"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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A Christmas Story
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Scifres

Memory fails me on the exact year--it was 1939 or 1940. But, I do want to tell you a Christmas story from my youth at Crothersville in good old Jackson County. It occurred on Friday before Christmas, at a time when we believed that Christmas was a celebration of the birth of Christ. Christmas vacation had started when school was out that day.
It is about 10 o’clock at night--after we had played (and were beaten) in a high school basketball game in the cracker box we called a gymnasium. I was sitting on a soda fountain stool of Snow’s Restaurant gulping a small cherry Coke (a nickel), when I heard this well-known voice behind me. Without turning, I knew it was the late Branard “Jack” Cain, one of my older mentors in matters related to hunting, fishing, and nature.
“If it quits snowing before daylight, tomorrow will be a good day to track a mink,” Jack said, adding matter-of-factly: ”If you want to go, be at my house at daylight.”
He was gone into the night.
Outside, the dry snow swirled, bottom dropped out of front-porch thermometers. Winter was living up to it’s billing. It was going to be a perfect day for tracking in the six inches of snow that had fallen since dark.
Well, I didn’t just exactly fall off the stool with anticipation--I knew it would be a hard and cold day. But I did want to go. This would be an important facet of my upbringing. So, with the streetlights twinkling on a four-below-zero morning, I scuffed up the alley to Jack’s house, rifle in gloved hands.
(That same little Springfield .22, and Jack’s Remington, guard my desk today, more than half a century later.)
With snow flying before out boots, we headed for the big bottomlands of the Muscaratuck River, some three mils east of town. Enroute to the river we found a huge opossum in a big brush pile, and left him covered by snow and leaves on the banks of the river to pick up later. Our sights were set on a mink, maybe two, for Christmas money.
Toward mid-morning we found tracks of what we thought was a mink. But we couldn’t be certain until we came to a place where the animal had dived under skim-ice on the river. That seemed warming. The mink paralleled the river--occasionally exploring tile drains and springs  until it headed south to an old oxbow know as Alf’s Bayou, one of my many boyhood haunts.
Jack busied himself with teaching me that you stay well away from the tracks when tracking a mink, and other fine points of tracking, He also opined that we would find the “big fellow” in a hole of the high banks there. But the mink crossed skim ice to the far banks of the bayou, and we had to circle the bayou to a point on the other side where the tracks continued back to the north along White Oak (one of my good, boyhood bass streams).
The mink went strong through the snow along the fields parallel to the creek, at times diving under snow-covered sheet ice (water had been high recently) of low spots in the fields. A quarter of a mile from the mouth of the creek, 100 yards east on the banks of a slough, the mink entered one of three holes (probably groundhog). We made a quick and silent search to determine the mink had not gone on, and stopped one of the three holes quietly with small sticks. With two holes open, Jack quietly told me to jab a stick into one of the holes, while he eyeballed the other with his Old Hannah (a Damascus wire-twist shotgun) at the ready. For a time, my efforts seemed useless, but then Old Hanna exploded, and Jack quickly pulled a mink, minus its nose, from the snowy hole.
Jack then explained that a cornered mink will always “look first before he goes,” and that he (Jack) had to be ready. If the mink had made it to sheet ice, he would have been gone.
Aside from the ice breaking beneath my feet and plunging me into a sinkhole on a gimpy back, the rest of the afternoon was just hard work getting back to pick up the opossum. The streetlights were twinkling again when we entered the town. A passerby noted it had gotten all the way to four below that day.
My mother had my supper in the oven staying warm when I slid well tuckered into the kitchen door as darkness engulfed the town for another night.
Two hours later my dad awakened me from a peaceful couch nap to meet Jack downtown and sell our fur (not skinned) to the jolly old fur buyer with thick eyeglasses.
It came to $22.22. Ironically, my share of $11.11 was more than my dad had earned in that Post Depression week.

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

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