Sneak Preview of two chapters from 'Platte Valley Driftwood'
Below are two of the 101 chapters of the new book. All related to the outdoors, some will make you laugh while others might bring a tear. Every one of them will make you think, and most will help relive your own parallel journeys whether your home waterway is the Platte in Nebraska, or some other river, stream or creek anywhere in America.
Ch. 3...Coonskin Hat
While the fur market has bounced back some from the miserable prices of the last decade or more, it still has a long way to catch up to the glory days of the late 70s and early 80s.
An article I penned for my high school newspaper at North Bend spoke of classmates combing the countryside in the wee hours of the night searching for raccoons, which just happened to be fetching $40 apiece on the carcass.
I’m no economics major, but many items have more than doubled in price since then, and if coons were worth $80 to $100 today, you’d see a small army of trappers and hunters pursuing the masked critters. Including me.
No wonder you rarely saw a roadkilled raccoon on the highway in those days: the first vehicle along would pull over and hoist the lifeless animal into their trunk and deposit it in the freezer at home. A quick trip to the furbuyers up by Snyder would leave you with money for a couple tanks of gas.
As it is, today’s depressed market has left little monetary incentive to hunt or trap them, and raccoon populations have soared and become almost aggressive. This is not only seen in increased carnage on area highways, but also in frequent sightings in the field.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing the furry bundles as a diversion to the usual slow periods on the archery deer stand, but one encounter from maybe 25 years ago stands alone at the top of my list.
I was walking back to my rig after a late evening deer scouting session, when I surprised a young raccoon on a quiet old dirt lane. With nothing better to do, I joined chase and promptly ran him up a very small tree along the fenceline. Bored with the abbreviated pursuit, I decided to worry the varmint by climbing up the tree after him. It was short, probably a leafy young elm or ash, and just 15 to 20 feet tall with lots of nearly horizontal branches.
In no time, I was very close and he edged out on a limb maybe halfway up. I decided to finish this game by setting the tree in motion by swaying back and forth, and sending the masked critter on a short, educational trip. And as the whole tree shook, I could make out his profile in the dark, and saw him lose his balance and swing under the branch (for a second looking like a sloth), and then lose his grip and fall.
But in that same instant, a different and quite large and rather flexible bundle of fur landed directly on my head with some impact. In the scant second or two that followed, I could sense this other animal right itself and could feel its claws on my head and shoulders. She had landed with some impact and appeared momentarily stunned; her bushy tail hung over my face.
For an instant I froze, but then could take it no longer. I shook my shoulders and head about violently and the surprised animal bailed from my head to join her offspring rolling on the ground below.
Hey, I’ve always loved the history and romance of the mountain man era, but this was not my idea of a coonskin hat.
Thursday, I grabbed my longbow and headed out to squeeze in a 70-minute hunt after work. With the rifle season in progress, a bowhunter can still ply his trade if he bought one of the short-lived, expensive season choice buck permits, and of course I did.
With the healthy winds—and my relatively poor results in the past few days—I figured I had little to lose by sneaking through a big patch of CRP type grasses, hoping to find a buck hiding out in the middle of nowhere with his date. On a couple memorable occasions in the past, just such a tactic has worked quite well.
Just 20 minutes in, I see a pretty nice buck doing his best to keep a doe in this patch of tall grass far from any substantial timber. Such a location is ideal for a pair of lovebirds, as the buck usually has little competition from other suitors and most hunters are back in the woods (or in their mobile, heated blinds with automatic windows but again: another topic for another time).
Thanks to wet terrain and a consistent wind, within 15 minutes I was within 12 yards of the buck which had bedded downwind of his lady-friend shortly after I spied them. There was no getting closer without blowing the deal and there was too much grass to even consider an arrow shot at him while he was lying down. All I could see was his antlers and ears. It was my move.
My question was actually whether I would even take the shot at all. He was a decent 4x4 with fairly long and heavy brow tines (always a cool feature). His second and third tines were nothing to write home about, but the rack did spread to his eartips. He’d probably not make the Pope and Young book, but that’s not even been a consideration the past 20 years for me.
If this was my first buck permit that was burning a hole in my pocket, the decision would be easy. But the longer I sat there, waiting for the buck to stand as he’d been doing at intervals, the more I began second-guessing.
Yes, this was totally awesome that I’d slipped in so close and the wind direction was so consistent that I was confident even with a longbow that I was going to be able to seal the deal. No, this wasn’t a big enough buck to want to end my season on.
Yes, doing it on a stalk would make it so much cooler and who cared how big he was. No, I’ve still got Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations coming up for some more quality time.
Yes, I’ve now hunted 71 times and am quite frankly feeling a little tired. Actually a lot tired. No, I know of several better bucks that I assume are still alive and haven’t given up on them.
Yes, I want more deer meat. No, I don’t enjoy the actual butchering. And on it goes.
Finally, the decision came down to one final tiebreaker which clinched it. A few minutes later (and satisfied with my choice), the buck stood up broadside and looked straight away from me. I raised up on my knees, came to full draw, and picked a spot behind his front leg...and then quietly eased back off and melted back down to the ground, only ‘counting coup’ and nothing more.
There was great satisfaction (and only a little second guessing). Thirty seconds later, he looked my way, saw the darker form in the grass, and walked up to within about 6 yards of me crouching there before the light went on. The gig was now up, and he herded his doe out of there pronto. And I headed back to the rig with a little bit of a bounce in my own step and big smile on my face.
My tiebreaker? This spot is hard to access and would’ve required a tough quarter-mile drag by myself. And I wasn’t really up for that on this evening. But had he been bigger...