I’d never been hunting and I wasn’t hunting this time either. I’d tagged along my friend Jack and his dad and uncle out to the country for a day of pheasant hunting, but it was pheasant hunting observing.
Me and Jack at 14 had no guns. Good enough for me. Me and Jack were there to more or less watch Jack’s favorite companion, the family’s Springer spaniel, Bob White.
Jack’s dad, Mac, or Mr. Mac as kids called him, said Bob White was sort of unusual for a Springer as he was mostly white. When he ran through a field, he bobbed up and down, so early on, so Mr. Mac said, he called him Bob White. Bird dog, pheasant dog.
Who’d argue with Mr. Mac? Dog trainer by hobby or actually a second profession, first being auto mechanic. Everybody in town knew him, Mac, the mechanic. Fixed everybody’s car. Mac, the guy who also raised and trained dogs. He had a full-time trainer on his property, which was called the dog farm by most people. The dogs were always referred to as Mac’s dogs, like the pro trainer didn’t exist.
So this one fall day Jack said c’mon along with us tomorrow, or some such thing, and I’d jumped at the chance. We were going out to the country, which from our little town was about five miles, but sure seemed longer, figuring in so little traffic, even fewer people than our town, and all that quiet.
We got out there – a place Mac said he’d come several times before. Farmer’s land, he said. Gave him a couple dollars to let us roam. Said we couldn’t go through the wire, where the corn had grown and where the gold stalks now stuck out, the wire separating the corn from the untended land. Mac explained Bob White could get near the wire, flush out pheasants right on that fence border, as pheasants liked to hide on the ground.
We couldn’t see the other edge of the field, were told it ended at a distant tree line, this was maybe a half mile on non-scientific guess. Couldn’t see the far edge in front of us, either. The field went down gently to a road, so I guessed when we got there we’d know it. Turned out it wasn’t all that far, not a mile, for sure. “Perfect hunting ground” Mac pronounced it.
He gave me and Jack gallon jugs of water, gave Jack a small canvas bag. Called it a “kit” – had tweezers for pulling thorns out of Bob White’s paws, if -come, had some medicine and tape, also for Bob White. “Can’t be held up by a dog comes up lame,” Mac smiled to us. Seemed to make sense, but there was no food or water for us, I noticed. Maybe in the car.
Bob White was eager for the task, jumping up and down. Jack and me walked down to the far end – to the road – near the wire line, instructed by Mac. “You boys can be blockers, me and Uncle Ted here, you see, are against the wind. Bob White’ll flush ‘em, they’ll see you guys and spook short, we can bag ‘em.” That was the whole explanation. I’d have to see it in action.
“Can’t shoot a hen,” Jack told me walking down the line. “Gotta get the males, the ringnecks.” I guessed a hen was a female, I suppose I should’ve known.
“Hope the hunters spot the difference,” I said, hoping to sound knowledgeable.
Jack, dark haired, several inches shorter than me, laughed. “They been doing it since ‘fore I was born, you too.” As he was smaller than me, this made him seem even younger.
We crossed a ditch, stood in the dirt road. Road didn’t look much used.
Before long Bob White came, well, bobbing through the taller crunchy field grass, right along the wire by the corn. We hadn’t seen any pheasants come flying up. Bad day for Bob White, I asked Jack, who assumed the role of the veteran hunter. Birds’r a little deeper probably he said through a squint, though the sun was away from where he faced. I remained silent and Jack didn’t mind, the rest of the morning.
Bob White had come near us, scouted the ditch to our front, all along that north-south half mile stretch. We moved with him, the dog actually ahead of us, the hunters probably not happy about it. But maybe not; they never said, even later after the bad stuff.
Mac and Uncle Ted were quite a ways behind, something I never figured on, I don’t know why. Mainly I thought if Bob White got a bird out then we could get shot, unintentional, and said as much. Jack said no, they get ‘em in the air, then Bob White’ll go pick ‘em up. He’s the best, that Bob White. Trained so as not to damage’em.
The day was so clear, such blue sky, the early afternoon – still no birds bagged but Bob White had roused two of them out of hiding, near that far tree line – too far for a shot according to Mac when we somehow joined up. The pheasants had flown directly away low over the tree line.
By mid-afternoon, Bob White had gone up and down that field a bunch of times after that first trip around the rough perimeter. We’d started at the top of the rise, a small bluff. Where we were, down by the road, we had to move back up the rise, that was the pattern. Now the sun was pretty much at that time of day where everything looks gold, even the people.
Bob White’d had his water, then took off again, me and Jack set out to the “start” end again, as blockers. I’d seen during the water break how Jack and Bob White just had this affection. Best pals. Somehow it made me feel good, one of the best sights ever.
Me and Jack, now getting near the top, could see Mac and Uncle Ted way back, the gold field haloed them and their fronts looked dark, the sun was angling just slightly further west after that water break.
Not much later, Jack looked puzzled, gazing the field. I didn’t notice anything. “Bob White’s not moving good,” he pronounced. “Something’s wrong. I’m going to find out what.” I raised my voice that Bob White was probably just tired, but might as well have told it to the wind. Jack thrashed his way through the rough field, me a bit behind. Bob White was about a hundred yards ahead, picking his way.
Mac and Uncle Ted shouted from far back, Jack get away. I thought, maybe something happens Jack’ll get shot.
Jack got to Bob White, I trailed in. Jack didn’t want me to see his tears. Did anyway, turned my head. Bob White was whimpering, favoring a leg. The hunters got there, sort of mad, sort of concerned. I couldn’t judge which was most.
Seems after a lot of discussion Bob White must’ve stepped in a hole, the left foreleg was probably busted, tape from the kit maybe helped, but the hunt I figured was over. Bob White was laying on the ground, no desire to move. We were there a long while, Mac and Uncle Ted doing about all the talking. I was surprised when they decided to keep going on.
We go without the dog, Mac ordered, and he and Ted started back down the gentle rise. Me and Jack stood with Bob White. Well, we ain’t leaving him, Jack said. No of course shot back Mac. You stay or you bring ‘im. So Jack picked up Bob White, carried him. Soon we were catching up with the hunters, and Mac growled back, something about me and Jack and the noise.
I didn’t know why we were still hunting, but I guess these things don’t have time limits, except for daylight, which was about an hour and half left I figured. I was thinking of the dog, of pain.
Jack was tired after carrying Bob White a few hundred yards. “You guys are a sorry sight,” Mac informed. Jack was dribbling water from my jug into Bob White’s mouth. I wondered if the dog was going to die, then pushed the thought out. Geez, he was okay, everything’d be ok. I was being a fool, more concerned for Jack, who was Bob White, the two were one in that field right then. Jack said Bob White’d patch up fine. Said it more than once or twice.
Uncle Ted said give me the dog, he’d carry. You boys get down the end of the field by that ditch, you’re pretty slow he grumbled.
We did, it was about where we’d first gone early on.
We couldn’t see the hunters, but heard a shot. Me and Jack were pretty far from it, It sounded from over by the tree line, near where we’d just been. They must’ve got one out. I figured Mac probably bagged it, if Uncle Ted was carrying Bob White. Couldn’t tell. I noticed I hadn’t seen a bird, guessed we were pretty far away.
Mac appeared a couple minutes later. You guys get on over to the wire by the corn, start back up. He and Uncle Ted would be ahead of us, or the side, we would sort of be like Bob White now. We hunted about another hour. Never heard another shot, never saw another pheasant. Couldn’t hardly see the hunters, for that matter.
We got back, making a big “L”- shaped walk on up the rise, way behind the hunters by this time. Mac was there at the top, fixing up the guns and ammo into some cases and little boxes.
Jack at first was sort of smiling, “Heard the shot back there, get a bird?” or some such, then the deep furrowed frown. “Where”s Bob White?” he demanded from Mac.
Mac turned toward the car. I figured Bob White was there, as Uncle Ted was. Uncle Ted had a blank face, looked wrong, like somebody told him to have a blank face. Get into the car he said. The car was about 50 yards from us.
“Can’t let a dog hold up a hunt,” Mr. Mac ruled. “Hunting dog can’t hunt, better off not being a dog,’ he finalized. He spat. Looked away. Especially from Jack.
Comes a time people have to accept life’s evils showing up. Can’t really prepare for them, even if you try. What I’ve learned, they usually chunk in a little here and there, give people time to think, to adjust. Shouldn’t have to take all the evil in one big chunk like Jack. Especially at fourteen, my opinion. No evil could ever try to compete with this, couldn’t be the topper. Jack could laugh if it tried. I guess that could be consolation if he was to think about it. He wouldn’t see it that way if it was explained. Then or now. Me neither, likely.
I don't remember riding home that day.
Jack's still my friend. I never saw Mac after that day, I assume he's died by now. All this was fifty years from this past Monday.
My friend, Dennis Perry, sent this to me in an email, saying, "Put together a little story for you. I sort of like it. Let me know what you think."