush stacked several feet high I become extremely cautious. The only times I’ve been charged by an unwounded pig is when I’ve accidently stumbled across their nest.
I’ve seen many piglet nests which are easiest to notice in palmetto woods. The sow will pile up chomped off palmetto leaves for her young. If the pile of leaves is still green, it’s time to watch your backside!
Be sure to never harm king snakes since they eat poisonous snakes. Last summer I witnesses one swallow up a water moccasin that was nearly the same size as the king snake itself. King snakes do sell for a lot of money and aren’t as aggressive as others I caught, so I used to love finding them. However, they still leave a good mark when they bite you.
Read the regulations
Remember, the WMA hog hunting regulations are not only listed in the hunting pamphlet but many of the details on the specific crow and nutria seasons allowing public-land pig hunting are listed in the trapping pamphlet. Even the WMA raccoon and opossum hunting regulations aren’t listed in the hunting pamphlet but are in the trapping pamphlet. The details on recreational snake regulations are found in the huge several hundred page title 56 and 76 documents. The main authorities who studied the documents and listed the specific codes told me canebrake rattlers are legal to harvest for food. Keep in mind eastern diamond back rattlesnakes along with many others are prohibited to take. It’s always best to call on the phone like I do to find out any specific regulations.
Still I never feel I ever need to carry any type of weapon for protection in Louisiana. Next month I go to Colorado where I bear hunt alone. Being awoken with a bear near the tent and stalking those big bruins with my recurve with no firearm is always more frightening than anything I’ve experienced in the South. However, not having to worry about stepping on snakes up there is nice.
In Louisiana, I leave all snakes alone unless I’m going to eat it, so luckily it’s only the biggest canebrake rattlers that have to fear me. In the coming weeks, I’ll be on the hunt for giant purple muscadines, maypops and golden chanterelles but also hoping to hear a dinner bell rattle beneath my feet.