by Dave Fisher
You step to the fence cautiously studying its strengths and weaknesses. You've done this hundreds of times before, trying every type of approach imaginable. This time you think you see a flaw, the top strand has been nailed a little too high and there is plenty of room for you to squeeze through. You think about sliding your gun under first, but the grass is soaked from last night's heavy dew. You unload it and decide to carry it through. "I can get through here in a jiffy anyway," you tell yourself.
Without anymore hesitation you decide to try "the slip through" method. Gingerly you press gently on the middle strand making your path even easier. Next you swing the first leg through, and bend down enough for your head to clear the top wire. "Piece of cake," you think smiling to yourself, and now 3/4 of the way through. Certain you've beaten the prickly monster this time, you start to straighten up, your forward progress suddenly stopped by some unseen tentacle.
"No problem ... just one barb hooked on my collar." Reaching awkwardly behind your head you fight to free yourself, instantly pain shoots through the one leg still firmly planted on the other side. Instinctively you grab for the source of the pain and another ugly tooth gouges a inch long slice out of your gun stock. You begin to scream in agony and frustration, as another spine begins to rip at the crouch of your pants. You can all ready begin to hear your voice growing higher. You're hopelessly entangled in the clutches of this heartless beast, knowing torn clothes and more bloody tears in your skin are the only way out .... the wire monster has won again.
How many times have you gone through this scene? Probably more times than you want to remember. Hunter, dog runners, anyone afield all know the pain of trying to get through the countless fences that criss-cross our hunting landscape. In my favorite hunting area of Greene County, PA it seems one cannot go a 100 yards without crossing some type of fence. The area is rolling hills, perfect for cattle and hunting, good for little else. With cattle you're going to have fences. By the end of a single day it is not uncommon to pass through 10 or even 20 fences.
The method described at the beginning of this story is a common one, there are many others. As an expert of getting hung up on fences, I have tried them all: "the climb over", "the step over", "the take-all-day-go-around" method, the reliable, but dirty "crawl under", and of course, the "slip-through". Yes, we even have the "cut-through" method, but I don't recommend it! Guys masquerading as "hunters" who carry wire cutters with them never hunt with me again, or even finish out the day!
My main concern when approaching this octopus of the field is how to get past this thing without causing too much damage, to myself or to the fence. For this reason my main method of attack is the "crawl under" or the modified, "roll under". I walk along the fence until I discover the right distance I need from the ground to the first wire. In my case, a 250 pound body needs a lot of space for this! And for some reason, I never seem to calculate the distance correctly and come up short! Now either that space was just a hair too small or the darn monster reaches down and grabs me!
The crawl under method works great when it's nice and clean and dry out, but how many hunting days do we usually get like that? In the snow or mud this method can really be messy. And like I said, in most cases the monster's jagged teeth will pin you to the ground. You fight loose only to discover you're now soaking wet, and your gun barrel is clogged with mud.
My gun, clothes, and body all bear the scars from numerous battles with the barbed wire monsters. Many times after a particularly ferocious fight, I come away screaming, "They ought to hang the guy who invented this stuff!" So who did create this Frankenstein of the woods? I'm glad you asked.
The next time you are tangled and hung up in the jagged hold of a barbed wire fence you can thank Joseph Glidden of De Kalb, Illinois. Joe started making barbed wire after seeing a crude sample at a county fair. He began manufacture of the wire at his home on November, 1st 1873. The first barbs were made from sheet metal, then twisted between the two strands of wire.
The wire was not originally made to keep cattle in, but to keep them out of grain and vegetable fields, and to protect ponds used for drinking water. This, as you can imagine, outraged the "cattle barons" that used the vast, and, once thought limit-less, grasslands of the plains. Many range disputes arose because of Glidden's mast production of the prickly wire. In the end, however, the wire stringers won out, mostly because fences could now be quickly erected. Before barb wire, fences were drudgingly built from split wooden rails or stone and sod. By 1890 the giant herds of free ranging cattle were gone (should we say) "thanks" to Joe Glidden and barb wire.
Today barbed wire is made from four strands of wire, two strands run side by side while two others are twisted around the two parallel wires. At set intervals a machine cuts a small piece from the main body and twists it around the strand wires, at the same time cutting tools cut points onto the barb creating a needle sharp tooth.
I can attest to the fact that Joseph Glidden's invention has been a huge success. Steel toothed monsters now lurk on the edge of almost every one of my favorite rabbit thickets. Some barbed wire fences are not satisfied to rip your clothes and tear your skin, some defend themselves even more by trying to electrocute you! What an experience it is to grab hold of a fence and have it sting you like an electric ell; quickly discovering some nasty farmer has "hidden" the insulators on the other side!
And who hasn't had a dog just about scream in mortal terror after brushing against the bottom of this juice laden monster. Evidently, the dog 'mis-judged' the distance from the ground to the first tentacle when he attempted his "crawl-under" method.
The worst crossing comes when two monsters team up to grapple you into submission. This occurs when one fence, that has seen better days, is left standing, and the farmer elects to simply build a nice, new, and usually six times as strong, a few feet in front of the old one. This presents a totally new set of circumstances. Now the footing in between the two fences is skimpy at best, especially if you're a big, plump fellow like me. I know where every one of these two headed monsters are in my hunting grounds, and I go to great lengths to avoid them. In the spring when I am hunting spring gobblers, it is a sure bet that the hot gobbler will be over the double fence somewhere. During early morning, time is critical and you can't afford to go around.
When running dogs, however, I elect the "go-around-take-all-day" method, when crossing "doubles". And by the time I get around the dogs have already had two rabbits up, have lost them, and are tired out and ready to go home! Why don't they ever put gates where you need them. Any new hunting/recreational legislation should require farmers to break each fence with an appropriate human-friendly gate at regular intervals .... say every 100 yards or so.
Of course, a barb wire fence really isn't alive, and they don't actually reach up and try to grab you. After all, it's just a piece of wire. So the next time you're caught in the jaws of the monster and he's ripping and tearing at you, don't cuss and scream, remember it's only a piece of wire .... it can't hurt you! Right?!