April 27, 2001
Often while discussing outdoor experiences with seasoned outdoor veterans, we have agreed that if one spends a lot of time in the outback one will build a history of witnessing unusual, even bizarre sights.
Many anglers have, while wrestling a bluegill, had the fish gulped down by a bass big enough to swallow the little bream. Check off one strange happening. Others have fired a single shot at a rising quail and had 2 or 3 birds fall. Ensuing boasts notwithstanding, the shot was exceptional luck and thus memorable.
A couple of strange occurrences come to mind from my memory bank. One, at first observation, doesn't sound so rare; two squirrels killed with one shot. But as is often the case, the circumstances made the experience almost unbelievable.
I was tromping around a brushy draw trying to flush out a rabbit. The depression was grown up with knee-high briars and scattered sweet gum saplings, the largest some 4 inches in diameter.
Despite my noisy meanderings, I glanced ahead and saw a squirrel on the side of one of the larger saplings. I was surprised because he was a long way from the "squirrel woods" which consisted of hickory and oak trees, the fruits of which are preferred squirrel food. Squirrel hunters know one doesn't see many squirrels in sweet gum trees, much less a seedling far out in a briar patch.
But there he was nevertheless, and I raised my shotgun and harvested him for the supper table. Wading through the briars to pick him up, I came across another dead squirrel, freshly shot, lying in the thick cover beneath a slender sweet gum; a mere sprout. Thinking I had perhaps mis-marked my target, I continued on to the tree where I had seen the squirrel appear and there he was, graveyard dead beneath that useless sweet gum.
My shot had taken an unseen squirrel as he clung innocently to an equally worthless sprout in perfect alignment with my intended prey. A squirrel in a briar patch is most unusual, but two? And both downed with one shot? Another odd happening was detailed to me by an airplane pilot, a friend so trustworthy that I would trust him with my life, which in fact I often did as he piloted for me during flights over the vast mountains and deep canyons cut by the Green and the Yampa and the Little Snake rivers in western Colorado.
David vs. Goliath?
On this day he had another passenger, probably another government agent looking for marauding coyotes that were killing domestic sheep. They spotted an antelope, himself carrying a passenger. Clinging fast to the antelope's back was a very large golden eagle. Golden eagles are the largest eagles in our country; large enough to kill newborn calves, elk calves, fawns, lambs and animals of similar size. But a full grown antelope?
My airborne friends chuckled at the audacity and appetite of this eagle. He clinched his large talons into the back of the antelope and held on tight for the ride of his life. Antelope are the fastest land animal around and this one was flying low – trying to loose his attacker.
Later in the day, after making their rounds, my pilot friend made a pass over the territory where they had seen the strange sight. There down below they found the eagle eating fresh antelope. He had killed an animal several times his size, and one he had to ride for perhaps hours over many miles. I marveled, and later surmised that the eagle worked his talons deeper between the antelope's spine vertebra with each jump until they reached the spinal cord. This past fall while stalking bull elk, I surprised a giant golden eagle when I rounded a bend in that same Colorado rimrock country. Though I know it is illegal to kill an eagle, I readied my rifle in case this one was a relative of the bold eagle that dined on big things like grown antelopes.