A Fearsome Critter To Behold: The Oomph
It goes without saying that many people fear what they can’t see. A murky lake that gives no signs as to what swims beneath its surface can be terrifying to those within it, an ominous cave which hides its occupant within the far back under the cover of darkness can make one who approaches it turn and run in fear, and a dense forest at night can make a lone camper feel like a scared child when the sounds of its hidden residents echo out from all around. The unseen is a major fear maker.
And this fear often carries over to creatures who are rarely ever seen by man, but (as with most of our stories) have occasionally been reported and described as terrifying by those unlucky enough to have encountered them. Because of these extremely rare sightings, stories and warnings are told to all who enter the domain of the unseen creature that they too could have a run in with the beast and be frightened to their very core in the process. But as scary as these creatures are, they must occasionally be hunted to prevent them from approaching and entering camps set up throughout the woods. Sometimes in order to protect yourself from a monster, you must hunt the monster.
The problem with hunting these hidden beasts though, is that a good majority of the time, they are complete hokum. These frightening critters are typically nothing more than pure fiction used primarily to have a laugh at the victims expense. A good example of this is a creature known simply as The Oomph. A Fearsome Critter that was known throughout lumber camps of the north and was used primarily for humor and the occasional scare.
The Oomph was described by lumberjacks as being as large as a dog, but looking like the cross between a lizard and a toad. It had huge claws on its four digit hands and feet and it possessed sharp porcupine-like spines that ran down the length of its spine. Its skin was said to be brownish-green in color and was covered in big black rough spots. The critter was extremely fast and the only way to catch one was to take it by surprise due to the fact that if it saw you, it would take off with such extreme speed that the hunter would be unable to track where it went. The best way to find it would be to listen for its easily recognizable call, a noise created from deep down in its throat that sounded like “oomph, oomph”, the source from where the critter got its name.
The story of the Oomph was created primarily as a way to haze newcomers, or greenhorns, when they arrived at the camp. These greenhorns would typically be told that the camp had a problem with an aggressive Oomph and that it was a requirement for the newbies to hunt it down and get rid of it. After being briefed on what the fearsome critter looked like, the nervous hunters would be told of what to look for to verify if an Oomph was in the area. The number one sign that the critter was nearby was to look for broken eggs in a grouse nest as these eggs were the Oomph’s favorite food.
When broken eggs were eventually found, the greenhorns would then loudly make the “oomph” noise as a way to call in the elusive critter. But much to their disappointment -and possible excitement- the Oomph never showed up. The unlucky hunters would then return to camp to inform the other lumberjacks that they were unsuccessful in ridding the camp of their troublesome Oomph. At this point the greenhorn would be made aware of the joke and would have to deal with the ridicule until the newest bunch of greenhorns would arrive.
Now, you may be reading this and thinking to yourself that this story and setup sound almost exactly like a classic Snipe hunt, and you would be correct. The Snipe, the Oomph, and the Dahu (a critter from France) are all non-existent creatures that have been created as a way to joke, prank, or haze those unfamiliar with the woods and the creatures that live within them. These joke hunts are timeless and have been documented as being played on unsuspecting victims as far back as the early 1800’s in North America. And they still occur to this day, as Snipe/Oomph/Dahu hunts are primary fixtures at scouting and summer camps across North America.
So, the next time you find yourself out in the woods with someone unfamiliar with them, make sure to honor the lumberjacks of yesteryear and inform your companion of the dangerous Oomph’s all around them. And remember, if you sell the story good enough, you may even convince them to make the Oomph call while you secretly record it from behind a tree while trying to hold in your laughter.
“In early lumberjack folklore, fearsome critters were mythical beasts that were said to inhabit the frontier wilderness of North America. The critters were a part of lumberjack downtime and were often used to welcome and haze newcomers to the camp. Lumberjacks who would go from camp to camp would bring their entertaining stories with them and they would slowly spread as tall tales across America.”
-The Pine Barrens Institute