My father and I had a pack of beagle hounds that we used to run rabbits. They were a mixed pack, their leader being a Yellow Creek, aptly named “Old Yellar”, and a collection of Saddlebacks of various sizes and shapes, “Cleo”, “Willie” and “Keefer”. My daddy traded a .22 rifle for three of them and an old uncle gave me one that wouldn’t cooperate with him. Nothing more aggravating than a beagle that just won’t do right. While they may have been a motley sort of crew, they could really put the hammer on a rabbit. When they were all running hard it sounded like music to a dog man’s ears as they crossed the hills and hollows of south Mississippi putting pressure on a cottontail or a swamper to break into the open to give us a decent shot.
Our dog yard was about 150 yards from our house at the end of a well worn path through our garden and pasture. About twice a summer we would mow the pasture, so most of the time we followed the path back and forth to the dogyard because the grass was deep. In the summer it gave you a sense of safety from the snakes if you stayed on the path,….or so we thought.
One summer as a young boy, due to either being too busy during the day fishing or most likely due to teenaged procrastination it was nearly dark before I either remembered or was reminded that I needed to feed and water my dogs. Most of the time my daddy expected those dogs to be fed, water, and checked ahead of my own eating. He believed in and cared greatly for the well being of those dogs. I guess he figured he could birth another son easier than he could assemble another good pack of rabbit hounds. Well in being the obedient son I was, I gathered a bucket of Jim Dandy’s Finest dog feed and without a flashlight, I followed that narrow, well worn path through the garden and pasture to the dog yard and fed my hounds, checking on their well being. When I was satisfied that they were eating and doing well in their confines, I headed back to the house in the dark. There was just enough light to make out the gap in the grass where the path lay. On the way back to the house with only an empty bucket in my hand, I was stopped cold in my tracks by the unmistakable buzz of a rattlesnake. It’s hard to describe the buzz of a rattler in the dark, but the closest thing I can think of is one of those wind up toys we used to put in the palm of our hands to scare people when they shook our hands. High pitched, high frequency, non-stop buzz,…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I immediately envisioned a 10 ft long rattler with a 20 rattles and 2″ long fangs ready to inject me leading to a painful death, followed by being swallowed by this monster of the darkness. I would never be found, no trace, just an empty dog food bucket on the pathway. To say that my heart lept into my throat is an understatement and even as I write this my memories are causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. As hard as I tried, I could not pinpoint whether the snake was ahead, behind, or beside me. It sounded like he was everywhere. In the dark the sound was deceptive and frightening. My skin turned clammy, the hair on my neck rose on end , my heart rate went from 60 to 600 beats per minute instantly and I was to put it bluntly, freaking out! I believe this was my first panic attack,…and for a good reason,…a powerful, dangerous snake was bearing down on me. As I stood perfectly still for a few seconds trying to pinpoint the location of the snake my survival instincts were working at breakneck speed to figure out how to keep fangs from sinking into my leg.
I quickly figured my only recourse was to use the bucket to distract the snake so I picked a spot just ahead of me and, in the dark, threw the bucket at that spot and jumped as far over it as I could. I hit the ground in an odd run/jump fashion covering ground at an amazing clip. Without a stop watch I suspect I covered that last 100 yds, oh in about 2.2 seconds.
An hour later, after a panic stricken explanation to my mother, a clean pair of underwear and a glass of sweet tea my blood pressure and heart rate dropped from the sky back to normal. Needless to say, from that day forward that path was kept mowed and dogs were fed during daylight hours.
Later in the same summer, we killed a 6 foot rattler some 50 yards north of the dog pen while bringing hay out of the field. While I suspected at the time it was the same snake, I was later proven wrong,…but that’s another story for a later day.