As Outdoor-Types, We Just Want to Be Surprised
By Mark S. McDonald
Every time we thread an earthworm on a hook and drop it next to the pier … every time we climb into a deer blind to wait for sunrise … every time we hunker in a rag set squinting in the morning sun for just one more flight of sandhill cranes, or cast to a tailing redfish … Yes, we are hoping to hook a fish or take a big buck.
But more than that, we hope to be surprised.
Remember the night in Little League when you swung at the first curve ball you had ever seen, and somehow hit a single into left field? Remember asking Nancy to dance, half-hoping she would decline, but she said yes? The outdoor experience is like that.
We wake up at dark-thirty, pull on boots that feel like a bag of nails, skip breakfast and rush to our favorite hidey-hole, just hoping that giant large mouth will suddenly forget how she got so big and strike your spinner-bait.
In fact, we will go to almost any length to be surprised, even if it means we spring the surprise on ourselves. Even if the truth gets stretched like Jerry Jones’ face.
Lochness Monster … Sasquatch … Abominal Snowman … As much as we’d like to believe these larger-than-life myths, they’re no more real than a Kardashian wedding vow.
A couple years ago, our human desire to nudge Mother Nature toward the fantastic took on a life of its own. Stories had been circulating throughout Alabama and southern Georgia that a hunter shot a wild swine measuring 12 feet long and weighing 1,000 pounds, had tusks 9 inches long. Then there was a story of Hog II rumored to be even larger, with lips to match Angelina Jolie’s.
Film producers from the United Kingdom hustled across the pond to the pineywoods of Dixie where they convinced a pair of drawling stooges to show viewers where the epic hog was buried. Good Ol’ Boy #1 cranks up his front-end loader while GOB #2 narrates the footage.
The fellas dig up a hog carcass, all right, the remains of a domestic oinker. A beast from the barnyard.
Domestic hogs do indeed reach weights approaching 1,000 pounds and 9 feet in length, the National Hog Registry confirmed, but not in the wild. Hung by their hooves, a domestic carcass can stretch another four feet. Not in the wild.
Wildlife biologist Rick Taylor, who literally wrote the book on wild hogs, will tell you a wild hog seldom reach 250 pounds. So once again, Mother Nature sniggers into her palm, as rumors of the 400-pound feral hog, the black panther and Bigfoot make the rounds.
“They exist only in the fevered imagination of people who want so desperately to believe,” a writer friend emailed, “they ignore reality.” Which is to say, if you cover hunting and fishing long enough, you develop a bullshit meter more sensitive than Al Sharpton.
Most recently photos of two separate rattlesnakes – both said to measure more than 8 feet long — have been circulating the Internet, creating all manner of gee-whiz and gol-dangs.
Reportedly, one man offered a $5,000 bet to anyone who could validate the snake and its photo. The bet was on. Or at least it was until the stipulation that the snake be alive and the measurement be witnessed.
Claims suddenly fell silent, and the website removed the thread. You don’t have to be a Las Vegas illusionist to know that camera position and the way the serpent is held can distort the angle of the dangle.
If you spent any time beyond your own front porch, chances are, you have seen a sizable rattlesnake. To hear one rattle close by is enough to make a back-row Methodist take communion. Out hiking or hunting, when you nearly step on Mr. Noshoulders, a three-footer looks like battleship anchor cable, with fangs. But a 9-footer?
I view these tales as playful fun, and part of the outdoor experience. No need to file suit in the high court of political correctness. The truth will be stretched so long as there are hunters and fishermen. That’s why God gave us campfires.
Mark McDonald, past president of the Texas Outdoor Writers, escaped starvation while variously covering hunting, fishing and conservation for five major dailies in Texas. His next book, “They Gave Us Baseball: Now Look What We’ve Done” will be released in early 2015.