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Lunghezza:
392 pagine
7 ore
Pubblicato:
Dec 1, 2014
ISBN:
9781611174182
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

In A Life Afield, A. Hunter Smith welcomes readers to sit by his fireside as he recounts twelve evocative tales from his extensive experience as a hunter and hunting guide. Though Smith could draw from some 350 years of ancestral sportsman stories, he instead describes his own successes and mishaps with an intimacy that captivates audiences.

Through his narratives Smith shares his philosophy on hunting and rambling in the outdoors and questions what it means to be a true sportsman in today’s Deep South. As his stories make clear, the South’s outdoor heritage has changed drastically within the last twenty-five years or more. The beauty and majesty of the natural world, as well as the principles of honor, integrity, and humanity found within circles of sportsmen, are seemingly no longer reward enough for the sporting world of today. As Smith would argue, many of the age-old and time-proven wisdoms of woodsmanship are in danger of being forgotten or dismissed by a new era of “immediate reward” for minimal effort.

A Life Afield reminds readers what it means to be a woodsman: to hold the woods and waters deep within one’s heart. Taken as a whole, the collection chronicles the author’s quest to adulthood, influenced by his outdoor adventures and friendships, while also subtly providing solid lessons in sporting ethics, gun safety, and general woodsmanship.

A Life Afield includes a foreword by Ellison D. Smith, IV, an environmental attorney and brother of the author.
Pubblicato:
Dec 1, 2014
ISBN:
9781611174182
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

A. Hunter Smith is a native South Carolinian who has hunted and fished across the Southeast and the nation for the last forty-three years. For thirty years he worked as a hunting and fishing guide and now writes outdoor stories that stem from his experiences afield. He has been published regularly in outdoor magazines and journals, both regionally and nationally including South Carolina Wildlife magazine and Gray’s Sporting Journal.

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A Life Afield - A. Hunter Smith

afield.

Of Sea Islands and Single Birds

When I first set foot on Johns Island, South Carolina, it was still a pastoral and bucolic agricultural zone out in the hinterlands of Charleston County. Corn and bean, tomatoes and melons, wagons and tractors. It had a single fully functional traffic light, and the other was set to blinking, just to remind a few absent-minded residents that a crossroads was still there. More diesel fuel was used on a daily basis than gasoline, and just about any fall or winter day or night, a man could drive the entire island, big as it is, and pass maybe five cars and know everyone behind the wheel. It was a good bit more populated in the spring and summer months, but that’s planting and harvest time for truck-crop farmers, so it was expected to be time come, and equally expected not to be, time gone. It had a single, aged grocery store, which would gladly deliver goods to the infirm or ill-equipped. The few service stations around served more as meeting places for overalled old men than as fuel stops, and far more hot dogs and pickled pigs’ feet were sold on a daily basis than motor oil. The one hardware store stocked everything from shotgun shells to plumbing supplies; nothing in between was of much value, but it had nearly everything you needed.

It was a typical southern farming community, sparsely peopled and happily standing on the sidelines of the progression of time. Charleston County is now one of the fastest-growing and most highly populated regions on the entire East Coast, nothing at all like it used to be, and today that wonderfully quaint and slow-paced island is a mass of vehicular and human congestion year round. Shopping centers and gated communities, restaurants and realtors, and near unrecognizable to the islanders who’d once loved and worked it. Oh well—that was then and this is now.

It was during the then times that I first met Mr. Mumbles. After a September deer hunt with my cousin, he had taken me down to the far end of the island to see his friend’s doings, where he was in the process of turning his family’s old plantation grounds into a pay-to-hunt club. It was a busy time for all, and our initial meeting was a brief and not very enlightening one for either one of us inasmuch as being able to size up any likes or dislikes between us. He had just waded out of a drained duck pond, completely covered in pluff mud, sweat, and grease from a tractor he’d bogged past its axles, and I had just dragged, skinned, and gutted a deer and was more than slightly gory from it all, and there seemed to be some hint of recognition in his eyes and in mine when we reached to shake hands. Not too long after, we became friends. Over time it became far more than that, a familial bond, he much like an older brother or eccentric uncle and I the young counterpart to that. This relationship was built over countless hours and days that turned slowly to years, working side by side, from dark to dusk, maintaining that labor-intensive and grueling pace that is the backbone of all successful hunting operations. The bond made even stronger over countless more hours and days pursuing the sports we both loved, our separate lives having been very similar and the love of shotgunning held deep in both our breasts.

Our first tentative outings in the field together began at the end of an era, the last remaining days of a grand old sport that had defined people’s notions of classic southern wing shooting, long before the first rebellious cannons thought to grumble with discontent. Though there had been a fluctuating rate of decline and remission in regions around and about South Carolina for some decades before and during the 1970s, by the time the ’80s began to loom into view, the wild bird population, that of the much honored and revered bobwhite quail began suddenly to plummet, seemingly almost overnight. This species decline was an event of near epidemic proportion that has never stabilized nor recovered, except in very isolated numbers in well-managed and protected regions. Those wonderful little birds—which had symbolized cultures and epitomized sportsmanship, endured and maintained family legacies, justified and verified countless breeds of dogs and men, and literally defined their fates and their destinies on this earth for more than a century—would nearly vanish from our sight in less than two decades.

Had anyone told me at the height of my bird hunting career that the day would come when I would consider myself lucky just to see a wild bird, I would have laughed them off the field. I would have shaken my head at such a preposterous statement and thought the prophesier a fool. Even my father, whose heart and soul was wed to bobwhites with an innate and intimate understanding of them that spanned the course of seventy years, had long preached the folly of certain practices and long forewarned of a certain decline but had no notion whatsoever in his mind that such a decline would eventually become near genocidal. As he realized the extent of the damage done before his own demise, I saw his face flushed with emotion many times because of it. As for me, I have my own regrets and notions about the whats and the whys of it all, which are points I’ll not argue now. But not having been able to spend our last days together, in the pine and the straw, in the good company of dogs and men we’d known and loved all our lives, as I thought we surely would, is still one of the greatest regrets of my life.

With those birds went my father and my finest and happiest memories of the man. Those two losses, come so closely together, created a fracture in my heart that will always remain fragile and easily reopened.

But such things, unbeknownst to me or Mr. Mumbles, still lay off in some unimaginable future, too distant still for us to leave dogs and birds and sun-gilded fall afternoons to fond and fading memory.

Though it was a relatively brief period of time in the bigger scheme of our lives, it was on such fall days that our friendship was sealed and we came to understand one another. The bird woods being one of the finest arenas I know to learn the hearts and souls of men, to see those times, deep in the primal places, where compassion and honor and charity took root or had never been seeded at all. In the depths of each other, I believe—or rather I know—we saw some likeness to ourselves.

I was a young man then and new to those people and that place, and when I talked to older guns acquainted with Mr. Mumbles about certain aspects of that sport and other experiences I’d had in the field, every one of them, with the exception of cousin or brother, who knew the facts, had a hard time believing that I had anything under my belt but my pants. What they didn’t know is that I’d had a shotgun in my hands not long after they’d snatched the rattles from me out of the crib, and I was taught to use it by men and women of long experience, in target-rich environs. I shot near every day of my life, from seasons’ start to end. Dove, duck, partridge, rabbit, deer, or squirrel, if it flew, ran, or climbed, I’d swung a shotgun at it. From the time I could reason a sentence, I was constantly lectured in gun safety, sportsmanship, dog handling, loads, leads, chokes, and every conceivable way to use them, on every conceivable thing that could be called game in the state of South Carolina. Shotgunning and especially bobwhite hunting was not simply a sport in my family, it was heritage, a way of life, and any child that showed the slightest interest, male or female, was quickly and gladly inducted. It was a family affair, full of passion, that consumed both sides of my genetic line, mother and father, for literally hundreds of years. This may have been a unique thing outside of my immediate surroundings, but I sure didn’t know it. I accepted it as a natural course of action in the progression of life, much like breathing or eating. As a result, by the time I was ten years old, with less than five seasons behind me, I had seen down the tubes of my shotgun at more covey rises and single birds than most average weekend sportsmen twice my age had in their entire lives, and I could well hold my own with most any man by my midteens. By the time I reached my twenties, I would have slapped cash down on the back of any wagon had I been challenged to do so.

With as much time as I had spent in the bird woods, if I couldn’t have by then, I might as well have turned to chess or checkers. It’s a simple as that. I was not divinely endowed with some union between hand and eye. I was just allowed and encouraged to put as many spent shell casings on the ground as I possibly could, until they upped and married off on their own. That’s what makes a bird shot and nothing more, sending as much lead into the air at the real thing as absolutely possible: live targets, with minds and wills, places and things of their own to go and do. In my personal opinion, no clay course, no matter how realistically conceived and challenging they make it, will ever change that fact. After years of working on a variety of preserve lands, I can tell you for certain that no matter how well flight conditioned and no matter how well thought out the release program may be, no pen-raised bird that ever rose up from under the nose of a dog can or ever will hold a candle to his wild and wily ancestor. A wild bird was in a class by himself in the game of upland gunning, and his absence from the landscape is a grievous thing to bear for anyone who is fortunate enough to remember those crisp and crystalline days amid the straw and the pine. When I first came to that island, such days were as fresh to my mind as the scent of cordite in drizzly weather, and the memories of seasons past were still imperiled by the expectations of those to come.

Out of that perpetual evolution of souls that came and went from his place those first days I spent there, it was Mr. Mumbles himself who seemed to grasp the fact that my words didn’t stray too far outside the realms of reality, and one day he called me down there to put his suspicions to the test. When I met him outside the little clubhouse, his old banged-up truck was already running and two anxious-looking dogs were peering out of the box in the back. When we loaded up, he looked me over and then looked over my gun, an old Sauer double-barrel with double triggers that had been my grandfather’s and had been passed to me some forty years after he’d first handled it. When my grandfather first laid hands on it, it was a used gun, but a finely tuned German weapon of cold hard steel, while most everyone else in the states were still swinging Damascus.

What that gun had seen and done between the two of us is hard to conceive, and it looked it. It was a well-kept but well-handled weapon, gray around its temples. This caught Mumbles’s attention right off, because by then most everyone shouldered pump guns or automatics, and those who shot doubles preferred over and unders with single or single selective triggers (which personally I’ve never cared for), either on a side by side or an up and down.

I was wearing some old briar-tattered pair of blue jeans and a weather-faded dux back hunting coat my father had worn on the Chesapeake Bay in the late 1930s and ’40s. and it looked its part as well. You can tell a lot about who you are dealing with in the sporting world by close but casual observation of their attire and weaponry, and I think Mumbles found some satisfaction on his own inspection. As for me, I knew without really knowing the man that he was the real deal. Any idiot could have seen that.

Bird hunting—especially the real thing, hunting wild birds in uncontrolled settings, unlike that of preserves with guides and guidelines and well-rehearsed stratagems on well-worn courses—is one of the most beautiful and exciting shooting sports in the world, and one of the most dangerous. A wild bird is nobody’s fool; he has his wits about him at all times and plays his cards close to his chest. Unless you have hunted the same coveys long enough to know their particular habits, you’re playing a game of catch-up as soon as your feet hit the ground. A bird knows his territory thoroughly, every angle of escape, from every corner of every field, and he makes the choice in the blink of an eye.

You can always make an educated guess as to what an unfamiliar covey is likely to do if you understand them, but it’s still only a guess until you watch them whir away. What you can’t do is force them to go where they don’t want to; they will always go exactly where they choose.

Such considerations might seem irrelevant to the question of safety, but in truth it’s absolutely the opposite. When you walk up to a covey of wild birds, it’s a fool’s errand to place yourself anywhere near the business end of a gun if you don’t know who’s behind it. Because when the action starts, it’s fast and furious, all over in a fraction of a second, with no takebacks once the triggers are pulled. Properly placing yourself in relation to your partner is all-important for the purpose of knowing and maintaining where your own barriers should start and where the other guns should end. When it comes to safe shooting zones in the business of wild bird hunting, those choices are the only things that stand between life and death. It’s close-quarters work between guns, with zero room for error.

Walking up side by side with another gun to a dog on point, toward a blur of birds about to explode all around you, is as close to putting your life in someone else’s hands as you can possibly get. Two old guns who’ve calmly and faithfully made that walk together season in and out are bound by a commitment of trust that few people outside that deadly little circle can truly understand. I was always taught that when you went to a dog on point for the first time with someone you’d never shot with, the wise and gentlemanly thing to do, if you are hosting, was to offer them lead. That way you’re behind the danger and can observe the actions that will reflect on the potential of a future hunting partner and tell you if this invitation was regrettable and decidedly final. The other thing that such an observation can tell you right quick is whether the gun and gunner are an old married couple or on an awkward first date. It doesn’t take but a second watching someone on a wild covey rise to tell whether they’ve swung their guns a time or two.

On the first point, I noticed that Mumbles had done just that. He’d hung back to the left of me, which was the wise choice, since I am a left-handed shot and my best swing is to the right. He nodded that I should walk up alone. The birds had run out of the corner of a stubble corn field into a fallow ground full of briar and broom straw and stub pines about two years old. It was plenty open enough to shoot but thick enough to hide both dog and man from your peripheral view. The dogs had trailed them beautifully and had locked down and backed around a mass of catbrier and pine stumps. Looking past it all, I saw a thick wall of wax myrtle about forty yards out and to my right, where they were likely headed.

I passed the dogs briskly, and a covey of twenty-five or so blew out of that tangle like they were shot from a rocket launcher and swung right of me, as I’d predicted. I caught and puffed a stray outside the main pack. When I did, the rest banked suddenly hard left of me, went pouring over the top of a short stand of palmetto, and dropped from view. I let them go and concentrated on three still holding their original course. All three were headed for a tiny hole in the brush in front of me, but at the last second one decided to tower over it. The other two crossed themselves just as they passed through the gate, and a load of number eights was already waiting for them when they got there. They both fell stone dead, and I breeched my gun, caught the hulls, and loaded up again. It wasn’t a lucky shot: I’d meant to shoot the crossers, and I heard Mumbles back there mumble something appreciative sounding. All of this transpired in mere seconds, but that’s wild bird hunting for you. They leave no time for deliberation. It’s snap shooting at its frantic best.

The dogs found and fetched the birds quickly, and when I took them and turned to walk back to my host, a straggler burst from the tangle and flew directly at him. The gun never moved out of the crook of my arm. Mumbles waited for the bird to pass out of any danger to me, then swung around on him and puffed him right fast like on a going away.

Four birds, three shots—not a bad start at all. We chased a few singles, and as was the honorable thing to do, I let my host have at them alone. They didn’t make it far. All this took maybe twenty minutes from the time we dropped the dogs on the ground, but it was plenty time enough for us both to realize we weren’t dealing with a novice. I myself learned two important things about Mr. Mumbles on that first encounter: that his judgment wasn’t clouded by bloodlust, and that even though he wore glasses, there wasn’t a damn thing wrong with his eyes. He would prove to be one of the finest all-around wing shots I have ever seen, and I’ve seen plenty. He was a fluid piece of work.

THE FIRST TIME I LAID a sporting eye on that island, I immediately saw its potential in the way of whitetails and waterfowl. I had visions of snipe bogs and the occasional marsh hen, but a bobwhite was the furthest thing from my mind. It didn’t seem proper habitat to me. I’d come from rangy country, long swales of pine and straw, hedgerows laced throughout stubble fields of corn and bean that went out of eyeshot, the kind of rangy ground that needed a rangy dog to cover it. The type of dog, as an old field trial man once said to me, could smell a bird in Kentucky and point him in Ohio. The kind of dog and country better suited for the pace and elevation of horseback.

This was cramped country, shy on space for anything more than what was planted in it. Being limited for high ground as sea islands are, they wasted none, and what you ended up with quite often were fingers and tongues, field systems licked out into the salt marsh proper. The fields inland, or as inland as could be had, were mostly surrounded by thick stands of maritime forest. Palmetto and oak, catbrier and myrtle, was far removed from the pine timber habitat you think of when you think of bird hunting, and there was little if any of the ground cover that is associated with pineland habitat.

If the field systems in and around the tide lines were burned regularly, they looked much like Texas plains, wide open and rolling in broom straw and brush, past which you could see the vast expanses of spartina and needle grass grown in and along the marshlands and estuaries. It was great country to shoot birds in, no doubt, but you rarely came across that. Fire took a backseat to cultivation more often than not, and you took what you got. Little did I know, but was soon to find out, that there was plenty there for the taking, at least back then. What I began to realize later on, however, is that even though such habitat by no means fit the classic mold for good-looking bird hunting country, in many ways it was perfectly suited for Mr. Pottige. A bobwhite is nothing if not a staunch family man; he is the ruler of the roost and king of his castle. He doesn’t mind having neighbors and is more than willing to host a dinner party now and then, but they better have an invitation when he meets them at the door. Territorial as he is, he found such country as that, mostly comprising peninsulas and islands and such, right up his alley. He could take the family out to a meet and greet any time he pleased and then retire to his private retreat and lock the doors whenever he so chose.

Mumbles had a pair of Brittany spaniels whose parentage had literally come from overseas on a French passport. They were the first of that type of dog I’d ever seen at work, and I have to confess that I cut a long and snooty eye at them a couple of times while they were still in the box, when Mumbles wasn’t looking, of course. Well, it took all of about ten minutes after their feet hit the dirt to change my mind about them. They were close-working dogs, but well suited for that close country. A cast net couldn’t have covered that ground any better, and they did it with hardly a word or a whistle. They winded, trailed, pointed, held, backed, and retrieved as well as anything I’d ever seen come from across the English Channel—long nosed, long gaited, and Cockney accented or not.

I came to love those two dogs like my own and loved them both until their deaths. And Brittanys are long lived and loving things, but that’s another story.

After those two French-speaking hedgehogs had rooted out and retrieved the downed singles, Mumbles turned for the truck. I distinctly remember thinking that it was the shortest bird hunt I’d ever been on and that it was probably because that was the one covey of birds on the entire place. That wasn’t the case, not by a long shot. Mumbles just had his own way about doing things, and rather than muck across some oyster-shelled mess of pluff mud and marsh wrack, much to the betterment of dogs’ pads and boot soles, we just loaded up and took a roundabout sand road to another place. When we got out, I realized I was looking across the marsh to where we had just been. It was less than a hundred yards away, though it seemed as if we had driven at least a mile. We had been on sort of a reverse pocket the first time out, a bluff line rounded out into the marsh. Now we were on a peninsula proper, about 250 yards long and maybe 100 wide. It had been planted and harvested in corn and had hardly a tree on it but for a couple of small groups of live oaks sprouted in its center like giant mushrooms and some salt cedar on the marsh edge. One side was bordered by a duck pond with a run of saw grass down it, but except for the weeds grown up in and around the field itself, that was the only ground cover there was.

Dogs cut loose, Mumbles came back around and reached in the truck. He grabbed a sack of chewing tobacco and loaded his cheek with a golf ball–sized wad, then went and leaned up against the hood. Out of sheer habit, I was about to climb up in the truck bed to keep an eye on the hedgehogs, but he called me down with a confident If they find a bird they’ll let us know. Of course he mumbled this around that giant wad of soggy leaves, which is how I came to call him Mumbles in the first place. He was an educated man, well read and spoken, yet these facts were near indiscernible, because they were forced to pass by half of South Carolina’s yearly tobacco harvest to get at your ears.

I was wondering to myself about just how the hedgehogs planned to notify us of a find and had decided that maybe one of them had a penchant to bark after a while when no one showed up to a point, which I have seen some dogs do. But as I considered that, Mumbles leaned around the hood of the truck and said, Let’s go.

One of the hedgehogs had suddenly shown up out of the weeds and was standing there looking at us expectantly and eagerly wagging its stub around.

When we got down there, we found the other hedgehog locked down solid on the edge of about an acre of stunted corn that had been left standing after a spring tide had ruined it, salt water and corn not being a good mix. As soon as we got there, our stub-tailed guide went right over and backed his stubby partner like he’d picked a good spot before he left. There’s not much more to say about all that than what should be perfectly obvious, so I’ll leave it at that.

The hedgehogs had interrupted one of those aforementioned dinner parties Mr. Pottige sometimes likes to attend, though in actuality it was more a brunch. There were at least two and more likely three coveys of birds squatted down in that standing corn. Since the salt had staunched it, it was only about waist high, which was bad for them, since Mumbles and I walked in there together this time. It was one of those long and drawn-out flushes, often dreamed of and less often experienced. They came rolling out of there like a lazy string of blackbirds lifting off, the last in line waiting for the first to pass over their heads.

After the smoke had cleared and everything had been sorted out, we decided against chasing the singles, just on principle of the carnage that had been wreaked, but the hedgehogs had other ideas about that and had already singled a few out. You hate to reward such diligence with disappointment, so we accepted the offer and followed them out there.

Those birds had gone out to a hummock in some hard marsh like you would find a clapper rail on come high water. It was without a doubt the most unusual thing I had seen to date in the bird woods, which in and of itself is nowhere near an apt description of what we were hunting. I was crunching dead and bleached out oyster shells underfoot going out there and driving a herd of frantic fiddler crabs ahead of me. It was surreal. Status quo for Mumbles, though.

The hummock wasn’t very big, but it was grassed over heavy, and it took some powerful kicking to get the birds out of there, educated as they had just been about our intentions. When they did blow out of there, they were serious about it! There were five birds, and they all passed to my swing on a crossing shot as they headed back inland and left a couple behind. The hedgehogs wanted more of that, but it was a little too much like shooting fish in a barrel for either one of us, so we dragged them off their next point and carried them in our arms back to the truck.

That whole experience had obviously rattled my nerves some, because on the next covey rise, I missed clean with both barrels and then shot the bark off an oak tree where I thought a single bird had been. I did manage to fold a high bird that was trying to tower up over some trees along a ditch bank not long afterward, so I felt somewhat vindicated. On the way back to the truck for lunch, Mumbles made humorous mention of my having assaulted his oak tree. He said not to worry about it because he’d planned to thin that timber anyway. I told him that I had been known to ring an entire stand of long leafs before, so if he gave me a couple of more days in there he wouldn’t need a logger.

He lived a fairly Spartan lifestyle, so lunch consisted of tomato sandwiches made with some white bread and a jar of mayonnaise he’d been carrying around in his game pouch all morning, which we folded around thick red slices of fruit we’d cut from a fall field. We washed them down with some lukewarm Pepsis, chased by some salted peanuts that had been rattling around in a jar on the floorboards of his truck for God knows how long. But it suited us and the hedgehogs, who sat on either side of us on the tailgate like bookends, drooling on our kneecaps, just fine.

When we started out again, we drove over a series of dikes separating a collection of duck ponds and ended up on an island that was a good three hundred acres or better. It didn’t take long before we were right back in the birds. Both coveys fanned out in the same area, and it was deadly ground for shooting single birds, hardly a bush or a tree in the way of a full pattern of shot. We downsized them right quick, which is something you had to be very careful with if you were concerned about the long haul. Though they were both nice groups of birds, there is no way you can tell which come from which group, and how many you have taken from each, when more than one covey singles out together.

You can easily shoot down a covey of birds passed its ability to regrow itself the next season. If you do, you may well have filled a bag limit, but most likely you’ve succeeded in destroying an entire covey in the process. The remainders will eventually fold themselves into other coveys of birds, but they are so territorial that a plot of ground that has held the same family of birds for decades may never be inhabited again. It was one of the characteristics of bobwhites that distinguished them from other upland birds and was why old-fashioned and conscientious bird hunters, who were completely dependent on wild stock to sustain their sport, were so vehement about not overshooting them. Though the covey rises are no doubt the most exciting aspect of it all, where you really did your meat work was on the single birds, and many a covey has been shot out of existence in one pass by a pair of heavy hands.

As the guest that day, I of course followed Mumbles’s lead, and all that morning and into that afternoon, he led me right down the same path that any conservative-minded bird hunter who treasured that resource would have taken. Without a single word spoken about it, I learned all I needed to know about his mindset on such things. Such careful and loving attention eventually proved to be a moot point, but even if they had known the heartrending truth of what lay in the future, I highly doubt that any bird hunter who truly loved and cherished that sport and the little fowl that provided it would have willingly done things any other way.

There was a sense of reverence and affection, a compassionate protectiveness that formed a lasting bond between bobwhites and those who hunted them, which did not exist between any other hunter and game, at least no other that I was ever witness to. I have yet to witness it again.

The only other group of upland sportsman I know of now that exhibits a comparable sense of stewardship and boundless affection for their prey are turkey hunters, and I include myself among them. But if you really think on it, the bobwhite and wild turkey are very similar in many respects: few other birds in the Americas are so homebound and set in their ways as to allow you to build a legacy and history around them that can be passed for generations across the same plot of ground.

Just as I had once hunted the very same coveys of birds that my great-grandfathers had flushed before me, those of my family who follow my footsteps into the bottom lands will undoubtedly know and love the same flocks of turkey that bring me so much pleasure today. That is, as long as they remain cherished and protected. So far, where we have failed with the bobwhite, we have succeeded gloriously with the wild turkey, and this fact alone gives me hope still.

Though I know that my days of wild bird hunting are likely behind me, the thought that some future generation may be able to know the abiding joy, the beautiful memories and camaraderie those magnificent little birds once provided, is a truly wonderful dream to rest my head upon. God, how I wish it would be so.

When we left those birds, they were only just slightly more worse for wear than when we greeted them, already starting to whistle each other up as we made for the truck, and down the way several hundred yards, they were answered by some birds we had missed on a tentative pass in that direction. We turned that way, and in short order the hedgehogs had them locked down tight. These birds were holed up in the weedy remnants of a mixed brown top and sunflower field Mumbles had planted for the throngs of doves still lounging around. Right next to it was a twisted finger of brackish water, pushed inland from a bigger waterfowl impoundment. Across from it was another impoundment, with its dikes blown out, all grown up in cattail and wax myrtle. When the birds flushed, they made a beeline for it, straight out over the water. Twenty or so left out and three stayed behind, feet up and floating. In the blink of an eye, the hedgehogs morphed into otters, and as fine a water retrieve as anyone could have hoped for ensued. Well launched and strong stroked, otter number one, the female of the pair, came back with a double. As stated earlier, there’s nothing else really to be said about all that, other than after that I was thoroughly convinced that at least on that account, the French had every right to be arrogant. That brace of dogs were as good all-around gundogs as I have ever seen. What they had going for them, other than blood, determination, and a fine handler at the start, was the same thing all truly gifted gundogs share, untold hours under the gun.

While I was standing there wringing out my wet bird, Mumbles elbowed me and said, Look here coming. I looked and saw a light mist wafting our way, which soon turned into a double fistful of blue-winged teal. Mumbles was not a linear-thinking gunner by any means—something else we both shared—and ’twas the season after all. They passed over low and casual, until the shot started whizzing by their heads. The hedgehogs grew webs on their feet again, and we had four fat teal to show for it in the end.

Blue-wings and bobwhites, what a wonderfully strange mixed bag. We made a pass by a bog on the way out and added ten or twelve snipe to that concoction as well. It was, as they say, quickly turning into a true red-letter day, the type of day that would take a full-blown case of amnesia to forget, if that were even possible. To say that I was somewhat astounded by it all is putting it mildly. I don’t know what I had really expected, but I do know that I had never expected all that.

My family had always lived a charmed and enviable sporting life, come from and raised in the traditions that defined the plantation culture. Long gone were

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