I was eighteen years old, and had recently killed my first deer. Dad and I had taken his old truck and found our way to a nice secluded spot, where we parked it in a new clearcut in the early afternoon. The cut was narrow there, with one side against a thick mass of young pine trees and the other side abutting a thin strip of mature pine trees. On the far side of the mature pines were some more thick young pines.
Dad and I took our climbing stands and walked to the mature pines, and through them. A dim trail ran along the opposite edge of the pines; Dad went to the right and I went left. I found a likely-looking spot, set up my climbing stand, and clumb up a tree. As usual, I sat in my stand and waited for a deer to show up.
The day waned, shadows grew longer, and the woods got still as evening pressed closer. Not a leaf moved, as there was no breeze. It was a magic time to be out there in the woods, and I was full of anticipation that something was about to happen.
Then, something did.
All of a sudden, I heard some noises indicating that something was moving nearby. I quickly looked in that direction, but all I saw was a bush waving, showing that it had been recently disturbed. How the critter had gotten past me without being seen was a bit mysterious, but animals get past hunters all the time, so that was only mildly freaky. It was still freaky, though.
Suddenly, the peace of the forest was sundered by a blood-chilling shriek; one of the most primal and heart-quailing cries I have ever heard. Right now I am safely ensconced inside of a building on my own property, and 26 years have passed since that happened - and I still get goosebumps and a case of heeby-jeebies and shifty-eyes when I think of that screech. It seemed part human, part animal, part spirit, and completely evil.
Then came another shriek, just as ominous as the first. Some more ruckus in the brush, too - maybe. That noise was vague and ethereal, and hard to nail down. Like a ghost.
My heart froze and shrank. My eyes bulged in their sockets. Every hair on my body did its best imitation of a cactus spine. I clutched my 44 carbine rifle more tightly, wondering how effective it might be against enemies from hell. My body became flooded with more adrenaline than I ever thought possible. I tried to simultaneously shrink to invisibility and expand to monster-threatening proportions.
I trembled in my tree, my movements and expressions defining "furtive."
Problems: Freaky stuff happening. All alone. Getting dark. Crazy shrieking between me and the truck. No flashlight. Guns don't kill demons. And I'm up a tree.
Well, I'm not certain that I actually ran, but I won't say that I didn't. I do know that I came down that tree and left my stand to be retrieved in the daylight, and wasted no time getting out of the woods to the truck.
Dad hadn't even heard it, which seemed even more eerie at the time. His suggestion was that it was probably a cottontail rabbit being killed by a predator. Apparently, rabbits sometimes scream horribly in blood-curdling fashion. All I know for sure is that I went back and got my stand during daylight hours, and didn't go back.
Lost or Turned Around? Who Cares!
I remember Dad saying that he'd never been lost in the woods, but that he'd been "turned around" before. To me, that seemed like semantics... but I guess he meant that he always eventually found his way to where he wanted to be. If so, then I've never been lost either - but I've sure been turned around.
The spookiest time was when Dad, Ken, and I went to hunt near some big burly rut scrapes in some yellow pine woods in Ocala National Forest. It was our first time hunting the area, so we didn't know it well. I took my climber, found a tree, and climbed up. I spooked some deer in the process and then stayed in my stand until dark. When I came down, I started hot-footing it back to the truck - or so I thought.
In the open woods, there were no paths to follow... and things look different in the dark. I'm proud to say that I can usually find my way very well and can retrace my steps very closely, but that time was an exception. Before I knew it, I didn't know where the heck I was.
Okay, so I had a rifle and a brain, and there would be no tragedy if I really did get lost - but it's still a creepy feeling. I hollered for Dad, hoping he would shout back so I could get my bearings. No answer; more foreboding.
I fired three shots, as that was our pre-arranged signal for when we needed assistance. I expected to hear a gun shot, or the truck horn blowing, in reply.
There was no answer.
Standing in the woods all alone in the dark not knowing which way to go, it's easy to panic. I was close. I guessed at a direction and headed that way. Every now and then, I would stop and shout - and fail to hear a reply. Oh man.
Then I heard some voices and saw some lights in the distance, and headed that way. It soon became apparent that I was approaching a noisy rabble of pseudo-hunters rather than Dad's truck, and that seemed like a bad idea. Rude, unintelligible shouts and other signs indicated that these weren't my kind of folks, and that approaching them out of the dark night with gun in hand might be unwise. I hesitated.
Finally, I heard the faint sound of a truck horn drift through the woods. I guessed at a direction and hoofed it that way. As I neared the truck, more horn blowing and shouting helped me zero in on it, and I was soon back where I belonged.
They'd never heard my shouts, and claimed that the sounds of my three shots had blended together to sound like just one shot. Whatever. I was just glad it was over.
That one wasn't all that spooky, but I sure as heck didn't like it and more than once I felt a sense of possible, if not impending, disaster.
What About You?
I hope you'll take some time to tell us about your own spooky experiences in the woods. I'm sure many of you have had experiences that will make mine pale in comparison.
- Russ Chastain