I frequently see on the sports page, some youngster proudly displaying a many-antlered deer, a couple of pheasants or even a tame hog of gigantic proportions, with many of the kills made in fenced-in hunting preserves. To me, this seems to stretch the definition of “sport” somewhat, but I guess it is little different from Charles Davis and myself catching our dinner at a trout lake near Blowing Rock, N.C., where the fish were fighting each other to get to the bait, and you paid by the pound for your catch. If we had made two more casts, our bill would have looked like the French war debt.
Being raised in a rural area of McDowell County named Pleasant Gardens, and surrounded by all the game you could usually expect in our southern foothills, I may have worked harder to bring the game home, but I doubt if I would have had as much fun and adventure in some place where the animals were in an enclosure, no matter how large.
Being a 12-year-old with a .410 gauge, single-barrel shotgun, a box of shells and the permission of my parents to hunt where ever my skinny legs could carry me was heady stuff in those days. I was usually accompanied by an old rhound dog named “Rattler” who often flushed squirrels or rabbits before I was even loaded, and I finally realized that his expertise was mainly in the field of marking his territory, fraternizing with ladies of the species and sleeping in the shade. Nevertheless, he was good company.
On some occasions, I even went into the woods at night, old “Rattler” out front, built a small bonfire, got out my sandwiches and waited for the “possums” to come to me. I don't ever remember seeing one, and I have no idea what I would have done if one came along. “Rattler” sometimes remembered that discretion was the better part of valor, decided that a belligerent “possum” would probably “tear his Sunday clothes," excused himself and headed home without me. I do remember going with the grown-ups and seeing them tree a couple of “possums," but I know I didn't eat “possum” or “coon," bulllfrog or turtle. Years later, as a guest of Eddie Haupt at a hunters club dinner in the old fireman's hut in Newton, N.C., I sampled a little of most everything laid out, including quail, bear, deer and even antelope, my bravado and appetite brought on by staying too long at the cocktail bar. I spent the latter part of the evening out back in the woods, paying for my indiscretion.
I remember one time when I sat in a cornfield with an air rifle and bagged a bunch of what I thought were quail, proudly bringing them home for the table, my mother explaining that field larks were probably not that good for human consumption before turning them over to the cats and dogs. Later, in the same field, as we sat down to rest, a friend's old shotgun fired as he put it on the ground, throwing grass and dirt in my face. I hunted a lot with him later but never when he carried that old misfiring cannon.
In the early '70s, I was invited as a guest of West Virginia Pulp and Paper to hunt at their lodge in Bonneau Ferry, S.C., a few miles north of Charleston. Every morning, you were out of bed by 5 a.m., served coffee and donuts, and taken to the small lakes or rice patties, boated to a blind, given a shotgun and a box of shells, and told to start firing when the horn went off, signaling the “shooting hour." By that time, the ducks were trying to land on your shoulder. After about two hours of shooting and usually out of ammunition, nursing a sore shoulder and freezing to death, you were picked up by the guide, who retrieved your few downed ducks and took you back to the hunting lodge for a big breakfast and a nap before the afternoon quail or deer hunt.
The deer hunts were exciting, particularly the sound of the dogs and as I stood behind a bush waiting for the approaching hunt to come near, one deer crossed the road within twenty yards of me and I never saw him. I doubt if I would have fired, had I spotted one of those beautiful creatures.
The quail hunt was another matter. A guide with two dogs accompanied us and the dogs very quickly came to point in a ditch beside the road, I spotted a big, fat, quail, not ten yards away, and alerted the guide, who yelled, “keep 'em up!” I then realized that the quail, pen raised and turned loose by the road side earlier that day, was too fat to even fly out of range. I sat in the truck for the rest of the hunt.
When you left after three days, you were given a bag with dry ice and told to help yourself to the meat in the large freezer chest on the back porch. We're not wild game eaters at home, but the quail, deer, duck and turkey were well received by my employees on my return.
I remember looking in the guest register before leaving and recognizing the names of many national political figures, including at least one president and many congressmen. I suppose they were there as the guests of some lobbyists, seeking a favorable vote on something. If those guests had as much fun as I did, I'm betting the lobbyists got the vote.