There are times when a hunter find something even better than whatever he or she was hunting for: a rarely-seen animal, reptile or insect. Outdoorsman Jim Mize shares stories of his most treasured sightings.
Rare sightings of the creatures of the forest are as precious as gems. These animals may be elusive, mostly moving at night to hide their presence. Or they may actually be scarce, their numbers few and their habitat remote. In either event, just seeing one of these wild gems is a memory you can cherish, bring back in your thoughts at any time, and savor like fine jewelry.
One such memory I recall from a cold wintry evening is over forty years old. Snow had fallen in the mountains and I was back in a wilderness area tracking deer in the new snow. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.
Moving slowly and quietly on an old roadbed, I glimpsed something slipping between leafless, gray hardwoods. An older doe, followed by two yearlings, eased steadily along, moving without stopping to feed. Another hour of daylight gave them time to find good cover to bed down if that was their intent.
The older doe kept glancing back as if something followed. Often, a buck will lag behind does and let them make safe the way ahead. So I remained frozen, both in stature and increasingly in temperature, and waited.
Perhaps three minutes passed before another form appeared almost as if emerging from a fog. A bobcat, low and looking forward, followed the same trail as the deer. Clearly, he was hunting.
The bobcat passed before me, looking neither left nor right. His eyes were fixed ahead. He had the scent in his nostrils and crossed my field of view at the same pace as the deer.
Neither before nor since have I had the opportunity to witness a bobcat hunting. On cold evenings in a deer stand, I still think back to that late-November night hoping to see another.
This big cat was photographed stalking its prey on a hunter's trail cam on land owned by Rethink:Rural's parent company, Rayonier Inc.
More recently, I had another rare sighting, at least rare to me. I stood hip-deep in a cold mountain stream, teasing trout from the shadows.
Something moved next to my feet and I looked down to see a foot-long salamander, known locally as hellbenders. Creeping slowly across the bottom, its toes gripping small rocks, it crawled right up to my feet.
This hellbender looked prehistoric and with its round head and wide mouth, it appeared jovial. Stopping my fishing pursuit momentarily, I eased my waterproof camera down to his level and took his picture. It seemed neither perturbed nor anxious by my intrusion, simply creeping along until it entered another shadow. Then it was gone again.
Now both my memory and photo file testify to his sighting. The photo provides proof and lets me study this rare creature down to his alien-like toes.
One of the photos the author managed to take of the "hellbender" he saw while fishing.
I saw a second hellbender that season, but none since or before, other than in aquariums. The second sighting did nothing to diminish the value of the first, as it was brief and just a glimpse. If anything, it made the first more rare as I had plenty of time to study something I had seen so infrequently.
Such moments add color to time outdoors, a side story to whatever was the main pursuit. The old adage of going outdoors just to be there becomes even more true when the trip allows you to witness nature’s elusive moments.
Whether sightings such as these are of rare or simply secretive animals, they remain treasures in your memory. Perhaps they are more valuable than gems, as they are never lost and can be passed along as surely as the prettiest trinket.
Have you ever had a rare sighting? Tell us about it in the comments below.