After one of our Rhode Island Red hens had been mauled by something in the woods, we were keeping a cautious eye out for Martha and the Vandals, as we called these large and handsome chickens. Of course, we worked during the week in Ocala, and couldn’t watch them during the day, but the chances of anything successfully taking one of the Girls during the day was pretty slim, and we were careful to pen them up at night.
Anni had also picked up a used .410 shotgun that, in light of recent events, we decided would be useful as a “just in case” weapon, especially if we needed to dispatch another mortally injured critter.
One breezy Saturday afternoon Anni had gone into Ocala for something, and I was puttering around the house when a commotion out by the barn alerted me to a situation unfolding. It seemed the yard around the barn was emptying quickly of scattering, squawking chickens, and even the geese were running from the scene, flapping their wings and trying to get air-borne.
Looking out through the front screen door, I snatched a glimpse of a what I thought might be a Bob Cat just as it darted around the back side of the barn.
I snatched up the .410 leaning against the fireplace and a handful of snake-shot shells we kept around for discouraging varmints, chambered one of the rounds, clicked on the safety, and headed toward the barn, trying to be as quiet as possible so that I could surprise whatever was out there.
I stood quietly and listened, but the wind coming off the lake was making enough noise in the tree canopy that I couldn’t pick out anything unusual. As I came to the corner of the building, I slowly peeked around the wall and through the hurricane fence that formed a small enclosure behind the barn and there, standing some 30 feet away, was a full-grown Bob Cat! She (for it was a she, I saw her full teats) was very still, staring away from me into the edge of the woods.
I held my breath, slipped the safety off, and slowly raised the barrel to aim just behind the cat’s hind-quarters, where I figured a well-placed scattering of pellets would give her a good scare and dissuade her from coming after our chickens again. The problem was, I had to lean back a bit to swing the barrel up to position while avoiding hitting the fence, and of course the minute I moved, she spotted me.
Memory is a funny thing, but the best I can recall is that I leaned back, swung the barrel up, took aim well to the rear of her rear-end and squeezed the trigger, even as she sprang up and out from her standing position. “Bang!” went the rifle, and the cat reacted by jumping straight up. As soon as her paws hit the ground, she was gone, like that. She simply disappeared into the wall of vegetation.
I stood there, listening and looking at the woods, and it dawned on me that she was likely the culprit who had been picking off the little Bantam chickens–and she also likely attacked one of our Rhode Island Red hens during a party a couple of weeks earlier. It also dawned on me that she was a momma, and likely had at least one kitten somewhere. Finally, it dawned on me that maybe I should trail her into the woods and make sure I hadn’t actually hit her with a smattering of the scattered shot.
I think I was still in an adrenaline fog, or I would have realized as soon as I thought it that following a pissed-off, full-grown Bob Cat into dimly-lit thick woods on a cloudy afternoon was probably a foolish notion. I wasn’t going to see much at all, and as I penetrated the wall of vegetation and walked a few paces, I realized that I wasn’t going to hear a damn thing either. There was so much wind that the trees were thrashing about and I couldn’t even hear my own footsteps as my feet crushed dry twigs underfoot.
Well at least I had the presence of mind to chamber another round as I retraced my steps. I was glad to get back into the yard and get some distance between myself and the woods line.
As it turned out, neither of us ever spotted that Bob Cat again, but we did continue to lose chickens at an alarming rate, and before a year had passed, the flock of 20-some Bantams would be whittled down to two, and then none. Sadly, before the Bantams would disappear, Martha and The Vandals, all four of them, would be long gone, with nary a feather to mark their passing.