The minute you step into the bush expecting nothing is the minute you end up with a whole lot of something. Never fails.
A couple days ago, we set out into the woodlands of lower Iowa in search of the Big-Assed Buck, a legend among whitetail deer hunters in these parts. Petrus, Veronica and I were the original party but Attaway was getting stir-crazy and wanted to stretch his legs so we let him tag along. He's not much on the dry-land but he's earned his say and I throw him a bone now and then. Veronica was loaded with tranquilizer darts, I was packing most of the gear and Petrus had his camera gizmos up the wazoo, so we figured we were ready for anything. The heaviest thing I was lugging was Attaway's bottle of vodka. We were set up for a three day journey and were hopeful to get our eyes on the Buck. The weather was good and the terrain was pretty fair so we were making good headway.
Around the time we stopped for lunch, we all started getting this creepy feeling that we were being watched. We'd see some movement here and there out of the corner's of our eyes, something low, moving fast, but couldn't ever get a good look. It was pretty sporadic anyway so we shrugged it off but I was keeping my eyes peeled as we made our way deeper into the wood. The Big-Assed Buck is supposed to be an impressive creature with a nice rack and a very distinctive back-end. I was looking for something big and white, sort of like a fat fratboy mooning you from a passing car full of drunken, privileged college brats. That's what I've heard anyway. There is also supposed to be a distinctive odor associated with this species so I was s whiffing the wind as well. Still, every so often, I'd catch movement off to our left and right.
We had just topped a rise and were working our way down into a pretty valley when we came upon them. Giant Iowan Woodchucks. A whole village of them. We froze and they froze, a whole platoon of the three-foot-high critters moved in from our left and right. They'd been following us all along! I heard the bolt of Victoria's rifle being pulled back and the click of Petrus' camera when all hell broke loose. They charged us like a herd of buck-toothed fuzzy rhinos, their little jaws snapping open and shut, their lisped screams echoing through the woods.
Now, you're saying "Woodchucks?" and I'm answering you..."YES. Woodchucks." These babies aren't your run of the mill, Punxsutawney Phil, scared of their own shadow groundhoggers. No, these are the big-boys of the wood-piggy family and they are VERY territorial. We'd stepped into their woods and they were not happy about it. They had chucklings to care for and as far as they were concerned we were meat. High-stepping it with all we had, we ran through the brush in desperate search of a stream. The funny thing about these hell-rodents is that they'll do anything to avoid getting their feet wet and, if we could find a creek or something to cross, we might just save our hides. I was desperate and was grabbing my precious Little Bully's from my tackle and hurling them at the beasts, hoping to drive them back. Rounding a bend around a rock outcropping I saw it about thirty yards ahead! A small creek! Jumping with all of our might we cleared the thing and fell to our knees in exhaustion. We were safe!
That's when we heard Attaway scream. The old booze-hound had fallen behind and they had him! I frantically searched through my pack for a flash-bang grenade, figuring if I could lob one into the pack, we could get in there and get to Attaway. I found one! I pulled the pin and hucked that thing into the hog-swarm and it went off like a cannon. Petrus and I jumped the creek and ran into the smoke desperately looking for Attaway.
As the smoke cleared, there in the clearing lay his crumpled mass and he wasn't alone. The great silverback, king of the woodchucks, was standing over him. Defiant. As if to say,"These are the woods of the Great Woodchuck! Who are you to defile them??". Perus and I stopped dead. He snapped this last photo before the great beast shrugged it's shoulders and lumbered off back to its people.
Attaway was pretty scratched up but nothing a whole lot of vodka couldn't fix. We limped back into the woods, on the other side of the creek. We'll avoid that side for now.