Article from the January 1998 issue of Alabama Game and Fish magazine.
By Zack Glover
Stalked in Dallas County
A flurry of recent reports from deer hunters in Dallas County have sportsmen wondering if they are the hunters or the hunted. Here’s the story behind these strange events. The story of the strange encounters first made headlines a couple of years ago, but the first man to lay eyes on the eerie creature, which has members of his hunting club scared of the dark, saw the monster well before he decided to share his story. Even today, he would rather not reveal his name — so sure is he that skeptics will poke fun. But Greg is serious, and he’s not one to stretch the truth. Or at least that’s how his hunting mates describe him. By the time he came forward with the story, others would have tales of similar scares.
This modern-day legend began in 1993.
Greg first noticed the smell, which was sort of musky and strong. Then he saw something moving. By the time the shadowy figure ambled to within 15 yards of his tree stand, he’d heard it as well.
The Montgomery man wasn’t at all sure of what he was seeing, but he knew he didn’t want a closer look. The deer hunter even dismissed the idea of pulling out his flashlight because he didn’t want the thing to know where he was. Greg was scared, as frightened as he’d ever been. He’d climbed into his stand that afternoon three years ago, hoping to get a shot at a deer with his bow. He knew he would probably not see anything until the day’s last hour. He’d sat in the same area earlier in the season, and the deer didn’t start moving until right before dark. What he eventually saw, however, was no deer. “I started smelling something first,” he remembers. “It was definitely different, sort of musky. It really stank. Then I saw something come walking down the trail real slow. He was walking upright.” The hunter could not see well enough in the approaching dusk to determine what was walking below him, but he can definitely recall its shape, how it smelled and the peculiar sounds it made. It was dark-colored, about 6 feet tall or more, walked upright and had legs longer than any bear he’d seen in captivity. Greg also had the sense that the thing was eating something. “It was making these little noises,” he continued. “I couldn’t hear it until he came within 15 yards -kind of a popping sound, but kind of nasal and muffled.” The hunter wanted very much to get down out of the tree and back to his truck, but he dared not move until the thing had moved out of sight. Eventually, it did meander away -three hours after all traces of daylight had vanished. “I was scared. I didn’t know what it was,” he explained. “I wanted to get out of there. I didn’t want .to come down with him still there.”
At the base of the tree, knee-high reeds covered the ground like quills from a giant porcupine. He knew he was going to make a lot of noise leaving, but he yearned for the security of his truck’s cab. So he climbed down as quietly as possible. As he neared the edge of some open woods, separated from the reeds by a small creek, he heard something approaching slowly from the rear. The footfalls were also in the patch of reeds somewhere behind him. He wasted no time in crossing the creek into the open woods, where he could move quickly and even more quietly. That’s when he heard the thing almost directly behind, practically covering the same ground he’d just crossed. Greg then broke into a run.
For three years, he told only one person about that encounter, his father-in-law, and only because his wife’s daddy required some kind of explanation of why he’d been forced to wait almost four hours past nightfall for his son-in-law to return to their truck. Otherwise, he says, he would have kept the story to himself. Until 1996, that is, when another member of the same hunting club returned to camp white-faced and trembling. When Greg’s friend explained what he’d just been through, the silence was broken. Brian had been hunting with his bow very close to the same area where Greg had seen “the creature.” The land is close to where Lowndes and Dallas counties meet, south of U.S. Highway 80. It was an afternoon hunt and he was watching two small bucks feed under his stand. “All of a sudden, deer started snorting and blowing all around me. And the two bucks started running around in circles,” said Brian, also from Montgomery. “All the deer were just going crazy, Then they ran off,”
Brian was left second-guessing his decision not to shoot one of the bucks, a 6-pointer, when he heard something walking down a ridge toward him. He could not smell anything, as his friend had three years earlier, but whatever it was, the thing was making a popping sound-like teeth clamping shut, over and over again. “I wish I could describe it better, but what I can say is it was like a popping sound, only more nasal,” he said, trying unsatisfactorily to imitate it. “I’ve never heard anything like it.” Brian frequently travels to Florida to hunt wild hogs, and he is familiar with the popping sounds a toothy boar often makes when it’s cornered and mad. He’s also hunted bears in Canada and in the western United States. Still the sound he heard that day in Alabama was nothing like he’s encountered during his other travels. It scared him so much that he grabbed his only weapon, an arrow, with his free hand. In the other, he was holding his small flashlight. It was smaller than he’d ever before realized. The creature kept coming closer, but stayed just out of sight. Finally, well after dark, it had passed far enough away for the man to feel comfortable coming down the tree. By the time Brian reached the ground, however, the thing began coming again, following him through the woods. He ran, pointing his too-small flashlight in front of him and clutching the arrow with his other fist. But, he never saw the creature.
When he reached the camp house that night, he told of his encounter solemnly, then packed his bags and left — abandoning his plans for a weekend hunt. The next time he returned, a couple of weeks later, he had a new flashlight. The new one was the size of a horse’s leg. “Be careful when you ask him about it,” a friend warned, later in the season. “If he thinks you’re not serious, he may not tell about it.” A month later, a third hunter was almost ready to hang up his gun following a close encounter with “a creature” within a half-mile of the previous incidents. According to Jim Mason, one of the owners of Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge, a former guest was frightenned while hunting a tract adjacent to Brian’s and Greg’s property, a section now known by other members of their hunting club as “booger bottom.”
Mason said the man got out of his stand after dusk and started walking to his rendezvous point to wait for his guide. The road itself was overgrown, and the land flanking it was choked with high grass and young pines. “Something in the bushes growled a real deep, low growl. Three times,” Mason said. “That boy from Mississippi was really scared. He said it was too deep-sounding to be a coyote or a dog. And although he pointed his flashlight at it, he couldn’t see anything. The brush was too thick.”
The man’s guide heard the story first.
“Whatever it was, it scared the heck out of him,” remembers Troy Anderson of Selma, who served as the man’s guide that day. “He said it was too deep a growl to be a dog, more guttural sounding. “He was so scared, he scared me,” continued Anderson, adding that the man was pale and shaking when the guide arrived to pick him up that night. The guest declined the opportunity to revisit the site the next morning; despite the fact that he saw several does and bucks while hunting there. “I’ve been guiding for five years, and I’ve never had anybody refuse to go back there. That’s a real hotspot,” Anderson said. “But he was through with iL I had to drive him all the way to his stand (on a different parcel) the next morning.” Mason said the man took some ribbing at the lodge that night, but he never departed from his story. “He was dead serious. He didn’t cut a smile all night, and he wasn’t talking very much either.
These are the tales of just three close encounters, all between 1993 and 1996. Other club members, including Greg’s father-in-law, have also heard or smelled the creature. Guin, Greg’s father-in-law, was sitting over a green field one evening when a handsome 8-pointer strolled into rifle range. He wasted little time in squeezing the trigger. But what happened next caused him to abandon the deer, at least temporarily. After the shot, Guin heard something roar and begin popping its teeth – no more than 50 or 60 yards in the trees behind the fallen buck. The ruckus was so close that, at first, he thought the deer had somehow uttered the sound. About the time he realized the unlikelihood, the invisible jaws slammed shut again, sending shivers up and down Guin’s sweaty spine. He was so shaken by the sounds that he tried, to slither down the ladder to the shooting house without making a sound -with the thought of reaching his parked truck as quickly as he could manage it — but a bottle of cover scent fell out of his pocket. The bottle, of course, hit every rung on the ladder, revealing his escape. Then the creature sounded again, and Guin almost ran to his truck. He didn’t drive up to the field; he went back to camp. Only later, after all the other hunters had returned, they went as a group to collect Guin’s deer. The buck was there, but there was no sign of the monster.
Rumors are circulating to the effect that the strange happenings are not limited to that corner of Dallas County. Some hunters even claim to have the answers. At least one explanation has been offered, but Alabama’s game officials say it isn’t true. A Dallas County venison processor has been credited with saying he’s heard that the state released 150 black bears in the vicinity sometime within the past few years. However, according to David Hayden, assistant chief of the Game and Fish Division’s wildlife section, that’s a popular rumor that simply isn’t true. “We don’t do that,” Hayden said flatly.
While Game and Fish officials will respond to rare reports of bear sightings, and occasionally capture one that has been declared a nuisance or endangered, the animal is usually released within the remote Mobile-Tensaw Delta. That’s the only area where bears are known to exist in Alabama, he said. Hayden says his division has received no reports of bears or unidentifiable creatures in Dallas or Lowndes counties in recent years. But he is not surprised to hear of them.
The biologist says people from across Alabama have been reporting strange sightings for several years. They have ranged from wolves and cougars to kangaroos. Even an African lion, once the pet of a Mobile woman, was found wandering the state’s lower reaches. Hayden, however, says there are no known populations of wild wolves or kangaroos. And the last confirmed sighting of a cougar came in 1965, although the cats can be found in parts of Florida. But there are a few black bears in the Heart of Dixie, not that he’s ready to say they’re roaming parts of Dallas and Lowndes counties. He’s not saying they aren’t either. “We do have some bears, but most reports outside the Mobile-Tensaw Delta are not true. Or at least we haven’t been able to substantiate them.” he said. While bears are considered a protected species in Alabama, one that cannot be harvested legally, the Game and Fish Division is not interested in repopulating the state, he added. Hayden, one of the top biologists on the state’s payroll, says it is possible for a black bear to pop its teeth, but it is not common for them to pursue or attack anything larger than a deer’s fawn. They avoid humans. Moreover, bears don’t make a habit of walking upright. “She’ll eat whatever is available: mice, shrews, moles, grubs and carrion. But they’re mostly vegetarians,” he said.
As for the musky stench? Hayden says that bears normally don’t stink. But he remembers the smell of a particular large male when he was a graduate student that djd have a strong odor. Still, based on the above descriptions of events, Hayden isn’t sure about anything. It might be a bear, but the antics are unusual. “It might be possible. Not much surprises me anymore. It’s the most likely explanation,” he offered. “But I haven’t heard reports of a black bear following somebody .If it was, it could’ve been rabid.”
Jack O’Connor, an accomplished outdoor writer for more than three decades, often wrote about bears. He’d hunted them in every corner of the continent. “The average black bear is a shy, timid ” (and) eternally wary fellow who seldom weighs much over 200 pounds,” O’Connor once penned. “In most areas, he’s so shy that he is almost as difficult to see unassisted by dogs as is a mountain lion.” O’Connor’s description of the mostly nocturnal animal mirrors Hayden’s observations. “One whiff of human scent will generally send the black bear off like a scared rabbit, and he’d always rather run than fight,” the wizened rifleman once wrote. “But if (a hunter) thinks he is afield in the haunts of a dangerous and mysterious monster, those woods will hold an excitement and magic for him.
No truer statement has ever been issued as far as the members of one Dallas County hunting club are concerned.
The size of their flashlights offers proof.