When I was a teenager, my stepfather took me hunting several times. I loved fishing, but hunting? Not so much.
Using a shotgun against little animals didn’t seem like much of a sport, at least not for the animals. I liked to hear and watch the beagles run through the thickets to chase out a rabbit, because other than terrorizing a rabbit into running, this seemed more sportsmanlike. Rabbits often ran a lot faster than the dogs, and if it was the rabbit vs. dogs, rabbits were usually smart enough to get away.
Several times I had watched a tired rabbit come out of hiding to sit and wash its forepaw while catching its breath. I had every opportunity to shoot, and because my stepfather stood out of sight, I let the rabbit return to running.
Quail hunting … much more difficult, and quite possibly the last hunt I remember taking.
It was a cold morning with gray overcast skies. The leafless trees stood like forked skeletons. Since I loved being outdoors, I tagged along for this trip, but my interest was more in finding cocoons on the bare trees than bird hunting.
My stepfather invited one of his friends, Johnny, to go with us. Johnny had a German short-haired pointer with an ornery attitude. It hated to hunt with other dogs and had attacked other dogs when hunting in groups. So my stepfather brought Ol’ Lady, his pointer, and since she was a friendly dog she didn’t pose a threat to Johnny’s.
We headed across the remnants of a soybean field with the dogs running and sniffing in zigzag formations ahead of us in the field. We crossed the entire field and entered a second one. The dogs didn’t pick up any scent, which confused my stepfather. His uncle owned over three hundred acres, and they knew several large coveys were out there. The problem was finding where they were, and that required a lot of walking.
After crossing the next field, the dogs took a quick detour into the woods that separated the next field from where we stood. A rugged set of truck tracks carved the only road in those trees and about midway up the path was a large pile of brush someone had cut and left to burn later. The two dogs hurried closer and then slowed their pace.
The dogs stood at each side of the brush pile. Their bodies were rigid and their tails pointed straight. They had found the first covey. My stepfather motioned us where to stand and to remain quiet. We eased closer, as quietly as possible on the layers of brittle leaves. The tension settled over us. After an hour of walking the fields, the moment was finally at hand.
We raised our shotguns, preparing to shoot when the dogs were given the command to rush the covey. However, the gun I had was one I had not used before. I slowly eased off the safety and the gun fired.
Johnny stood to my right. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! He unloaded his automatic shotgun into an empty sky. The dogs (I’m not kidding) both turned and looked at us with “What the Hell are you doing?” looks on their faces. The birds were still on the ground and probably as confused as the bewildered dogs.
My stepfather made the dogs flush the covey, and he managed to shoot two of the birds as they flew into the trees. Needless to say, I decided if I had embarrassed myself in front of two loyal dogs like that, my hunting days were over. And they were.