Rain and Rotten Luck
Photos and Text
By Larry Dablemont
Well, it looks like a cobra.
I happened across a hog-nosed viper, or spreading adder, one of the most harmless of all snakes, but the meanest-acting, most dangerous-looking of all Ozark reptiles.
The one I found looked to be about 20 inches long, and they don’t get much longer than that. They spread their head and neck just like a cobra, and hiss and spit out foul-smelling venomous-looking stuff, and then eventually, they bite themselves, writhe in agony in a fake death, then roll over on their back and play dead. You can’t get the snake to bite you, but they look like they would.
In the back of their mouths are short fangs, which contain actual venom. That venom is weak, used only to stun and kill toads, which is their main food source. The way the fangs are situated, they couldn’t be use to strike mammals the way a copperhead or rattlesnake can.
Their dangerous looks and actions get many hog-nosed snakes killed, but those who know about their phony act let them live. Trouble is, they do indeed look like a cobra, and they will raise their bodies, with flattened head, several inches above the ground when first confronted.
In the past 40 years of hunting wild gobblers, I have never missed two in one season, and have never had a spring that I haven’t killed at least a couple of gobblers, since I use to hunt in both Arkansas and Missouri, and occasionally another state or two before spring ended.
What happened was, I struggled to find a gobbler without hens. As a matter of fact, I never saw a season this late with so many wild turkeys still in flocks. I finally got three gobblers going in the deep woods one day just before noon.
When gobblers are together, you have to fool three sets of eyes and with their eyes, that isn’t easy. But they came in under the brow of a hill, three toms, all gobbling, and I knew they were only 50 or 60 yards below me.
For some reason, one of them, or another one from somewhere else, came around me, running at a good clip. If he had been to my left, I might have killed him, but he was behind me to my right, and as a right-handed shooter, you can’t have a much worse situation than trying to turn that way and shoot a gobbler which is going to put his head down and take off like a racehorse.
He got to within 15 steps or less, and I knew I might just let him go and possibly still get one of the gobblers in front of me to come on up. But it is hard to look out the corner of your eye at a long beard and a bright red head and maintain your composure. I knew better, but I just couldn’t contain myself. I struggled to get my shotgun barrel around and blast him as he reacted, but he was much faster than me. I squeezed off a shot at his head and neck just as he put a 12-inch cedar tree trunk between us.
The cedar tree may die, but the gobbler left untouched, and the toms down below me decided to head for distant woodlands. I kicked rocks and stumps and cussed my luck and asked God how he could let something like that happened to someone who used to go to church on a regular basis. I heard thunder off in the distance and that calmed me down considerably, so I apologized! I know God has more important things to do than help me shoot better, and I told Him that.
It didn’t help. I missed another one the next day, and may eventually tell that story too, but right now it hurts too much to recall it. If I am to learn humility at this stage in my life, I reckon I can handle it, but it ain’t easy.
Over the years some of the biggest crappie and walleye and white bass I have ever caught have come from all-night excursions on my pontoon boat, especially on Bull Shoals, where threadfin shad are attracted to the lights, and huge fish congregate beneath those bait-fish schools. When the moon begins to come back, night fishing for bass with big spinner baits will be in its prime. And if the rivers ever get back to normal, float fishing for smallmouth should be great. If my fishing goes the way of my turkey hunting, I might not catch a fish until the tomatoes are ripe.
E-mail me with your sympathies if you would like, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613.