Bill and The Bobcat Blues

IMG_5739I’m not a very good storyteller. Mostly because I have such an affinity for the truth and most often the truth does not make a good story. This lack of an ability or maybe a desire to embellish may come form 13 years of writing police incident reports where, “Just the facts.” was expected. The old cliché goes: truth can be stranger than fiction. In this case it is. I couldn’t have made this up if I tried.

Our tale starts near Pearsall, Texas. It was supposed to be one of those fancy media hunts where the sponsors arrange first-rate accommodations in an area saturated with critters and provide fine shooting firearms and plenty of ammunition. One out of four is what we got. Remington supplied several nice rifles. As for the accommodations, we were housed in an old farm house with paint peeling off the walls and flea infested furniture.

We were hunting feral hogs, coyotes and bob cats and after four days our take amounted to two bobcats, two coyotes and three hogs. The hogs had been hunted so hard the only reliable way to see one was with a spot light. As for the coyotes, well, I found two tracks in four days. One I’ll admit was moderately fresh. The other; a fossilized relic.

But this story is not about how fly by night outfitters can take advantage of companies looking to gain some press on their products.  Still, if I may, let me interject something.  If you arrive at the lodge and find no “grab and grin” photos on the wall, that’s a clue.  If the zero range amounts to two 50 pound bags of corn thrown over a folding card table, that’s another clue. If after two days of hard hunting and seeing no coyotes your outfitter begins to spout stories of all the coyotes he saw on the ride out to pick you up, that’s another clue.  And finally, if the only critter sign you see amounts to petrified poop and crusty old tracks; you do not need any more clues.

Enough whining.

Few will argue that Bill Bynum is one of the foremost experts on predator hunting and calling in the world. I had wanted to hunt with Bill for a long time and was glad he was present at this fiasco. The evening of the first day Bill said, “Boy, grab your gear.  We’re going to go kill a bob cat.”

We drove about a mile from camp and stopped along a brushy creek.  As the guide, no let me re-phrase that, as the man piloting the truck disappeared, Bill whispered to sit down and be still. He lit up a cigarette and keenly watched the wind carry the smoke away as he looked into the thick brush.

“We’re gonna go right down next to the creek and set up. Be ready, don’t move a muscle. Them cats spook if you blink.” Bill whispered as he crushed out his cigarette and placed the butt in his pocket. I followed and he motioned for me to set up at the base of a crooked oak indicating the direction I should watch.  Bill arranged himself behind me, facing opposite, and we became one with the woods.

As I became immersed in my surroundings wondering how many skeeters it would take to drain enough blood from me to cause unconsciousness, Bill let out a squall on his predator call and a chill shot down my spine and ended up in my feet. I jerked like I’d peed on an electric fence. (Go ahead, admit it; you’ve done it too.) Bill cast an evil-eye my direction.

Ten seconds later I look up and a bobcat is charging me. It stopped just across the path at about 20 feet with its eyes boring into my sole. I knew a slow deliberate movement would be fraught with disaster so with all the dexterity and speed I could muster, I swung the rifle on the cat and when the cross-hairs covered fur, pulled the trigger. Bill had not seen the cat and the roar of the .221 Fireball lifted not just his feet but his ass-end off the ground. (I’m pretty sure Bill has peed on an electric fence or two in his time.)

“What was it?”  Bill shouted.

“Bobcat!”

“Did ya get him?”  Bill asked as gravity finally pulled his body back to earth.

“Yep.” I said. “But the hit may not be good. He didn’t give me much time.”

We ambled on over to the spot and found blood and hair. “He won’t go far. Let’s give him a minute and think this out.” Bill said, pulling a cigarette from his pocket.  (Bill’s first step in sorting anything out, be it trailing up a wounded bob cat or preparing for a tax audit is to smoke a cigarette.) Two cigarettes later we took up the blood trail and in 30 yards we reached the steep bank of the creek. The blood had stopped.

The bank was about 20 feet above water and there was a deep under-cut on our side. Bill, being the cat-killing expert he is, surmised the wounded feline was hiding underneath, waiting in ambush. Just as I was beginning to get the picture that I was going to have to be the one to go over the bank first, Bill said, “There’s your cat.” He was pointing up into a huge, slanted oak tree that hung out over the creek. And there, on a limb, staring belligerently at us was my cat.

“I believe he’s hurt bad.”  Bill said. pulling another cigarette from the chest pocket of his camo shirt and that’s when I knew he was preparing to calculate our next move.  “If you shoot him here you’ll ruin your pelt. I bet if we just wait he’ll die there on that limb and you can crawl right up there and get him.” Three cigarettes later that cat was still there, opening his eyes every so often to give us that malicious glare.

“I’ve had enough of this!” Bill blurted as he picked up a stick and hurled it at the cat. The cat fell out of the tree and into the rushing water. “He’ll drown right there.” At first I thought Bill was right but the cat just kept flopping and squalling as he tried to make it to the bank on the other side. Finally he did and I watched through my riflescope as he lay completely motionless with his head resting on the bank. That’s when Bill had what I am sure he would consider a “good idea at the time.”

“Get a good stick, sneak around to the other side of the creek and go get your cat. I’m sure he’s dead. He ant moving but take a stick just in case. I’ll stay here and watch.”  Bill grinned, found him a stump and planted his lanky frame indicating the topic was closed for discussion.

As luck would have it, the only stick I could find with enough rigidity to even swat a fly was about four feet long and five inches in diameter.  (Were talking a log or at least firewood here.)  I wasn’t too concerned though, it would take me about 20 minutes to navigate to the other creek bank and by then I doubted I would need a stick.

IMG_5775When I reached the other side Bill yelled that the cat had not moved and he felt certain he was dead. I started the decent down the steep muddy bank and on my second step, slipped. When I came to a stop my feet were at the bobcat’s face which was no longer resting on the bank waiting for rigor mortise to set in.

“YeeeeOwwww!.”  Squalled the bob cat.

“YeeeeOwwww!” I echoed repeatedly as I began to frail the creek bank, water and my entire surroundings with a wooden club that looked like some weapon from the dark ages. Finally, I connected and the melee stopped.

I was wet and winded when Bill shouted more advice across the creek. I thought Bill said hold him under water with the stick but I wasn’t sure, mostly because Bill had been overcome by a fit of laughter that had consumed his entire body. This of course explains why he was flopping around on the other creek bank like a possessed, camouflaged clown. Had it been necessary for him to shoot in amongst us to save me from a serious mauling he would have been incapable.

I pushed the cat under the water until no more bubbles reached the surface. I timed it, waiting three minutes. Bill, now somewhat recovered from his diabolical fit, said, “You got him now boy! Get him out of the water and let’s go get another one.” I started to reach down and pick up the cat when something in the back of my mind said. “Self, this is not a good idea. Make sure the cat is dead before you pick it up.” So, I leaned over a flipped the bob cat on his sopping wet ear with my finger.

“YeeeOwww!”  Said the cat.

The explicatives that began to roll from my mouth would have embarrassed me even in a road house but they were drowned out by Bill’s second uncontrollable episode of laughter. The bank was too steep to run up, my stick was floating down the creek and I was weaponless. So, with no alternative, I grabbed the cat in a death grip around the neck with both hands and shoved him deep into the mud under the water. I stood there knee deep in water, choking a bob cat while my hunting partner wiped crocodile tears of laughter as he continually repeated, “Let him go, I’m sure he’s dead now!”

Ten minutes later I climbed out of the creek with my bob cat. This was my first “called-up” bob cat and if they are all like this, as far as I am concerned it can be my last. And that’s the truth!

Afterthought: It was a loss when Bill Bynum decided to no longer write for gun and hunting magazines. He was, to say the least, a character. Some called him the modern day Davy Crockett. To me, Bill was just another hillbilly. I hope some day we can hunt together again but if we do, Bill is fetching all the critters. The original version of this story appeared in April-June 2008 issue of Varmint Hunter Magazine