"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres
November 2007

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 well trained. 

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. 

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 shade. 

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 at home. 

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 stove. 

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 again. “ 

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 him. 

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 ticking.” 

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 class stuff. 

“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 to sleep.” 

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.

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Clover swaps ends going full speed down a ditch bank to lock up on a single. Pokey gets her Christmas present from my wife, Nancy. Fishel’s 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.

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All columns 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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