Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Animals perform “Great Escapes’ in the wild, Brownspur, too

We were tooling along headed for church last Sunday and as we rounded the curve before the Bogue Phalia bridge, a coyote darted out of the deep roadside ditch into the road and, seeing the car, veered back right – but he was already on the bridge, with a waist-high concrete railing on either side. He was dead meat!

I am not a cruel man, you will understand. I have nearly flipped the car to dodge a butterfly, and have run approaching pickups off the road to straddle small loggerhead turtles.

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 But we have a rule about certain things in the roadway: one squushes poisonous snakes, and terminates coyotes if possible. As an explanation, I have been struck three times by poisonous snakes, and we do not call housecats “cats” out here at Brownspur; we call them “coyote bait.”

I have seen coyotes come onto a neighbor’s porch to take a kitty cat, and they are also death on small dogs, as well as roadrunners, the which we ain’t got any more of out here. See?

The coyote shifted into afterburner, but didn’t have a chance with a Merc. I didn’t want to run slap over him in a low-slung car, so my choice was, “which fender do I whack him with?”  He veered to the left, so I stomped it.

The wild canine had never looked back, and he wasn’t your typical scrawny, pore coyote: he was plumb healthy, near’bout fat! And smart.  

At the last second, he leaped upon the bottom bridge rail, and launched himself over the side!

It must have been a 25 or 30-foot drop. We were not over the water yet, so he was falling into 8-foot-high ragweeds and redvines. It was a Great Escape!

You have to admire those type adventures, and I’ve seen many. We once had a lesser shrike who had made the backyard his hunting grounds, dining on smaller birds like hummers, sparrows, martins, and wrens.  

There was a length of chain-link fence there, mostly overgrown with vines.  I happened to be watching when the shrike dived after a wren, and the small brown bird headed full speed for the fence. I swear that wren actually closed her eyes as she zipped full-speed through a hole that was too small for fast-pursuing shrikes! The gray and white predator bounced to the ground, completely unconscious. A Great Escape!

I was sitting in a deer stand on the high bluff bank of Montgomery Island once morning when the water was fairly deep over the sandbar between the high bank and the willow brake.  

The hounds had struck and were coming through the willows, so I got ready, but I saw only a doe and fawn bounding toward me. I could tell that the fawn was sorely winded, and just as they got opposite me, the doe made an abrupt starboard turn and dashed into the water, out of sight of the pursuing hounds.

She nudged the fawn out far enough that its nose was barely sticking out of the water, then she squatted down so that only her nose showed, too. The dogs were quickly there, but seeing no deer they kept baying on south, assuming the deer had too. A Great Escape!

Years ago, one of my tractor drivers, plowing soybeans, waved me down on the turnrow. He was highly excited.  

“Something at the edge of the woods with a long tail growls at me when I turn around,” he shouted. “Lemme go get my rifle,” I yelled, assuming wild dogs, which will attack humans.

I hustled back to the house and grabbed my 30/06. Back at the field, I saw Herbert driving at high speed with his cultivator raised. Right behind him bounded a khaki-colored long-tailed cat: a panther (yes, I DO know that the game & fish people say we ain’t got none in MS!).

I slammed on the brakes and rolled out with the rifle, and the big cat turned across the rows for a pasture fence, which it jumped, with me in pursuit. I also vaulted the fence, and dropped to one knee to shoot the panther, which I figured had rabies, acting like that.

It stopped broadside in the open pasture, 30 yards away.  I looked at it through the scope, and it looked plumb healthy. A house was in the background so I decided to let it take one more step before I fired.

But the panther laid down, disappearing in the deep grass. After a couple of minutes, I stood and approached to fire. But the cat was gone; it had lain down in a water furrow, then crawled away unseen. Another Great Escape!