Opening dates of hunting/fishing seasons have
always been special for Hoosier outdoors folks of many persuasions, but
in my book no opener could ever match that of upland game--rabbit, quail,
Moreover, in my book, no upland game opener could
ever match that of 1941.
I was in my junior year at Crothersville (good
ol’ Jackson County), and by this time (age 16), I had been hunting quail
(birds to Hoosier) for more than five years with the late Willim Branard
“Jack” Cain, an older man who hunted with a double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun
named “Old Hannah.” Old Hannah sported Damascus wire-twist barrels and
hammers referred to by Jack as “ears.”
Old Hannah also was a bird gun, par excellence.
When Jack looked down the valley between Old Hanna’s tube at a fleeing
“buzz bomb” and dropped the hammer, the feathers flew.
Jack had access to a dropper named Duke, a cross
between an English setter and an English pointer. Duke, by the way, was
the finest bird dog I have ever followed in a bird field, and that includes
some very fine dogs, including my own. Jack’s brother, Alton, was
Duke’s master and trainer.
So it was that on the Sunday afternoon before
the opener of the bird season the next morning, Jack and I were basking
in a warm sun on a liars bench in downtown Crothersville.
Jack asked if I could hunt with him the following
morning. I had to decline the invitation because I knew my parents would
not approve of me skipping school to hunt birds, even though our family
could use the food in those post-Depression years.
Jack explained that he had to take a physical
examination for the Army draft on the following Thursday, and that if he
passed, they probably would take him that very day. With that possibility,
Jack said I could be the last time we would get to hunt together.
I wouldn’t even ask. I told Jack, as much as I
wanted to go.
When the sun--like a flaming red ball--started
melting the frost the next morning, I sat at the kitchen awaiting the breakfast
my mother, the late Laura Belle, Scifres, was preparing on the old wood-burning
About the time my mother brought my breakfast
to me, there was a knock at the kitchen door.
My mother opened the door to find Jack, clad in
Jack told my mother he would like for me to go
bird hunting with him, but she squelched the idea as she poured a cup of
coffee for Jack. He joined me at the large, rectangular kitchen table.
As Jack sipped his coffee, my mother explained
that my dad had left for work, and that she would not make such a decision.
“How about this,” Jack said, prefacing his proposal
with his draft- examination spiel. “Let Bill dress for hunting and we will
go past the school to ask the school principal (the late Gene Butler) .
. .” for the necessary approval. Jack explained that if Mr. Butler said
no, I would have plenty of time to get back home, change clothing, and
get to school before the opening bell.
My mother may have been thinking of a big pan
of quail baked in sage dressing, and she said that would be all right.
Mr. Butler, one of my greatest educators of all-time,
but who still had problems keeping me in line, had parked and was entering
the side door of the school as Jack and I hove into the schoolyard . .
. with shotguns under our arms, and Duke coursing on his chain, anxious
to get started on the business at hand.
Mr. Butler obviously had seen us, and was waiting
outside his office door at the top of the wide stairway.
I felt very small and insecure as I blurted out
the story--including Jack’s impending physical exam for the Army. I capped
my pitch with the fact that if Jack passed that physical, we might never
be able to hunt together again.
As I stood in judgment, Mr. Butler’s face became
very red, and I feared I might be in for an one-the-spot whomping.
But after a short time, a smile came over Mr.
Butler’s face, and he uttered one sentence: “I can’t tell you to take a
day off from school (he did not use the word, “skip”) to go bird hunting
. . . but if you are not here, I will know where you are.”
I went down the stairway much faster that I had
gone up, and when Duke pointed the first covey at the edge of the old orchard
adjacent to the baseball diamond’s left field. Jack didn’t bother to load
his gun, explaining, as always, that we should save “these birds for seed.”
By mid afternoon, on a hillside overlooking the
big Muscatatuck River bottoms, we ran out of shotgun shells, but not before
we were close to our limits of 10 birds each.
Mr. Butler, as usual, was greeting students at
the top of the front stairway of the school the next morning. I was a bit
apprehensive about our meeting, but when he greeted me, he pulled a neatly
folded note from his suit pocked and handed it to me.
“Show this to your teachers today,” he said.
When I was around the corner and headed for study
hall, I stopped to read the note: “Sing-Sing’s absence yesterday was excused
. . . please allow him to make up any work he may have missed.”
If I owned a mint, I would trade it for that note
on thumbnail image for enlarged view.
is not a great picture of Duke, but it is the only picture I have.
after Duke was gone, Jack hunted with me and Pokey (Skyrocket’s Polka Dot),
one of my great bird dogs. “Pokey’s on point,” he was telling me, “You’d
better get over here.”