Friday, September 02, 2005

B'wana, The Great White Hunter!

In the summer of 2003, myself and a few friends trekked off to the wilds of Northern Arizona's Kibab National Forest outside of Williams, AZ to hunt the elusive Southwestern Wild Watermelon.

Camped out in the midst of the largest free-standing Ponderosa Pine forest in the country was, as usual, awe-inspiring. We got to our campsite by horseback in the late afternoon and quickly set up our bivouac, started a fire and made our plans over a topo map of the area.

It was quickly decided that I'd set off on foot and head north into the thickets where the wiley fruit was most likely to be seen. Barney, Fritz and Serge would set off on horseback at a full gallop for several miles, hoping to frighten the usually nocturnal Mellon out of it's lair. Equines are the only enemy of the watermelon in the wild. On the first sound of the horse's hooves, watermelons by the hundreds sometimes scurry out of their burrows in the undergrowth and stampede blindly for miles. Caution is paramount when hunting this dangerous wild fruit.

The next afternoon, when we were all finally roused from a fitful sleep in our bedrolls by a blazing sun and temperatures hovering around 110 F, the four of us perked a pot of coffee and took several painkillers to quell the painful headaches we all suffered from due to the high elevation of our encampment. Serge told us that by his GPS, the elevation from sea-level where we were was exactly 6523 Ft. And told us of his vast experience of high-elevation headaches as he went around the camp picking up several hundred empty beer cans and whiskey bottles.

Around 3 Pm, we had all recovered enough from our headaches and opened up a few cans of iced-down beer to re-hydrate ourselves, we headed out. My three amigos on their trusty steeds and I on foot, with nothing more that a pint of Mad Dog 50/50 and my .303 Lee Enfield and a half-pack of Winstons.

I walked for about an hour and decided to sit down under a juniper tree. In what seemed like minutes but had to have been hours because the sun mysteriously moved lower on the horizon that it was, I stifled a yawn and heard my hunting companions driving a watermelon towards my ambush in what sounded like Fritz getting thrown from his mount. That couldn't have been true, because Fritz is the best rider in our merry little band so it had to have been some sort of ruse they put on to outwit our prey.

There! Right in front of me! A big 3 pounder, charging at me at full speed... Blinded by pure panic and driven by adrenalin. I wiped what couldn't have been sleep-crusties from my eyes and raised my rifle and placed to sights right on the side of the green and red skin. It was perfect! The fruit didn't know it was giving me a perfect heart-lung shot at 100 yards! The 135 Grain Nosler partition-tip .303 British round stopped it dead in front of a lodgepole pine. (see pictures above) I'm lucky I did to, because there's nothing in the world more vicious than a frightened, desperate watermelon, although I did see a friend lose an eye once in a tragic grapefruit trapping expedition in the Pacific Northwest back in 89'.

We feasted well on watermelon carcass that night, while Barney went into town to get more beer. We had packed 10 cases for our week long trip, and even though he swears he packed all the beer in ice before we left, we couldn't find any. We sent him to buy several more cases. He must have only thought he'd packed the beer away because we couldn't have drank all that beer on the first night.

The rest of the week was a blur as most of our hunting trips do, but I think Barney got an even bigger Bull Mellon later in the week, and Serge was almost mauled my a rabid pumpkin. I did see some wild Portabello Mushrooms grazing in a meadow one afternoon, but I can't be really sure because the high-elevation headaches plagued myself and the rest of my hunting party every afternoon the whole week.

Now that I'm back east here in West Virginia, I understand there's really good Squash hunting in the north up near Kanawah County. The season opens in a few weeks, so I'll keep you all abreast of that hunt when it happens.

Copyright 2005 Thomas J Wolfenden


Dirk said...

We don't get Watermelons around here, but we do have Honeydews. Smaller and more furtive than Watermelons, they provide grat sport, although their habitat is under threat from the feral Rockmelon (or cantaloupe), which predates on the Honeydew. Most locals don't like the taste of Rockmelon all that much, but there is quite a market for it in Europe, as the wild Cantaloupe has a stronger 'gamier' flavour than the domesticated rockmelons. This has led to the Game Melon industry, where wild cantaloupe shooters go out spotlighting at night in heavily modified 4WDs, getting paid by the kg when they leave their catch at the chillers that nearly every inland town has these days.
Although it is financially rewarding, I find it spiritually unsatisfying, preferring to bowhunt, as I feel this 'connects' me more with my prey and makes the flesh all the sweeter.

Dirk said...

P.S. after many years of reading westerns, now I know what a lodgepole pine looks like. Now all I need to do is find out how much a sawbuck is.

Lindsey said...'re crazy!!! I'm from Arizona originally. Beautiful place..if you actually visited. :0)

Mmmmm...watermelon, haven't had any of that all summer.

Ranger Tom said...

Dirk: I knew you'd get a kick out of this... And a Sawbuck is $10

Linny: I not only visited Arizona, I lived there for 9 years. Chino Valley, Paulden & Prescott. THe two pictures above were taken in the Kibab Nation Forest, just a few miles from Williams, AZ before my divorce in 2003...