One of the good things about having a kid along on a fishing or hunting trip is that they are so handy for us “Elder Sportsmen“. Elder Sportsman is a term usually reserved for those like me, over fifty, although the pecking order runs deep. The stature of the position allows you to pass down to the kid any chores that are beneath your richly deserved status in life. There are dues to be paid before the kid can earn such an exalted position for himself.
For instance, you shoot a rabbit and if a kid is handy, you call him over so he can admire the rabbit while listening to your fifteen-minute discourse on the difficulty of the shot, the speed of the bunny and your lightning quick reflexes. As he turns around, you say “Just a minute, I forgot my game bag. Let me put him in yours.” You do this on the theory that he will be grateful for the chance to carry your stinking dead rabbits in return for you imparting a small portion of your vast store of wood lore.I arrived at Uncle NoPass’s house slightly before the agreed 7 a.m. rendezvous and listened to his fussing as he finished his breakfast about having wasted half of the season already, despite it only being the second day. He was primed and ready to go. At 83 and in slowly declining health, he had a point since he didn’t get to hunt on opening day.
The ride up to the foothills, north of Valley, was pleasant though I was disappointed that, except for the dogwoods, very few of the hardwoods had started to change into their fall colors. It was still a treat to get away from the pines for a while. About the only thing that marred our ride on the back road to Wedowee was the constant traffic. Where the heck are all you people coming from?
Well, go back.
After picking up Jamey Lee while dropping off my aunt, we hurried to the cutoff where we were to hunt. Skeeter was already there with his two dogs, Bill and Girl. Bill was a local legend, though a little long in the tooth. Girl was Kate’s mother and you couldn’t tell the difference between that two without looking at the collar. Getting my bag of gear out, I began to gird myself for mortal combat against the wily rabbit with snake chaps, rope, orange small game vest, pin on compass (helps keep me lost in only one direction), gun and shells.
Jamey Lee, Skeeter and Uncle NoPass were all contemporaries with well over 200 years of rabbit hunting experience between them. As they got their guns and folding chairs from the back of the pick-ups, they decided to hunt the east side of the road because the west side, known to the owner as Hell’s Bottom was, well, Hell.
Unlatching the doors on the dog boxes, Skeeter let the five beagles push open the doors and jump to the dusty red dirt road. They nosed about for a few minutes while taking care of some pressing personal needs Then it was straight into Hell’s Bottom where they started running. NoPass, Skeeter and Jamey Lee listened to the rabbit leading the dogs in circles down in that impossibly thick bottom and agreed that the rabbit would stay in the bottom, circling till the pack of beagles lost him unless…
Jamey Lee told the other two, ”How about we send the kid in there to break it up?”. I was just snapping shut my snake leggings and glanced around to see what kid I had missed when I realized that all eyes were firmly focused on me. I think they felt I still owed some dues.
He ran through the briars.
And he ran through the brambles.
He ran through places where a rabbit couldn’t go
As I worked myself into the bottom trying to cutoff the rabbit or move him to the logging road, the three elders of the rabbit hunting fraternity waited in relative comfort, sitting on their folding stools, sipping coffee and listening to the “fun” down below.
Lord it was thick.
The snake chaps saved my legs from being scratched up by the thick stands of cane briars and wait a minute stickers that laced the low branches of the tightly packed pines, but not my stomach and fore-arms. As usual, my upper body began to look like I had taken a bath with a cat
A large doe materialized in the tangles walking down the faint trail looking back where the dogs were running hot and heavy. When her head swung around to see where she was going, her eyes widened and her nose flared at the my sudden appearance. She blew and sprinted up the hill. The dogs passed in a circle across where the deer had just bounced through. Robyn, named as Uncle NoPass always does for a family member and the newest member of his pack, glanced up the deer’s trail. I held my breath. This was her first test and she passed it well by ignoring the running deer and continuing on the rabbit’s path.
We lost that rabbit but as I tried to lead the dogs out, Kate jumped again and the pack was off and running. That was the way it went all morning. I trudged up hills. I fell into patches of vines as they snared my feet. I threw old tree limbs onto the green briars in vain efforts to bend them enough for me to get a foot on them. I got on my hands and knees and crawled under vines. All in my quest to press onward to the dogs and by extension, the rabbit.
I didn’t see a single live rabbit.
And like the dogs, I’m so out of shape.
Late in the morning I heard a single shot and hurried to the firebreak that circled one of the bottoms. Or at least as hurried as one can be in a sea of ten foot “wait a minute” stickers, alive and unbowed by frost in the mild October weather. Skeeter was picking up the rabbit as I came into sight. Seeing me, he launched into a fifteen-minute description of the difficulty of the shot, the speed of the rabbit as it juked left-then right and his lightning quick reflexes making the shot. As I turned to walk up the steep hill to where the truck waited on the road that crowned the ridge, he said “Just a minute, I forgot my game bag. Let me put him in yours.”