Seeing all these stories about rattlesnakes being seen nearly everywhere this year takes me back to the year of 1964, hunting with a group of Letcher Countians in what is now the Daniel Boone National Forest at Lake Cumberland.
My friend Jim Polly from Millstone had only one arm. How he lost the arm escapes my memory, but I think he may have gotten sideswiped by another car while Jim had his arm out the window of his car. How he lost it does nothing for this story, so we will move along.
I loved Jim like a brother. We hunted and fished together many times, although he was several years older than me. When it comes to marriage, hunting, or fishing buddies, age is no factor. He could cast a rod as well or maybe even better than most people with two arms. You should have seen him unload on a pump shotgun. You would have never known he had one arm. I watched him many time bring his limit of squirrels into camp — six shots, six squirrels.
Jim Polly was a real mountain man, true to the core. In those days, we just threw our sleeping bags on the ground, no tents to speak of much, lie around an open campfire and tell stories until the last one dropped off to sleep. This particular year was a really bad year for seeing snakes, so we left camp after dark and drove those sandy logging trails while shooting snakes from the back of the truck. That would get you arrested these days, when it seems like just about everything is against the law.
We settled in for the night. Along about three in the morning,
I heard “Psst, psst.” I was the nearest one sleeping to Jim, so I sat up on one elbow and looked toward Jim and asked, “What do you need?” His answer: “Look on my stomach, is that a snake on top of me?” Jim was always cutting up, but then I thought he would not be saying something like that at three in the morning.
My eyes traveled down his sleeping bag. Sure enough, right on top of my friend was coiled a big snake. I first thought it was a black snake, which I still hate, but at least they won’t bite. Then I heard the snake starting to rattle. I suppose it was the snake’s reaction to Jim and me talking, or he just wanted to rattle. I said, “Jim, there is a rattlesnake on top of you; don’t move.” Jim answered, “Steve, you try not to move with a snake on top of you.”
With panic now upon the occasion, I asked Jim, “What can I do?” The rest of the camp was still unaware of what was going on and I was concerned they might wake up and startle the snake even more. Jim, in his calm and cool voice, said, “Steve, get out of your sleeping bag on the upper side, take a piece of that firewood and knock the snake off me.”
By this point, my heart was in my mouth. I knew I had to get it right or my buddy was in a world of hurt. As I got out of my sleeping bag the snake made its exit, and so did Jim. I said, “Jim, what now?” He said you can lie here if you want. I’m climbing into the bed of the truck.” After these many years, his daughters Carol Whitt and Helen Polly are still two of my dearest friends. s
Squirrel season opens next weekend; take a child hunting.