Hunting Tribbles

Hunting Tribbles 

            She poured herself another cup of coffee.  It was her third of the morning, but she held it more for the heat of the cup and the aroma than for the taste, although the dark roast taste was also exceptional.  But fall mornings in the swamp could be chilly and a good hot cup of coffee was for more than drinking.

            “So, when do you want to start,” she put the cup down and tucked the flannel shirt into her canvas pants.

            “I suppose as soon as we make sure the dogs have had enough outside time and are ready to take their morning naps.”  He looked out the window where the three dogs were still whoosing around in the long-bladed St. Augustine grass of what passed for a lawn between the house and the dock on the bayou.  He looked across the bayou at the open area of reeds.  He was looking for wind directionality and strength.  It seemed it was out of the west and strong enough to bend the tops of the reeds just slightly.

            “Looks like we’ll be hunting on the outward leg this time.  Probably won’t see many coming back since we’ll be upwind, but I suspect we’ll surprise more than few going out.”

            The sun was out which was good but the wind was strong enough to move the blades on the windmill so the batteries would get a good charge and he wouldn’t have to use the generator for a couple of days.  He said as much to his companion, “Weather service says we have a system coming in on Tuesday but looks like we’ll be ok for electricity without having to run the generator.”  She nodded, acknowledging the statement but it made little difference to her since she lived in Mobile during the week and had all the modern conveniences of city living.  That she had a boyfriend who lived off the electric grid was, she stopped to think, had she really used the term ‘boyfriend,’ “how quaint,” she said it aloud without thinking.

            “What’s quaint?” he asked.

            Embarrassed, she picked up the cup of coffee placing it against her lips and muttered.  “Oh, nothing, just an errant thought.”  She wondered if he thought of himself as her ‘boyfriend.’  He was, after all in his late fifties but then at fifty-five she was no Azalea either.  

            Both wore field jackets as they toted the canoe from the boat house and put it down next to the flat bottom skiff.  They couldn’t use the skiff farther up the bayou because it was an inboard and while the propellor was shrouded it could still be fouled by all sorts of vines and decaying vegetable matter in the stream, and to unfoul it would require getting into the water and neither of them was brave enough to get into the bayou, and underneath the boat to pull vines off the prop.  Since they did not intend to carry anything of size his one-way canoe would do just fine.  He called it his one-way canoe because it had a transom at one end instead of two bows like most canoes.  If you paddled this canoe you had to turn it round to go in the other direction.  Well, you could go backwards but it was much smoother if you turned the boat first. 

            He had added a small V-shaped deflector just under the back of the canoe to push vegetation away from the prop of the electric trolling motor mounted on the transom.  Additionally, he had made the brackets which secured the motor to the transom such that the motor, when pulled out of the water, could slide forward so he had direct access to the prop without having to lean out of the boat.  A sharpened pair of metal snips, carried in the canoe, allowed him to quickly snip through any vines or other material that fouled the prop. So, canoeing was a much more pleasant experience than for your average canoer trying the byways of the bayous.

            Since they were going upstream against the current of the bayou, they only made about three miles an hour, but they weren’t going far.  You never had to go far in the swamp to find the Tribbles.  That hadn’t been his name for them, but she had started calling them Tribbles and he had taken it up.  They were, in fact, Nutria or Coypu in South America from whence they had been imported to the United States. In actuality they were just long-haired swamp rats.  They  had hairless tails like your average, less than a pound, wharf rat but nutria could reach more than fifteen pounds and, like the Tribbles of Star Trek fame, seemed to be born pregnant for they reproduced at what seemed to be frightfully short intervals.  They were ever more quickly destroying the swamp with an increasing ferocity.  They didn’t just eat the vegetation, they devoured every bit of it, leaves, stems and roots which deprived other herbivorous animals as well as limiting the insect growth on which other mammals and many fish depended.   They burrowed into the sides of levees and banks causing slides that changed the course of streams and while they might look as picturesque as a Tribble while they sunned themselves on a grass hillock, they did more damage to the ecosystem than a hurricane blowing in off the Gulf.  They also carried particularly nasty parasites which survived in the water affecting other animals, including cattle, which might drink from the stream or pond. 

            Of like mind about politics the two of them had often discussed the problems with population growth and its deleterious effects whether environmental or societal.  Unable to do anything about the greater peril to the country of decreasing resources and increasing demands, they could make a contribution to saving the environment of the Gulf Coast and would do so this very morning.

            She had her hair wrapped in a blue bandana which accentuated the silver curls that escaped its care. There was just enough breeze to make the curls animated and it gave her a lively look as he scanned ahead keeping the canoe out of pockets of floating vegetation.  He watched her take a rifle from its carrying case, adjust the scope, insert a rotary ten-round magazine and place her right hand in the nylon/Nomex bag he had sewn to surround the receiver of the rifle.  The bag was one of his efforts to respect the environment.  There were many hunters who used semiautomatic rifles who would kill a number of nutrias without ever worrying that they had just contributed ten pieces of copper and zinc to the environment or, if they used a shot gun, copper, zinc and plastic.  So, his bag fit neatly around the receiver such that it captured the expelled cartridge. The inside of the bag was lined with Nomex to keep the hot cartridge from burning the bag and the shooter wore a summer Nomex flying glove with the tip of the shooting finger cut-off.  This kept the shooter’s hand from being burned by the ejected cartridge.

            The rifle was a Ruger 10/22 take down with a polyester stock.  He slowed as they approached the first clearing coasting towards a group of nutria sunning themselves.  She raised the rifle and sighted in the farthest away animal.  All he heard was the mechanism of the bolt of the rifle.  Otherwise, the air remained quiet except for the wind in the trees overhead.  He had fitted the rifle with a Ruger suppressed barrel and they were using sub-sonic lead-free ammunition.  It had taken him almost a year to get the necessary tax documents to own a suppressor, but it made all the difference in hunting.  Had she used an ordinary Ruger the sound would have driven the rest of the group to their burrows.  As it was, by taking the farthest away the others had not seen him drop and went on with their preening.  Sometimes the two of them would bet on how many they could drop before the group would discern the danger and dive into their burrow.  She was up to three, taking the outliers first.  Once you moved into the larger group it was likely to cause a panic.  She took the fourth and then one of them got nervous, it nosed the dead one and then emitted a series of sharp pig-like grunts making quickly towards the edge of the bank and its burrow.  The others began to scatter as well but she was quick and moving targets that weight fifteen pounds were fairly easy to hit, especially since she was coming at them directly.  No deflection needed.  
            If they had been professionals, they would have stopped at the hillock and cut the tails from the nutria.  Producing the tails at an appropriate licensed facility would have gained them a chit to be sent into the State game commission which would issue a check for six dollars for each tail.  One man in Louisiana had made $55,000.00 a year or so back. 

            “That’s three hundred and twelve,” She had stopped firing and having laid the rifle down turned to him, “Three hundred twelve, not bad for a year’s part-time work, “she smiled and pushed one of the escaping curls back up under the bandana.  

            “Year’s not over yet,” he responded, “”and when the season here is over at the end of November, we can always cross the state line into Mississippi where they allow hunting all year round.”

            “Would that be taking a female over state boundaries for immoral purposes?  Wouldn’t that violate the Mann Act?” She asked.

            “Nothing immoral about ridding the Gulf of pests that threaten the environment,” he gave her a joke-killing answer preferring not to point out that the Mann Act was also known as the White Slavery Act and she wasn’t white.  That’s what she had been going for but somehow, he just didn’t feel like joking at the moment.  He wasn’t sure what it was except maybe that he knew they weren’t going to kill enough nutria to really make a difference and it gave him the same feeling of powerlessness that the greater problem of overpopulation did.  Just sort of a nervous stomach and a sour taste in his mouth that he was going to be on the losing side.  Still, he thought, it’ll take them a while before they come down to the swamp.

            They switched positions and she maneuvered the canoe further up the stream to another opening where he found and dispatched one for each round in the newly recharged magazine.

            The dogs ensconced in their beds on the screened porch saw the canoe coming down the bayou and when the door opened, the hunters received the welcome of returning heroes.  Had the dogs wreaths of laurel they would have crowned the two and paraded them through the house.  That’s why dogs are better than cats, they care about such things.  As it was, they ran rings around them in the yard while the canoe was put away and the rifles were taken into the gun room and locked securely in the gun safe. 

            He set a fire in the firepit, and they sat in the afternoon sun talking of this and that, drinking a smooth single malt scotch she had picked up the day before.  The smell of seasoned pine scented the air while the white smoke lifted thoughts and words into the sky.  The fire spoke to them in its hisses and pops while the heat of the flames drove away the cold wetness that the Gulf Coast calls winter.  It was a good day and hunting Tribbles had helped keep other troubles at bay. 

2 thoughts

  1. Excellent vignette. I remember the Star Trek episode referred to (“The Trouble with Tribbles”). Now that I know what it feels like, I don’t need to go to the bayous and shoot nutria.

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