Months of the year come and go, but if one were
to single out a month of all months it would have to be November . . .
the king of the year--with a phalanx of hunting seasons and a plethora
of angling for everything from bullheads to steelheads, and the absolute
end of summer or the beginning of winter . . . pick your poison.
Yes, November has to be the outdoors person’s
mecca . . . a time for nimrodery.
Although the hunting for the upland species--rabbit,
quail, and pheasants--has to be the big drawing card, there is hunting
opportunity for dozens of other species--including white-tailed deer, ruffed
grouse, a myriad of waterfowl, and fur-bearing animals (for both trappers
and night hunters with dogs). In short, it is a whiz-bang month for the
out-of-doors set and that doesn’t include the dozens of outdoor goodies
that roll out of nature’s horn-of-plenty.
Over the years, my mode of transportation has
always looked like a hockshop on wheels when I headed for the Southern
Indiana boonies in the wee hours of the morning. I often was armed with
shotguns, rifles, bows, slingshots, and sundry other hunting paraphernalia,
not to mention a spinning outfit that could be converted to a fly rod with
a simple change of reels, collections of favorite artificial lures and
flies, pots, pans, buckets, bread, grocery and gunny sacks that often held
walnuts, hickory nuts, beech nuts, acorns and bits of other natural produce--including
persimmon, paw-paws, and wild mushrooms.
To translate it to down-home jargon, I was “loaded
for bear.” It has been a beautiful life. One that has made me appreciate
. . . even love . . . everything that “liveth and creepeth upon the earth”
as the Good Book says. Then, of course, there were the cultivated products
of the good earth, for the ensuing “country cookin” dishes that emanated
from the kitchen stove--many dating back to the early days of this state
and others through “old folks” who would not have known a bay leaf--or
the other herbs--if the kitchen was inundated with herbs and spices. They
were salt-and-pepper years, maybe a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg.
But spices? No, thanks! It was a time when hog lard and bacon were
the only cooking agents we knew.
As a slip of a boy, I remember going to Bill Applegate’s
corner grocery in downtown Crothersville (Indiana) with my mother--the
late Laura Bell Scifres--on a fall Saturday morning where she would do
her grocery shopping for the week.
While there, my mother was asked by another lady
of the town what she would cook for Thanksgiving dinner.
“I don’t know, yet.” My mother replied, “Jake’s
out hunting now. We will have whatever he brings in.”
When my father, the late Jacob “Jake, Hickory”
Scifres came home late in the afternoon, he spread some newspaper on the
kitchen floor, and from the game bag of his bloody, old hunting coat unloaded
rabbits, quail, and mallard ducks. With hickory nut cake for dessert, it
was a wonderful T-Day dinner. Over the years, the finest feature of November
has been the coming of the upland game season toward the end of the first
third of the month, but as noted above the month is the busiest for hunting
other game, and collecting other usables.
Still, with all of these attributes, the hunting
for bob white quail--better known as “bird hunting”--ruled the roost of
popularity. It is true, of course, there never were as many bird hunters
as rabbit hunters. There weren’t even as many bird hunters in their heyday
as there are deerhunters now. But the bird hunters were kings and queens--even
“dutches and dutchesses”--as royalty from Europe came to the southern part
of the state to sample the sporting and eating wares of Mr. Bob. And the
head man--or lady--in this happy scenario were the dogs with which we hunted.
Then, as now, the principals of bird-dogdom were
either pointers or English setters. However, there also were a few droppers--a
short-haired cross of the two breeds. The other breeds were almost unheard
of in those post-depression days although they now have made great strides
in popularity. The confirmed setter and pointer people still look with
jaundiced eyes at the work of foreign breeds, but they are very good if
In nearly 70 years of bird hunting--much of it
owning and hunting some very good English setters--I must say that the
finest bird dog I have ever seen was one of the questionable droppers named
Duke, a black and white splotched male, was the
finest bird dog I have ever known. I use the word “known” because our relationship
began in what probably was 1939. He was the very lazy pup (I think in terms
of son) of a setter named Queen, a very good bird dog in her own right,
though she was gone before I first hunted birds.
Alton Cain and Dick Cartwright, a brace of older
Crothersville friends and bird hunters owned Queen. Queen was bred to a
slick-haired pointer. Alton claimed Duke, a gangly puppy that spent
the lazy, summer days on the weather-beaten back porch sleeping in the
I was a wide-eyed kid learning to hunt and Jack
Cain, Alton’s brother, was one of my mentors in matters of hunting, fishing
and other activities of the boonies along with my dad. All, of course,
were much older than I was and now gone.
In the warm months, it must have been 1939, I
would go up the alley some three blocks to Jack’s house to arrange one
of our rambles to the woods, and there I was apt to find Duke the pup (stretched
full length on the weathered boards, his head resting on crossed front
legs and snoozing peacefully--much like all life went in that era). I,
devilish as boys were, would place Duke’s front paws crossed behind his
ears, and would leave for hours. On returning, I would find Duke still
reclining on the weather-cracked boards, his front paws still crossed behind
his ears. “Laid back” was not a common description of anything in those
days, but Duke was.
Alton and Jack lived with their mother at the
edge of town. Cross the back fence and you were in a huge ragweed/whitetop
field that was bordered on the north by the Fairground woods and on the
south by an old apple orchard that served as headquarters for a very large
covey of quail. How could a bird dog pup find a better place to grow up?
The covey of birds seldom was shot. Top those facts off with the fact that
Alton was an easy-going trainer of dogs--he thought if Duke did something
wrong, he could pinch his ears a little and sweet talk him into being more
careful with every move he made. Strangely enough, he could.
At any rate, Jack must have been teaching me how
to skin squirrels’ ears with .22 hollow-points for a couple of years when
the upland game season opened on November 11, 1941, as well as it comes
back to me now. I was a freshman in high school, and Jack, as usual, had
retired, temporarily, to hunt and trap a few months. Life was slow-paced
in small Southern Indiana towns in those post-depression days. Jack never
married and didn’t need much money.
On this beautiful Sunday afternoon on the Stoplight
Liars Bench of Bill Applegate’s downtown Grocery, Jack and I soaked up
the heat of a warm fall day and swapped stories.
“Why don’t you take tomorrow off school and go
bird hunting with me? . . . The season opens tomorrow and Alton has to
work . . . We would have ol’ Duke” Jack said. I almost fell off the criss-crossed
green metal ledge we sat on. I wanted to learn bird hunting very badly.
As noted above, I liked the idea, but I also knew
such a scenario had no wings. My dad would never approve that.
“No!” I said flatly. I knew it would never fly
During our afternoon chat, Jack repeated the invitation
several time until we went homeward just before dark. I did, however, give
Jack our customary barred owl hoot before I slipped in our kitchen door,
“Whoo-whoo, whoo-who are you” just before I went in the house--school and
a bird hunt very much on my mind. Jack answered three blocks away.
I didn’t tell my parents about Jack’s invitation
that night, but buried my frame in the featherbed and slept like a log
when sleep came. I wanted that hunt in the worst way.
Next morning the sun came up like a giant red
ball beyond Jack’s house and the grass was decorated by a bit of frost.
My mother busied herself with fixing my breakfast on the old kitchen wood
As I ate my eggs, a knock came at the nearby kitchen
door. My mother opened the door and there stood Jack, hunting togs et al.
Jack rolled out the story for my mother. “Laurie,
“ he said. “The bird season opens today and I would like for Bill to go
hunting with me . . . I go to take my Army physical Thursday . . . if I
pass, they may take me right then . . . we may never get to hunt together
My mother stood as firm as I knew she would. “I
can’t approve that,” she said. “But come in and have some coffee.”
As Jack sipped his coffee, he came up with another
plan. “Why not let Bill get dressed to hunt,” he offered, “and we’ll stop
by the school to ask Gene Butler (principal of the school, and a very strict
disciplinarian) . . . If he says no, Bill will have plenty of time
to come home and change clothes and go to school.”
My mother reluctantly approved that plan as I
practically jumped into my hunting garb. As we walked into the school yard
(Duke on a chain and toting double-barrels) Mr. Butler was parking and
went to his second-floor office. He had to see us . . . he had to know
what was around the bend.
I knew Mr. Butler saw me coming up the wide stairway
in hunting togs--lace, knee-boots and hunting Jim Slinger. Through a window
above the door I had entered, I could see Duke straining at the chain outside,
where Jack held our guns.
He stood firmly, a mountain of a man, just outside
his office. I was sure he would whomp me right there, and deliver a decisive
dictum: “NO!” Shifting from one foot to the other, I blurted out the story
about Jack’s physical . . . that we might never get to hunt together again
. . . and that I would like to go.
Mr. Butler (any wonder why he became my best friend)
cracked his red, angry face with a broad smile and said: “I can’t tell
you to stay out of school to go hunting . . . but if you are not here,
I will know where you are.” Minutes later, Duke locked up on the apple-orchard
covey as a B&O freight locomotive tooted mournfully far to the east,
a land full of quail. Let’s don’t shoot ‘em here . . . “ Jack said . .
. “Let’s save ‘em for seed . . . We’re going to find plenty of birds.”
That we did. Matter of fact, at 2:00 p.m. that
day we both were close to our limits of ten birds each. We were both out
of shotgun shells and Duke, due to a previous lack of exercise, was not
able to walk another step on the warm, dry day. We were still a good two
miles from the town.
It was some dilemma. We tried carrying Duke in
our arms, but he was a big, heavy dog. Nor could we walk off and leave
Jack solved the problem by putting his birds in
my makeshift hunting coat. Then, we placed a **** Duke, backside down in
his hunting coat. With front legs and head out one side of the game bag
of his store-bought coat, and back legs and tail out the other side. We
took turns wearing the coats down a dusty lane to town.
Neither Duke nor either of us, were worse for
the wear the next day. All ended well, and we had many great hunts before
the US Navy called me to war some two years later, and then more after
WW II. Jack, by the way, failed the physical examination. To make the whole
show that much better, when I got home during the war, I could be sure
that Jack had a box of shotgun shells with “Bill” written all over it.
So this is a Ramble for the birds, so to write,
jocularly, (quaily birds) and the dogs (especially bird dog types). Since,
and before Duke (he was more an era of my life than a dog) there have been
many bird dogs. Could we only have more of those days?
My stable of bird dogs contained several of the
pointing breeds over the years. There was (Rex, my first dog, an English
setter; Judy and Joe, a matched pair of liver and white pointer pups; Lady
a Gordon Setter puppy that showed much promise before an early death due
to pneumonia; Pokey (Skyrocket’s Polka Dot), Clover (Skyrocket’s Clover
Girl); Penny, a high-powered setter from the east that I trained for a
friend, and Taffy, Penny’s first-litter puppy that hunted less than one
hour in a beautiful life as a pet that spanned nearly 17 years.
There are many stories in all of them, and dozens
of others, that I didn’t own, but followed for thousands of interesting
miles through bird country. I will not try to mention them by name or owner.
This faulty cerebellum is much too cluttered to remember them all, but
they encompassed some really great ones, some mediocre, and some that should
have remained swinging on their back yard chains.
Even several I didn’t know at all, just heard
of. Dogs like Fishel’s Frank, a pointer owned by Hoosier industrialist,
the late U. R. Fishel, of the town of Hope (on State Road 9 in Bartholomew
County), in the early 1900’s. Fishel’s Frank is buried somewhere in Hope
but nobody can show you his grave. I have looked for it. Fishel’s Frank
was campaigned in field trials. Circumstances kept him from running in
the national championships, a very big trial of that era, but he beat a
number of dogs that ran in the nationals, and won it Fishel’s Frank, with
all of his Hoosier ties, is said by many dog men, to have been the greatest
bird dog of all time.
Although success is the criterion by which we
bird hunters measure most of our tales of quails and the dogs that pursue
them, yarns of incidents nearly void of hunting exposure fill niches in
the memories of many former bird dog owners. Episodes about how Taffy hunted
less than an hour but lived a beautiful 17-year life; how Skyrocket’s Clover
Girl attained the moniker “Clover” for short, and how Joe (of questionable
fame) pointed his first bird with the class of a world beater, then proceeded
to sit on his after parts and howl at the sun. I’ve told and listened to
thousands of them, I think.
Clover was thusly named by her first official
act involving me. My wife, Nancy and I had driven most of the pre-interstate
day to get to Louisville, and thence westward to Monkey’s Eyebrow (that’s
the name of a Kentucky town near Paducah) to select one of the late George
Allen’s pups. George, incidentally, bred and trained great dogs.
Here, I must digress a bit to explain that Clover
was two years younger than Pokey. I had become aware of George’s dogs through
members of the Indiana Field Trial Association, the members of which had
made some noise about giving me a bird dog pup to make me more interested
in bird hunting, field trials and writing about the outdoors--more specifically
field trials and hunting birds. In those days bird hunters harvested what
DNR biologists said was upward of two-million birds per year, although
there have always been doubts about that. I knew all of the DFW’s biologist,
and though I thought them honest men, I had some qualms with their numbers.
The field trial boys had invited me to a trial
near Cloverdale, thinking no doubt, that they would whet my appetite for
quail and bird hunting, and for trials as a residual benefit for their
cause. As it turned out, they could. It was on the up-and-up.
While observing the trial, several of the big
guns of the Association buttonholed me, saying I should have a bird dog
pup. That, I should. They didn’t know I had cut my teeth while hunting
the very best bird country--the Muscatatuck River and environs--behind
a tremendous dog . . . Duke.
“What kind of dog would you like to have?” One
of the button-holers asked. “Well,” said I, thoughtfully. “I would
like a female runt-of-the-litter, an English setter with lots of black
Eyeballs rolled like three cherries on a slot
machine, and a few eyebrows fluttered.
The silence was broken by someone who said: “Why
do you want a dog like that? . . . We give away dogs like that!”
“Well,” I silently thought. “You can give me one.”
They were completely confounded. They wanted big-going
dogs that would hunt the next county at an eye-blink--really big-going
“I want a female runt because that’s the smartest
pup of the litter . . . “ I said, “I want her to have a lot of black ticking
so I can see her at a distance in weeds . . . and I want her to be small
so she won’t be so heavy when she crawls up on my lap at night and goes
That bit of rhetoric unfurled in late winter,
and nobody came up with my kind of pup by late spring. Thus, soon after
we moved from a noisy downtown Indianapolis apartment to a tranquil concrete-block
on Trail’s End (the east bank of White River south of 116 th Street) on
July 5, 1955, there was no pup forthcoming. Coming was Skyrocket’s Polka
Dot . . . better known as Pokey . . . who struck up a beautiful, 12-year
friendship with all who knew her.
Pokey came in a cramped little-chicken-wire cage
Railway Express (a thing I would never again allow). She was spooked out
of her pleasant demeanor--a very scared puppy that ran behind the garage
washing machine and stayed there (without food) for three days at a time
when I only wanted her for a friend.
Finally hunger brought her out, then in the house,
and then to the front yard where we learned sight pointing with an old
brown work glove, a piece of fishing line, attached to a seven-foot spinning
rod. In her second year we started hunting the big river bottomlands and
adjacent hillsides that teemed with quail. Pokey had been an “only
child” until she was five or six years old, so when Donna, the first child
arrived from the hospital (with wife, Nancy) after supper that first night
we pulled a kitchen chair up beside the crib for an introductory session.
Pokey not only flatly refused to get in the chair to view the baby, but
turned her head away, indignantly, when placed in the chair with her head
directed at the interloper.
At that point I told Nancy that the dog would
require all of the love and friendship we could give her. She would have
to be a second child. Nancy taught Pokey all kinds of tricks (including
rolling over on the floor and bawling out a rough, but understandable,
“I love you” ). Yet, she asked no quarter in the field. I lost only one
downed bird with her in her 10 hunting years, and I saw it run under a
brush heap as large as most houses.
When Donna was old enough for her own baby bed
in her own room, we embarked on a daily ritual. Usually, when Nancy put
Donna in her bed for the night, Pokey would be snoozing beneath an end
table adjacent to the end of the living room couch where I sat. Though
Pokey was in never-never land, I would softly say: “Clover . . . I think
you’d better go to Donna’s room.” The next sound I would hear would be
Pokey plopping down on the floor at the side of Donna’s bed. Pokey kept
the vigil until Donna was fast asleep. Then she came to the open door to
the baby’s room and “woofed” softly, asking permission to return to her
spot under the end table. If Donna later “fussed” aloud or stirred, Pokey
returned voluntarily to her side.
In those baby years I had no fears that Donna
would stray to the river even though the front yard was not yet fenced.
Pokey was always with her . . . always between the baby and anyone or anything
that chanced to come our way. Although grown men reputedly do not cry,
unabashedly, I will admit to fighting tears as the pictures of my dogs,
and others, flit through my mind. I know that tears will dry and pictures
of the old will be brighter, more beautiful for the telling.
Now! Getting back to Clover. As noted above--”way
back thar” as they say in the woods--Nancy and I had driven most of the
hot, pre-I-65 day to get to George’s place. After a brief respite, George
asked if I would like to go out to the kennel and see his dogs--including
the litter of puppies.
I was sitting in the grass of a little knoll when
George opened the gate. The dogs--more than I could count--came at me like
a pride of rampaging lions. Clover hid me in the chest like a fast freight
on a downhill grade. I went over backwards in a patch of Dutch clover,
and before I could regain my composure she had both front feet on my chest
and was giving me sloppy kisses. I could only struggle and laugh. George
rescued me and as I sat up in the grass, I said: "I’ll take that one!,
" I said. “Her name is Clover! . . . Skyrocket’s Clover Girl!”
Click on thumbnail
image for enlarged view.
swaps ends going full speed down a ditch bank to lock up on a single.
gets her Christmas present from my wife, Nancy.
Frank is said by dog men to be the greatest bird dog of all time.
||As a boy, I learned to hunt birds with
Duke. He was the greatest dog I knew.