"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres
November

I remember--and cherish--a lot of things about Novembers, not the least of which are the things I see and hear from deer stands between the first pink of day and the throes of a fire-engine red sunsets.

But if I had to stop the wheels of memory on one November--one incident--I guess it would have to be sunrise on Monday morning in 1941.

The scenario for this memorable incident started the day before--a cool, but bright and beautiful Sunday afternoon at Crothersville (Sweet Jackson County).

William Branard (Jack) Cain, one of my squirrel and quail-hunting mentors, and I were soaking up sun on one of the liar's benches (there were several) at the corner of the only stoplight in Crothersville.

To turn this into a story I must tell you that Jack, as he was known by hundreds of people who didn't know he had another name, had taken me under his wing when I was about 11 years old (as we later would figure it). Jack was one of the older men of the town who had been approved by my father as a companion when I would go to the woods for squirrels. I could take my little Springfield single-shot, bolt-action rifle out with my dad, Jack and a few other people, but I was not to take the rifle out with other kids.

Our squirrel hunting relationship quickly embraced bird (quail) hunting because Jack's brother, the late Alton Cain (one of the best bird-dog trainers I have ever known), was putting finishing touches on a black-splotched dropper named Duke.      Incidentally, Duke was "paws-down" be best bird dog I ever shot over (hunted with)

Perhaps, in case you are wondering about the terminology, "dropper," I should explain that there are many breeds of pointing dogs, English setters (long hair) and English pointer (short hair) being the most common, at least in Indiana. The dropper is a crossbreed of the two, usually with short hair and a nose that detect an old overshoe or a snapping turtle at 20 paces.

So on with my story.

It must have been November 10 as Jack and I enjoyed this beautiful fall afternoon because the upland game (including quail) seasons always opened on November 11, Armistice Day, (now Veterans Day) in that era.

Jack noted that the bird season--bird meant Bobwhite quail in Indiana in those wonderful post-depression days--opened the next day and he thought it would be good if we could hunt together.

He explained that he had been called by Uncle Sam to take a physical examination the following Thursday for possible induction into the Army.

"If I pass the physical, they probably will take me that day," Jack said in explaining the gravity of the situation. "Tomorrow could be the last time we will get to hunt together." 

Jack said I should ask my parent if I could take the day off from school to hunt with him.

I told Jack that my father--great outdoorsman that he was--would not allow me to skip school to hunt.  I told Jack I would not broach the subject with my parents that night, and there the episode appeared to end.

But I didn't end there.

Next morning, just after daylight, I was dressed for school and breakfasting at the kitchen table. My mother was busy at cooking on the old wood-burning stove, which made the kitchen warm as toast even on this frost-filled morning.

"Tap! Tap!" There was a tapping sound at the kitchen door to the back porch.

My mother opened the door to find Jack standing there in hunting togs. And sensing, I think, that there could be some kind of conspiracy about, she invited Jack in and poured him a cup of coffee.

As Jack sipped his coffee he poured out the story about his Thursday Army physical exam, pointing out at the end that this could be the last time we would get to hunt together.

My mother was sympathetic, but she exercised good judgment in pointing out that my dad had already left for work and that she would not take the responsibility of telling me I could skip school to hunt.

How about this, Jack countered. I could dress for hunting, stop at the school on the way out of town, and put the matter in the hands of the high school principal.

If the principal did not approve, I would have plenty of time to return home, change clothing and get to school for the first bell.

My mother bought that plan. Enter Eugene B. Butler, one of my all-time great educators, although we occasionally had our differences.

Mr. Butler was a firm disciplinarian but as fair as a man could be. Looking over his shoulder as he entered the school's back door to see Jack and me walking onto the school grounds with shotguns under our arms and Duke swinging on his chain he must have known what was in the works.

He met me at the top of the wide stairway to listen to my story. I went through Jack's spiel almost as well as he did it, pointing out at the denouement that this could be the last time two good friends could hunt together.

I may have added that anything could happen in a war.

Mr. Butler's face got very red--like it did when he was into heavy discipline. I was thinking that I not only would have the plan blow up in my face, but that I might also be whomped on the spot.

But suddenly a huge smile split his face and Mr. Butler said he could not tell me I could take a day off from school to hunt. He quickly added that if I were not there, he would know where I was.

I ran down the stairway, out the back door and we headed east into farm fields and best Bobwhite habitat I have ever seen

The sun was still low on the horizon and we could hear the "Hoot . . . Hoot" of a B&O freight train 20 miles or more to the east.

Duke found the first covey at the old apple orchard on the north side of the school's baseball field. But we fired no shots at these birds, used primarily for training Duke.

I don't remember how many coveys we put up that day--nor how many birds we killed. But we were back well before dark with enough game to feed our respective households

My story could have ended there, too. But it didn't.

Next morning when I entered the school's north entrance and went up the wide stairway to the second (high school) floor Mr. Butler greeted me at the top with a smile as he handed me a neatly folded slip of paper.

When I was around the corner and out of sight, I unfolded the paper to read the terse message: "Sing's absence on Monday was excusable. If he missed any important work, he should be allowed to make it up."



 
Duke makes a high point in the only picture I have ever seen of the dog.
Jack Cain closes in to flush birds for my old dog, Pokey, many years after Duke was gone to Bird Dog Heaven.

MORE JACK & DUKE STORIES

One year (after WW II), when Duke was getting up in years, Jack and Alton got so busy that they didn't have time to condition the old dog on the Old Orchard covey that frequented the big ragweed patch behind their house.

Jack, Alton and their mother lived only a few houses north of the school and the big ragweed patch came right to their property line. It was the best of all locations for the owner of a bird dog.

Opening day dawned bright and sunny with temperatures far above normal. And Jack, knowing that Duke was not hardened to the rigors of running, said we would stay fairly close to town.

Our hunt started early and we never made it to the Muscatatuck River bottoms because Duke conked out on us at mid-afternoon when we were headed back to town. The old guy had given it all he had and simply could move no further.

Although I didn't own a real hunting coat until later in life, Jack wore a duck coat with a deep game bag all the way across the bottom of the back.

We put all of our birds in my makeshift hunting coat (an old denim "Jimslinger" with a game bag fashioned by cutting slits in the muslin lining).

We placed Jack's hunting coat flat on the ground and manage to get Duke in the game bag, upside down; back feet and legs and tail protruding from one side, a smiling dog head and front feet from the other.

We took turns wearing the coat all the way to town, and we learned a valuable lesson on the importance of conditioning of dogs prior to opening day.



 
HOW GOOD WAS DUKE?

VERY, VERY . . . Take my word for it. Jack and I would both shoot on covey rises, but we would take turns on singles. The non-shooter simply backed up the shooter. He could not shoot unless the shooter missed.

One time we had a huge covey of birds scattered in Roy Chasteen's thicket in the Muscatatuck River bottoms east of C-ville.

Duke went on point--apparently a single--in a thick carpet of leaves from a circle of white oak trees that covered an area as big as a house.

To complicate the issue, the trees were covered with wild grape vines and it appeared the only place that bird could go would be through a small opening in the jumbles limbs of the canopy.

Jack, at least 25 years my senior, said it was my shot, but I knew it wasn't. I knew he wanted to see how a snot-nosed kid would handle the situation.

So I waded into the leaves to flush the bird. which went--as I thought it would--through that opening at what seemed the speed of light.

Flabbergasted as I was, I managed to punch out a shot just as the bird went through the opening.

Jack slapped his thighs and roared with laughter.

When he regained control, he told me I hit that bird.

There were no falling feathers . . . nothing to indicate I had made a lucky shot . . . and I opined that my pattern wasn't even close.

Jack said he thought I hit the bird and that Duke concurred. Duke thought you hit it," Jack said, pointing out that the bird had flown high over an adjacent field and into the next thicket.

"Duke took off in the direction the bird went," Jack said. "Let's just wait here until he comes back."

You guessed it. In a few minutes, Duke returned with my bird in his mouth, not a feather ruffled.



  
WHAT A LAZY PUP

Duke must have been four or five months old when I met him on a bright summer-Sunday morning.

I had walked east in the alley from our house (three or four blocks) to talk with Jack, and when I rounded the corner of the house this pup was flaked out on the weathered boards of the back porch in a swath of sun. 

 Jack's mother told me Jack was not home, but that he would be back soon . . .that I could wait.

I waited for a few minutes, but decided to leave and come back later. As I walked past the sleeping pup, I crossed his front legs behind his head.

A couple of hours later I returned. Jack was home and Duke still slept . . . his front legs crossed behind his head.


X MARKS THE SPOT

It was inevitable that soon after returning from the U.S. Navy for a four-year stint of WWII I would get into the bird dog business with a dog of my own.

Rex was an older English setter. He didn't measure up to Duke on his best day, but he was a good dog on his own and contributed greatly when hunted with Duke.

Jack and I would start conditioning the dogs once or twice a week well before the season opened.

One Sunday morning we had the Apple Orchard covey scattered in the ragweed field behind his house. There was a low, woven-wire fence running north-south a few yards into the weeds.

Both dogs were "birdy" on a single. Duke jumped the fence and went on a half-squat point when he hit. As we slowly approached to flush the bird, Rex jumped the fence from the other direction and was on a high point when he hid--his front feet on one side of Duke and his back feet on the other.

"X marks the spot," Jack said wryly as we drank the picture down like ice-cold lemonade on a hot day.


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All columns, stories, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author's heirs.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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