Much of my most serious time in the woods is done while hunting. That’s when I’m as quiet as possible. Often that is so quiet that a stick rubbing against my cap makes me jump.
Sometimes the woods are so quite that I stop and notice wheezing emanating from my own lungs or the pounding of my own heart.
The sounds of my trousers rubbing against brush or the snap of a twig, are not foreign to the woods. They could be produced by a number of critters or physical events.
On occasions, I have been so silent in the woods that special things have happened.
A little over 35 years ago I arose early during an archery back-pack deer hunt on a mountain in the California coast range. It was August and the trails were covered in two or three inches of dust. At first light, I moved cautiously and slowly along one such dust-covered trail not far from the top of a ridge that led to the mountain top.
The area was perfect deer habitat and I was feeling optimistic as everything seemed to be falling into place and the possibility of sneaking up on a buck was quite real.
Then a deer snorted from about 75 yards away uphill from me. “How could he have smelled me?” was my first thought.
Then another deer snorted and I heard it run off.
“So close, ” I thought to myself, not knowing what could have gone wrong.
I remained absolutely still as I stared up towards the ridge top.
I was standing in slight depression created by a minor drainage. The drainage led directly up the hill and my line of sight while watching was directly up said depression.
Then I caught movement about fifty yards up the hill. Something was coming down the drainage. It was a lion, a male lion with a very square head. He was lying low, but moving fairly quickly. I had little time to react before he would be right on top of me.
Obviously he had no idea I was there. Within seconds he was only 20 yards from me and still coming in a silent, slinking but ground-covering way.
I could only react. “That’s close enough pussy cat,” I heard myself say.
Stupid? Maybe, but that’s what I said.
In a flash the cat was out of sight. He covered the 10 yards between him and the closest thicket in almost no time at all. I never saw him again and I was thankful for that – except that the minute he went out of sight, I was somewhat terrified because I had no idea what he was doing.
I moved down the trail expeditiously and I believe he did the same. Neither of us wanted to become better acquainted.
Now, more than 30 years after that event, it is clear to me that the human voice is a valuable defence mechanism. Virtually all wild animals that live with humans are afraid of them. Sometimes our best defense is the sound of our own voice.