The overcast sky had been filled with snow clouds all day. It was not a suprise to him when he heard it . Faintly at first, then slightly louder as it traveled towards him. Hominy snow. He had seen it once before when he was a child. Asking grandma what kind of strange snow that was, she replied, “hominy snow”. When he had examined the tiny granules closer, he could see why. The flakes closely resembled the cooked, bleached white, corn in home made hominy. Not as hard as sleet, yet not as flaky as snow. Not as large or heavy, as hominy, but similar in appearance.
Listening to the weather report that morning, he had made the decision. He had been thinking about a patch of “rich woods”, up on the side of West Hannah Mountain. Hard to get to, and harder yet to retreive a deer from, it always held large bucks in bad weather. The season had been slow for him. Work had seemed to “get in the way” at every oportunity. The main Modern gun season had passed, with him only filling one tag for a lesser deer. It was time for him to get serious about putting up a winter’s supply of venison in the freezer. It was near the end of the last three day season, right at the CHRISTmas season holidays.
The weather channel on the satellite dish, had been explicit about how this fast moving front would pass through the Ouachita Mountains, possibly dropping as much as a quarter of an inch of snow as it passed through. He had topped off his 4X4 pickup and purchased a few simple items at the country store, before turning the truck towards the Shady mountains. He drove up the Cossatott River water shed area as he needed to get as close as possible to the rich woods. He was hoping to bring out a nice buck and wanted as short of a pack trip out as possible.
The hominy snow should have been his first clue that the weather forecast was beginning to be somewhat suspect. Timber near the top of the mountain turned into “Dwarf Oak” forest and didn’t shield him from the wind very much. The layers of clothing that he had carefully removed and stored in his day pack to keep them dry, on the hard climb up the mountain, were retieved and donned. As he arrived at the point where he could look down into the rich woods, he knew then, that he was in trouble. The wind had shifted and the hominy snow had abruptly changed to large, heavy, wet, flakes of snow that was quickly covering everything. The snow wasn’t “rattling” down through the trees anymore, it was sticking to everything. Studying the clouds carefully he knew that something had changed.
“This hunt is over” he thought. Turning and retreating to a rock ledge about a quarter of a mile away, he pulled the weather radio from his day pack. The wind howled through the stunted trees nearby, causing him to increase the volume on the weather reciever. “Bad, he thought, real bad”. The front had stalled out and was now expected to deposit over one inch of snow before passing on. Though he had all of the clothes on, that he had with him, in this wind, he knew that it wasn’t going to be enough. He needed a quick exit from this lofty mountain, to more moderate weather below. A quick check of his GPS gave him the closest, most direct route to the pickup truck parked miles away, and well below. The GPS’s topo map feature told him that there was a very steep terrain structure in the way, but he had been through a “cut” in the cliff before, if it was the same one. “Geeze !”, he thought, ” I sure hope it’s the one I remember”. Slipping and sliding down the mountain towards the cliff, his rifle was more of a counter ballance than a weapon. The snow was accumilating faster now and was infact beginning to drift up in places. Emptying his rifle for safety, he tied a spare sock from his pack over the muzzle to keep the bore clear.
Locating the cut through the cliff was easier than he thought it would be. The snow made the game trail that had been created by the wildlife, seem to “stand out” in the reduced light. Deep snow had drifted into the cut, causing him to struggle through it. As snow trickled down his collar he began to think about finding shelter. Traveling along the cliff base, he searched for a place out of the wind. The dark depression in the cliff face looked ominous in the erie light of the swelling snow storm.
He peered into the dark recess of the shallow cave. It seemed darker inside from the smoke of many campfires that had smudged the cave ceiling. The small LED flashlight, weak though it was, reached to the back of the shallow cave. A skurrying sound caused him to turn his light to reveal a mound of sticks and small tree branches that made a pack rats den. “Yeh, he thought, I should have known it was there because of the smell”.
Even with the strange odors of the cave, it was clearly a place of refuge in the intense mountain storm. His GPS would not pick up well back in the small cave, so he moved out to the entrance to check the distance to his truck. Two and one half miles ! “I will have trouble making it in this blow”, he thought.
Mentally he went over a check list memorized many years ago in a military SEE school ( survival, escape and evasion ). His hunting knife and a flint fire starter made some of the pack rat’s nest into a cheery fire, warming and lighting the cave’s interior. Things were “starting to look up now !” he thought as he began to shed and dry his outer layers of clothing.
As soon as getting dry was complete, he began to continue down the SEE school check list and retrieved a old MRE from the now dry pack. The print on the mre had long ago been rubbed off by carrying in the back pack.
The mre’s contents was a suprise, and not one of his favorites, yet it was welcomed and needed energy. Retrieving a tincan from the rat’s nest he put water from his canteen in it. Then he added the mixed contents of the mre pouch to the can and water to warm over the fire. Food, shelter, warmth and fatigue soon caused him to doze off. The fire flickered and crackled, and occasionally sizzled when a gust of wind blew in snow.
A chill in the air awakened him. He was stiff , but rested. But most of all, he could hear that the worst of the storm had passed over. It was quiet outside. The dim light was amplified by the snow cover that blanketed everything. Tracks in the snow evidenced that the rats from the nest had came out while it was quiet, visited the remains of the mre, then returned to the warmth of the nest at the back of the cave. Peering from the entrance he could see that a early moonrise was giving ample light to travel to his pickup.
Gathering up all of his gear, preparing to travel, he placed the last of his mre contents out for the rats. Just before stepping out into the snow covered landscape, he said in a soft clear voice, “thanks for the firewood, Merry CHRISTmas”.