I’ve never encountered a bear in the woods, but I’ve encountered plenty of cattle in pastures and found that to be more than exciting enough.
Ponds are often handy, and their fish can be provoked to strike at times when their counterparts in lakes and rivers have lockjaw, which can make for an entertaining afternoon. Beyond the edges of the water, however, the excitement can take on another color. Cow pastures, by their nature, tend to be inhabited by cows, most of which have no interest or concern regarding fishermen. Mostly.
As a youngster in the Brewer community, I hauled a lot of hay for my neighbors but never really spent much time in the company of the hay’s intended recipients. Therefore, the nuances of cattle behavior weren’t known to me. I did know cows with young calves could be aggressive, but I had no idea at what age a cow considered her offspring to be emancipated, or how to judge when that age had been attained if I did. Additionally, like everyone else who’d watched bull riding on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, I was well aware cattle of the male variety weren’t tolerant of people at all.
The cattle pasture handiest to my home in those days was populated by cows and heifers only, and those responded only to people bringing them hay or range cubes. Arriving at the gate on my bicycle I generally attracted little attention from the herd since, I presume, nobody on a bicycle had ever brought them anything to eat. If I could see the cattle from the gate I could make an amateur judgment of their temperament. It was when I couldn’t see them from the gate that things got tense.
The pasture in question included some rolling hills and, over these hills and across a few other fences lay another pasture, where my Uncle Charlie “kept” a bull. “Kept,” in this case, is definitely a euphemism. The bull belonged to Uncle Charlie in the sense that, at some point, he’d paid somebody for it and received a bill of sale, and it took nourishment in his barnyard and generally stayed nearby.
The bull in his own mind, however, belonged only to himself. His formal domain was encircled by several strands of barbed wire which, when he was of a mood to roam, impeded him in much the same way a strip of monkey grass impedes a Sherman tank. When he took a notion to travel, the parting wire played odes to his passage like beginners’ night at the banjo store, and where he was usually headed was to the pasture whose pond I fished.
Spotting him in the herd required the same skill as spotting Shaquille O’Neal in a group of fourth graders, but it did require a clear line of sight. When the herd wasn’t visible from the gate, the fishing trip took on a decidedly spot-and-stalk nature, maybe the only time anyone has so strongly considered wind direction and scent control when trying to catch a bass.
KEVIN TATE is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.
Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer