When I saw my hunting partner shuffling through the woods with his pants around his ankles while he fanned a backside so white you needed polarized glasses for the glare, my first thought was whether I could hitchhike home. If you think there might be a story behind this mind-altering scene, you guessed right.

It began when Ken and I started bowhunting together that fall. The summer heat bled into fall, and the leaves crunched underfoot like tinder for a forest fire. Our plan was to build blinds and wait for the deer to come to us.

We had found some buck sign on public land. The boundaries were choked on the sides by private property but widened at the back. That’s where we built our blinds. The walk in wasn’t long, but it did require crossing one creek.

The extended heat wave was broken by a tropical storm that sent the weather forecasters into frenzies of flood announcements and impending doom. When the storm diminished into a steady drizzle, Ken and I decided it was time to hunt.

The dirt road leading into the public land consisted mostly of Isinglass, a mineral soup that fills the lugs between your boots and makes them slicker than otter grease. So we parked the truck on pavement and walked.

Reaching the creek, we realized the weather forecasters were right. The water raged above the banks, and neither of us wanted to swim. So we agreed to hunt this side of the creek, which we hadn’t scouted—one go upstream and one downstream. I went downstream.

After 100 yards or so I came to the private property line. Apparently, it cut into public land sharply at the creek, so I had no choice but to turn around and hunt the other side of the road. That’s when I saw what looked like a raving maniac with his pants down trying to escape from some unseen menace. It had the makings of a good horror film, though not suitable for children.

Ken shuffled toward me looking over his shoulder until he stopped in the road just feet away. Then, he noticed me. I remained quiet while he pulled his pants back up. I decided to ease into the subject at hand.

“The public land ends right up there,” I said. “So I came back to hunt this side.”

“Ok,” said Ken. He glanced over his shoulder as if contemplating continuing his retreat.

I waited as the tension built. Ken didn’t seem to want to volunteer anything so I kept dropping hints. “See anything over there?”

“Well,” said Ken, “I didn’t get far. I had to answer nature’s call so I thought I’d do that near the road.”

He paused again as if I might let it drop there. I didn’t. “And?”

“I sort of . . . squatted over a yellow jacket’s nest. They didn’t seem to like it much.”

Grumpy being the general state of mind for a yellow jacket, I could see why they didn’t. All yellow jackets are trained in the subject at an early age and get worse as they get older. Add a late fall and hard rain to the mix, and they get downright irritable.

“No, I suppose they didn’t,” I said after a bit. “Any stings?”

“Three or four,” said Ken. “I haven’t had a chance to count them.”

Then he looked at me as if I might do him the favor, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. 

“You want to quit?” I asked. The hunt had the feel of a train wreck with some cars still wrenching off the tracks.

“Yeah, I think we’d better.”

So we marched back up the slippery dirt road, often taking extra steps to make up for the ground we lost when we slid. It was a quiet hike, me not really wanting to know more, and Ken not wanting to offer it. He occasionally scratched when he thought I wasn’t looking.

As we got back to the truck and loaded our gear, Ken asked one last question: “You’re not going to tell anybody, are you?”

I grinned, and finally, so did he. We both knew this story would never remain a secret.