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A Hoot

Oct 13, 2009

I was sitting in my favorite tree stand Sunday afternoon when a barred owl hooted in a tree about 100 yards behind me. It had been a slow day up to that point, so I decided to liven things up with a little bird-human interaction.

Like many turkey hunters, I have taught myself to do a fairly credible imitation of a barred owl’s “Who, who, who cooks for you?” It comes in handy when trying to discover the location of roosted turkey gobblers. They are not fond of owls and often will gobble in reply to hooting owls to put their hereditary enemies on notice that 20-plus pounds of fury awaits nocturnal predators.

Anyway, I hooted back at the owl and got an immediate response. I shut up then. Owls are masters of fixing the exact source of sounds, since they hunt in the dark. He knew where I was if he wanted to come see me.

Come he did a few minutes later. He landed in a tree just a few yards behind me and hooted again, this time with extra gusto. So, naturally, I hooted back.

Now, I knew he could see my shoulder and orange vest around the trunk of the tree where I sat. I figured he would get nervous and leave. Wrong. He flew past about 20 feet to my right, then landed in a big black cherry tree about 50 feet in front of me. He immediately turned around and stared directly into my eyes.

He didn’t look happy.

Seeing that the jig was up, I went ahead and hooted at him one last time, trying to sound as ferocious as he had moments earlier. Once again, I figured the sight of a 200-pound mammal uttering owl sounds would unnerve my visitor.

If he was unnerved, he had a peculiar way of showing it. He launched himself at me and, after making a downward swoop to gain speed, zipped past me so near that I heard his right wingtip brush the tree trunk inches above my head.

He made his point. I decided not to hoot at him anymore.

I didn’t fire a shot during the four-day urban deer hunt, but the owl encounter was worth the 36 hours I spent in the woods.

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