Out of Bounds

Tangled Web of Wire

Cleaning up our abandoned fencing seems the least we can do as stewards of the land

By Rob Breeding

Two seasons ago as I crossed a dry creek bottom while hunting for quail in the mountains of California, I felt something in the tall grass snag my trailing boot. That happens quite a bit hunting in thick cover and I’ve a habit of pulling my boot through the vegetation, tearing whatever grass or vines I’m tangled in.

It always works, until it doesn’t.

What I didn’t know is that a long strand of barbed wire hid in the grass. It had been there a long time, long enough to have wrapped itself around trees and rocks. My boot snagged on that abandoned barbed wire, strung tight in the spring when the now dry wash raged with snowmelt.

My workout routine isn’t vigorous enough to develop leg muscles with barbed wire snapping strength. When I yanked my foot forward, a barb dug into my boot, halting its progress. The rest of me kept moving forward. The spill happened so fast I barely prepped for impact.

Fortunately, I held my shotgun in front of my chest with both hands. In an instant I pulled the gun close to my body, keeping the muzzle away from my face as best I could. The fingers of my right hand extended from the stock to shield the trigger. I braced for the impact I hoped my forearms could absorb without too much damage.

Fortunately, I landed in a sandy spot. Unfortunately, a single, good-sized rock pointed up from the sand. I fared OK, except for the rock intersecting my rib cage. You know how rib injuries go. Mine were bruised and sore for weeks.

I successfully shielded the trigger, and while my nose landed on the barrels, the muzzle remained directed toward safety. I hunted alone so I didn’t have to avoid pointing at a companion, not that I could have done much about it in my abrupt descent.

Over the next week I hunted that creek bottom and the surrounding uplands almost every day. There were a couple coveys in the canyon but finding them in thinner cover that offered an open shot proved difficult. I heard those mountain quail, but rarely saw them. 

That was time enough to become the expert on the barbed wire situation in that wash.

Up canyon an abandoned fence crossed the narrowing creek bottom. The fence ran up the west slope to a road, where it ended. To the east the posts had rotted out and up the hillside the wire strung along the ground. Laying in the creek bottom were a couple rolls a wire still bundled up. Another roll had begun to unspool and lengths of it ran down the canyon. I’d found the source of my tripping hazard.

I’ve no idea how long that fall lay in the grass waiting for me to meet it, but it had been a long while. The area had been grazed sometime in the past — there’s a sand-filled concrete water trough in a nearby canyon — but the range is verdant in a way that suggested grazing was abandoned with that barbed wire fence.

For me, abandoned barbed wire is an inconvenience, albeit a briefly scary one when my nose smushed up against the barrel of my side-by-side, close enough to the muzzle to notice. For wildlife, however, abandoned wire is far more serious. Critters get tangled in that stuff, and since most don’t carry fencing pliers, entanglement often leads to death. 

Death of the slow, agonizing kind. Google “tangled elk” if you want to see the horrible results.

There aren’t any elk in the mountains of Southern California. Mule deer and bighorn sheep are the glamour ungulates there, and males of both species are prone to the same fits of rut rage that get elk in so much trouble. 

Cleaning up our abandoned fencing seems the least we can do.

Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.

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