“Red touches yellow, kill a fellow. Red touches black, friend of Jack.” Remember that jingle? If not, remember it now! After all, your life may depend on it... That having been duly noted, now onto my tale - a true tale at that!
Recently, while turkey hunting in Lamar County near Purvis, my son was having fits with one heckuva smart gobbler. Not to brag, but Daniel happens to be one of the best turkey hunters I know … because he learned from his dad (and if I ever find out who that is, I’ll choke the guy. Just kidding Regina, my wife, just kidding!
Nonetheless, after setting up on this bird all morning, Daniel made the perfect call that turned the tom in his direction. “I looked around for a good tree (to sit against and break his outline),” Daniel remembers, “and when I found one, I scraped away the straw and leaves to minimize the noise when the turkey came in close. Then I plopped down.”
Once seated, something other than the gobbler grabbed Daniel’s attention. There was a slight rustling in the leaves he’d pushed aside, so he cautiously glanced down, thinking maybe he’d spot a lizard or something like that. He saw nothing, though, and when the turkey gobbled again, he eased his eyes up and raised his shotgun to his knee.
“I heard the noise again,” Daniel recalled, “so I tried to keep one eye in the direction of the turkey while I scanned the leaves with the other. That ain’t easy, either,” he said with a chuckle, “especially when the noise was on my left and the bird was on my right.”
I have to agree it was kind of funny, but at the same time it really wasn’t … because he spotted a snake in the grass, one that had caused the rustling in the leaves in the first place. Only inches away from his leg, the snake had markings of red, yellow and black. At first, he thought the snake was harmless. “Awe,” it’s a scarlet king snake,” he said to himself. “That’s pretty cool.”
When his attention turned back to the turkey, Daniel began to silently recite a simple jingle his mother, Regina, had taught him as a child: “Red on black, friend of Jack. Red on Yellow, kill a fellow…”
“Oh, (crap!), that’s a coral snake,” Daniel realized. Fortunately, there was a small stick within reach, so Daniel hatched a plan. Not wanting to spook the turkey, which was by then almost in sight, Daniel eased his arm over the snake, picked up the stick with his left hand and pinned the snake down. Problem solved. Well, almost...
It should be noted here that Daniel “probably” would not have attempted such a stunt had the snake been a moccasin, a cottonmouth or a coral snake, all of which have hollow fangs. A coral snake does not, and it must “chew” on its victim a moment to inject its powerful venom.
Nonetheless, two agonizing minutes later, with Daniel still holding the snake down, the gobbler practically walked in front of his gun barrel. “I had to wait ‘til the turkey got that close,” he explained, “because I couldn’t swing my gun with one hand.”
At the time, Daniel’s choice of guns was a 10-gauge that seemed to weigh 50 pounds. “I was holding pressure on the snake with one hand and trying to swing the gun with the other, so I had limited mobility,” Daniel said. “I had to wait for the turkey to get right in front of me. And when it did, the bird was close, REAL close.”
Once the turkey lined up just right, Daniel squeezed the trigger and blew the turkey’s head off, literally. As for the coral snake, well, let’s just say it lost its head, too.
The hard-earned, mature gobbler weighed 21 pounds, both spurs were over an inch long and it sported a magnificent beard of 11 9/16 inches. When asked if he had anything to add, Daniel modestly had only this to offer: “I just want to say to all turkey hunters that snakes are on the move now, so be careful where you park your butt.”
Ain’t it the truth! And that goes for all you outdoor types. Pond and creek fishermen – all bank fishermen - need be aware of water moccasins. Hikers should be on the lookout for coral snakes, copperheads and rattlers, as well as the many other venomous critters that wait to assail you, including biting and stinging bugs. In short, get out and enjoy Mississippi’s great outdoors, but be careful. Be diligent, be prepared and have fun. Also, when you go, take a kid with you … every time you can.
Hattiesburg native Phil DiFatta is a lifelong outdoorsman who has written a newspaper column since 1982. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.