It was a night a boy like me could not resist; the moon was full, the sky was clear, the temperature was about 28 degrees. My dog Fuzz and I were ready to go. There was one problem. We had to wait until Mom and Dad went to sleep. At about eleven o'clock I carefully raised the window and in one smooth motion exited my room. The only sound that could be heard was Fuzz jumping up and down in anticipation of what we would find tonight.
Before I go any further I need to introduce you to Fuzzy (‘Fuzz' for short). He was one-half chow and one-half Eskimo/spits. I got him as a birthday present when I was about nine or ten years old and didn't lose him until I was a freshman in college. I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. He had always been King-of-the Hill, and there was no dog around that could beat him. He wasn't always a hunting dog. I had mistreated him when he was just a pup by shooting fireworks around him. It never failed. If he went hunting with me he was gone after the first shot, and I would find him back at the house under the truck.
It wasn't until I received my free chickens from our local 4-H club that he finally figured out what it was all about. A few weeks after the chickens arrived; I went to shut the door to their house to keep the coons, possums and skunks out. Any of these critters could wipe out the whole chicken population if given the chance. On this night I could hear Fuzz whimpering in the woods behind the chicken pen. I ran in the house and grabbed my 20-gauge. When I got to where he was, I noticed he had a possum treed. Instead of shooting it with my shotgun, I went and got my .22 rifle so I could put a gut shot in it. After the opossum fell from the tree, Fuzz had it in his mouth and crushed its bones with every bite. He carried that critter everywhere for two days--until my mom made me take it and carry it off. That's what started it all. After that he would run rabbits, squirrels, coons, possums, skunks, and even a few deer, but his favorite pastime was to tree cats. Needless to say, the cat population was very slim.
Now, back to my story. We took off into the woods behind my house, an area that had mostly hardwood trees growing on steep hills and deep dark hollers (hollows). This night I carried my shotgun, flashlight and a sandwich. I carried the sandwich because I was a growing boy, and because I have sat by an armadillo hole for hours waiting for him to dig out a possum. There was no telling what the night would hold for us, because he would tree, run, and catch just about anything. After about two hours and three possums later I was beginning to get tired and decided to get one more and head home. I was standing against a big white oak near the bottom of the holler when Fuzz came up from behind to see what was going on. His usual hunting pattern was a figure eight. He would circle to my right, then find me and then circle to my left, and if this didn't produce anything he would start all over again. When he found me this particular time he acted different. As I mentioned, Fuzz wasn't scared of much, but something definitely had him spooked.
I told him to go find another possum and then we would go home, but he wouldn't move. His hair started to rise and he began to growl, so I knew something was wrong. I turned on my light but it wasn't much good since the batteries were about dead. Suddenly I heard a sound that can hardly be described. The scream almost turned my hair white, and caused me to do things in my pants I had been taught at a young age not to do. It came from on top of the hill I was facing, which put him about 50 yards away from me. At first I thought someone was in trouble, because the only time I had heard that type of sound was while watching a horror film. I started to head in the direction of the sound to see if I could help when it happened again, and that's when it dawned on me what it was. It had to be a panther! It didn't take my legs long to start to run in the opposite direction. I was not trying to outrun the panther, but to (even though he was the best dog a guy could have) outrun Fuzz. After a few falls and jumping a couple of fences, I flew through my window to safety. All night long every dog in the neighborhood barked non-stop, but good old Fuzz never made a sound and never left my window. It was almost time to get up to go to school when I finally went to sleep.
The next day at school was very long and tiring. The only thing that kept me awake was the memory of the previous night running through my head. Once I got off the bus, I changed clothes, got a reluctant Fuzz and headed for the woods to retrieve the flashlight and gun that I had left behind in all the excitement. I found the spot with no problem, got my stuff and headed for the house. I went home the same way that I had the night before, and tried to find some tracks to make sure it really was a panther I had heard. It wasn't until I came to the wet weather pond about 60 yards from our house that I found the first track. When I saw it the same feelings found their way into me once again. I realized that it wasn't after me for food, it just wanted to see how fast I could run!
I don't remember if I went hunting at night again until the next winter, but the experience of that night is with me every time I enter the woods. Just retelling this story now is giving me goose bumps.