Author Topic: Sophie's Story -- Chapter 4  (Read 662 times)

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Offline OffGrid9

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Sophie's Story -- Chapter 4
« on: November 09, 2017, 03:28:28 PM »
Chapter 4 ? 25 October, 1992

Got back from the first pheasant hunt of the year a few days ago.  Only hunted pheasant on two days ? I missed opening day as usual, since deer season and pheasant season both start on the same Saturday every year, this year it was the 17th.  I?m always up in the mountains for opening day of deer season.  It?s a ritual.  I love the high country in October, so I always go, and get up two or three hours before dawn, and sneak to my chosen spot, and sit in the darkness, watching Orion slowly fade into an iridescent dawn.  ?But it wasn?t dark the morning of the 17th ? almost a ? moon high in the sky at 4:30, and you could hear critters meandering to their favorite food source, they didn?t need to wait for shooting light.  Oh, well.  I don?t have to shoot anything to love the hour before sunrise, even with the mind-numbing cold ? seems like no matter what I wear, there is always some part of my anatomy that freezes.  It?s not so bad when you?re hunting ducks, where you can move around a bit, and where you can share your misery with a friend and the dogs.  Anyway, you can?t hunt deer with a dog ? at least, not in Washington ? so I will dwell no more on deer season.

Tuesday morning, three days after opening, Uncle Bob Hammer and I and son Sage were down in the reservation, South of Harrah, hunting for pheasant on a large tract of land near the intersection of Tecumseh and Marion Drain Road.  The land is owned by Ray Dekker, a friend of Uncle Bob?s.  Bob is mostly out of the apple-growing business now, he let?s someone else work the orchard.  He has started selling real estate, and Dekker is his broker, an eccentric multimillionaire who owns a lot of land in the lower Yakima Valley, including one 6,000-acre parcel on the Yakama reservation. 

Dekker may be rich, but he is always working at getting richer.  He sold exclusive hunting rights on this property to a bunch of wealthy hunters who want their own private duck club ? they had told Dekker their primary goal was to hunt ducks in the wetland portion of the tract.  Dekker told Bob he didn?t think the club-members would even notice us if we were to stay well away from the wetlands, and he didn?t think they would object too strongly to a few pheasant hunters, and he said we could mention his name?but he also said that ?officially? they did have the right to toss us off the land if they caught us and if they objected.  Uncle Bob just rubbed his hands at that ? he figured that was an attractive piece of land to hunt, and we?d likely have it to ourselves.  He was right, up to a point.

We had to work hard for the birds, as the cover was old-growth brush, stickers, and ankle-grabber snare-bush.  But the birds were there.  We?d shot six nice roosters ? Sage one, Bob two, and me three (brag, brag).  Sophie had retrieved all four of the birds shot by Sage and me, and two of them had been long-distance runners, so she had done really well.  She?d also retrieved a bird we didn?t shoot:  a nice fat hen, with all the tail-feathers gone, that somebody left hidden under a bush.  We buried that one.  I once made a point of keeping a hen that I?d shot, but I won?t get Bob?s station-wagon confiscated by the reservation police for someone else?s mistake.

After about four hours of pushing, Sophie and Jo-Jo had worked themselves down to the point where they couldn?t bust through the brush any more.  Each of them would just tag along in the trail broken by a hunter.  Truth be told, we were in the same condition, worn to a frazzle.

We were about ready to call it a day, when over a rise came a dude.  Sort of a dapper little pipe-smoking guy decked out in what appeared to be the garb of an English squire, including a snap-brim hat and some kind of suede vest.  He was carrying an obviously expensive, engraved over-&-under.  He looked for all the world like a mannequin out of a 1952 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.  But when he took the pipe from his mouth, he blew his image all to hell.  We were spread out in a line, with Bob being closest to him, but Sage and I heard him clear enough when he shouted.  ?What are you doing on this land?  It?s leased to our club, and you were not invited to hunt here.?

Sage and I walked up to join Bob, and we were all trying to look contrite.  Bob has a hair-trigger tongue, but for once, he held it in check.  He looked thoughtful.  ?Yes, we saw the ?posted? signs, but Dekker, the man who owns this land, told us he didn?t think you folks would object to our hunting for pheasant, seeing as you are hunting for ducks.? 

The dude bridled even more.  ?That?s bull$hit.  We have the rights to all hunting on this land, and anyway your shooting is flaring the ducks, so you just unload your guns and get on out of here.?  His shotgun was pointed to the ground, but in our general direction.  I shook my head at him, but he didn?t notice, or anyway paid me no mind.  I told Bob under my breath, ?What the hell, we were already on our way out, let?s just leave.?  Bob hesitated, then nodded, and we turned to walk toward Bob?s distant station-wagon.  So far, so good.  But the dude had to push it.  He was full of being John Wayne, had to swagger along behind us, escorting us off the land.  Bob slowed down and we all looked back at the dude.  His gun was still pointed in our direction.

Bob stopped and turned around.  So did Sage.  So did I.  Bob said, ?Friend, we are already going.  I?m not sure you are aware that your gun is pointed more or less in our direction.?  The dude smirked, ?What?s your point?? 

Bob shook his head, ?I don?t believe you?ve got the balls for this.?  The dude suddenly seemed to realize that each of the three men facing him had a gun in his hands which might or might not be loaded.  You could see he had lost his appetite to be cast as John Wayne.  He said nothing at all.  Bob said, mildly, ?We?ll be going, now.?  We continued toward Bob?s station-wagon, leaving the dude standing there.  At the car, Bob took a picture of the beautiful birds, and Sage, and me, and Sophie.  I didn?t tell anyone that my knees had been decidedly B. F. Goodrich all the way to the car.  Bob?s and Sage?s knees might have been a bit shaky, too.  I didn?t ask.  I?m going to make sure Bob sends me a print of that picture.   I know it will be one of my favorites. 

We haven?t heard anything about this from Dekker, so I guess the dude didn?t tell anyone.  Too vain to admit he?d been braced, I guess.  Come to think on it, Bob and I didn?t tell Sandy or Yoko about it, either.  Probably just as well.
___________________ __________________

23 November, 1993

Almost Thanksgiving again.  Another hunting season has passed since I last touched this narrative.  A very, very good year. 

Bob and I went hunting for duck for a couple of mornings along the southwest side of the Yakima River, on the Yakama Reservation, somewhere northeast of Wapato, I think?as usual, Bob knows the area, and he was driving, and both mornings I was watching the dawn come up, not the road.  It?s a private club, and Bob wangled an invite for both of us.  The first morning, we canoed through the beaver-pond sloughs, portaging over the dams, almost all the way out to the river, where the water is shallow and full of reeds, with just a few channels and holes that are open. 

We had one of the best blinds in the whole club, with a brush-lined slot just to the side to stow the canoe out of sight, and a nice open patch of water just in front of us, about 40 yards across in all directions, surrounded by reeds and a few trees.  I hadn?t often hunted from a duck-blind.  Sophie was excited to the point of insanity, but not too happy that she couldn?t see over the front wall.   We put out two small strings of deeks, I told Sophie to shut up her whining.  She paid me no mind whatsoever.  Bob and I hunkered down to wait.  He blew on his duck-call a few times, but whatever was flying around out there didn?t seem too impressed. 

After he stopped calling, the ducks started coming in, and he knocked down a big mallard drake, in plain sight, and Jo-Jo took a line and brought it back within a minute or so.  On entering the blind she gave us a shower.  We decided to let the next retriever stay outside the blind until the requisite shaking was finished.  Good plan...just a little late.

Then I got one, also a mallard, but it kept going 20 yards or so into the reeds before vanishing into a clump of trees.  Sophie had no idea where it was, and it was well beyond the point where she could see me to get signals.  Bob put Sophie in the canoe, and paddled her to the general area.  The reeds were so thick and tall that Bob got lost, didn?t know where to lead Sophie.  He?d stand up in the canoe and hold his paddle high enough for me to see it from the blind, and I?d yell, ?back, and to my left a little?, or some such direction.  Actually, it was Bob that found the duck, not Sophie.  It had wedged into the crotch of a tree, about ten feet up, dead.  Bob knocked it out of its perch, and Sophie pounced on it and swam back to me with it.  I let her have a good shake, and then let her back into the blind and gave her a biscuit.  Good dog.  Her first duck.

Then I knocked another one down, and this one landed in plain sight of Bob and me, but immediately swam into the reeds.  I let Sophie out of the blind, gave her a line, and said ?Fetch!?.  She plunged in and swam away, somewhat bewildered.  About 25 yards out, she was way off line, so I single-beeped her to stop and face me.  She chugged around until she could see me, and I gave her hand-signals to get-over left, and then back.  She understood perfectly.  She chugged around and headed toward the approximate spot in the reeds where the duck had disappeared.  ?Find the bird, Sophie, find the bird!?  And  she chugged out of sight into the reeds.  We could see the tops of the bulrushes moving as she plowed through them, following her nose.  Then we heard the noise of an angry mallard.  Sophie got beat up a bit by that bird, but she brought it back without crunching it.  Bob was amazed that the hand-signals had worked so well, even while she was swimming.

That was an extraordinarily good day ? good weather, good friend, good dogs, good hunting.  Bob got three mallards, I got two.  We went home about as happy as two old friends and two laughing dogs can get.

Next morning we went back out to the same club, but this time we took Bob?s dad, a man with an incredible past ? U.S. Cavalry (horse-cavalry, with a saber at his side, no joke).  A man who has seen everything and done everything, and with a huge repertoire of fascinating stories, and all true.  You look that old, frail man in the eye, and you believe him.  He is too old and too tired to lie, and he isn?t trying to impress you.  The stories aren?t structured to make him a hero, they are just observations of amazing events.   But booze has erased some of the memories, and has blurred the edges of others.  He gets confused, and just shakes his head.  He is almost too weak to raise the shotgun, and likely can?t see a duck more than ten feet away, but he was so pleased to be included, and to be out on the river on a cold November morning.

We got a blind on the ?mainland? river-shore this time, so no need to navigate the beaver ponds and portage the canoe.  We didn?t even take the canoe.  The blind was on the side of a broad channel used as a flyway by ducks coming in to the river marshes.  Different kind of shooting, with birds going by at 214.6 miles per hour, swear it on my mother?s grave.  Gotta lead ?em by ten or twelve feet, minimum.

Bob got a mallard, and Jo-Jo had to break through the ice along the shore of the channel to go out and get it.  Bob?s dad fired his gun twice, sort of in the general direction of where a duck might have been.  Then he was satisfied to just be there and watch the morning.  I wasted about ten shots until I figured out how far I had to lead them, and then I also bagged a nice fat mallard.  Sophie had a ball retrieving it.  She loves the combination of water and ice and birds to retrieve.  I should have done this a long time ago.

I had promised a friend, Steve Saul, that I would bag a wood duck for him if I got the chance.  I had never shot a wood duck before?just so darned pretty.  Steve wanted the skin, because there are apparently some wood duck feathers that are prized by fly-tiers, especially the small golden ones along the sides -- I hear no one has found a way to duplicate the color artificially.  So along came a wood duck, on the opposite side of the slough.  About 45 yards.  About 10 yards farther than the effective range of the steel shot.  I tried anyway, and wonder of wonders, I knocked it down, right into the reedy bank on the other side of the channel.  Of course, Sophie had seen none of this, but she had learned in one day to watch my gun barrel to get a line on what I was shooting.  So when I let her out of the blind, she didn?t even wait for me to give her the line, she just plunged into the channel and started swimming across, aimed just about right at the point where the duck had dropped.  I made no attempt to guide her, she went right to the spot, and we could all see her on the other bank through an opening in the reeds, with the wood duck in her mouth, clearly dead.

But Sophie didn?t jump into the water to bring the duck back.  She looked hesitant and puzzled, and then disappeared into the reeds.  She reappeared on top of the bank, and she no longer had the duck.  I called her, and she hesitantly came back, swimming slowly.  I grabbed her by the collar and helped her out of the icy water, and asked her if she was OK.  She wagged her tail sadly.  I ran my hands over her, but found nothing wrong.  I pointed back across the channel and said, ?Fetch, Sophie, fetch!?  No reaction.  Head down, she seemed pained, embarrassed.  I grabbed her by the back of her neck and by the loose skin on her butt, and flung her back across the ice and into the water, bellowing, ?FETCH!?

She chugged right to the duck, and picked it up, and started back with it, but she angled away to the left.  I walked along the bank, calling her to fetch, to come, and finally she did, with great reluctance.  She put the duck down on the bank, and shied away from it.  She was clearly anxious and fearful.  I walked down the bank, picked up the wood duck, and brought it to Sophie.  ?Good dog, Sophie, good dog.  Isn?t this a beautiful bird.  Good dog, Sophie.?

You could see the surprise in her eyes, and the dawning elation.  She wagged her tail wildly and licked my face.  I could not fathom what had been going through her mind.  Bob thinks Sophie had fetched doves in dove-country, grouse in grouse-country, pheasant and quail in their habitat, and for two days she?d retrieved mallards in the Yakima River sloughs.  She figured that the game was mallards only, and assumed I had mistakenly shot the wrong kind of bird, and she didn?t want to be the one to bring me the bad news.  When she found out I wasn?t upset or angry, she was very happy to be able to rewrite the slough-paradigm:  we were no longer hunting for only mallards, and she could handle that.  It?s fun to watch her grow.

But you know, I have taught Sophie no new tricks in two years, nor have I tried to improve her hunting skills.  I doubt I ever will.  I?m sure she could learn anything I have the ability to teach her.  But why?  We fit together like a hand in a glove, and we?re both happy.  Just once, she committed a bird-dog felony ? she failed to honor the point of a highly-trained German shorthair, and busted up that rooster as she thought she should.  The other dog?s owner mentioned that she seemed to be a gifted retriever, too bad she hadn?t been properly trained.  I held my tongue.  He was right.  It wasn?t Sophie?s fault, it was her trainer?s.  But she is as trained as I want her to be.  Maybe she didn?t go to finishing school, but what the hell, she isn?t a debutante at a tea-party, and perfect etiquette is way down on my list of priorities.  I usually hunt with others whose dogs, like Sophie, have good noses, good instincts, great desire, and enough training to not flush the birds up 60 yards out.  And Sophie will retrieve ducks where she has to break ice on the water just to get to them, and take hand signals while she?s swimming, and pound her way through the snow-mounded field-grass ?igloos? on December pheasant hunts, and run to the end of a ditch and work back up it toward me to push the birds to the gun.  And she?ll do it all day long, smiling and laughing and loving every second.  No, she is all the dog I?ll ever want, and she is as trained as she is likely to get.  I just need to stay away from pointers with college degrees and their snotty owners.

For the last three hunting seasons we?ve spent a lot of time up on Bald Mountain, looking for grouse in our happy hunting ground, along the top and sides of the half-mile ridge that points down to Devil?s Slide.  Mostly with Yoko, or Uncle Bob, or a more recent friend, Dan Dupre, or the kids ? but sometimes it?s just Sophie and me, again.  As I?ve said before, it?s great country, quite a few grouse, and heck, I?d go there even if there were no grouse, it?s so pretty.  We bought a big wall-tent and a wood-stove?we use carpet for the tent-floor.  We dry camp, and haul in water in seven-gallon cans and 15-gallon drums.  When we put all this stuff in the truck, it rides like a Caddy.  There?s wonderful water at Summit Spring, about a mile down toward Manastash Ridge, but in my book, that road is strictly for Jeeps ? the truck?s turning radius might not make it, and I don?t want to get the truck stuck down there.  So I?ll keep trucking in the water.  I?d like to get a Jeep, but that?s likely a few years off.
6 phases of a project:  (1) baseless enthusiasm; (2) growing uneasiness & fear; (3) over budget & behind schedule; (4) search for the guilty; (5) blaming of the innocent; (6) praise and rewards for the nonparticipants.

Offline OffGrid9

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Re: Sophie's Story -- Chapter 4
« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2017, 03:40:54 PM »
sonofagun - the question marks are back.  I got rid of them in chapter 3 by copying the text from a word-processor file into WordPad, then making sure that all pertinent punctuation (--, ", and ') and emphasis (bold, or underline, or italic) had been removed, then pasting the raw text into a new post, then adding all of it back into the text within the post.  It worked, but it took hours.  This time I just copied it all into NotePad, then directly into the post without deleting all the punctuation and formatting.  Once again, it looked great in the [Preview] mode, but when I hit [Post] comes the attack of the killer question-marks.  Heck with it.  Readers can figure out what they stand for, I hope.  At least the emphasis formatting made it through the prop-wash -- thank God for small favors.
6 phases of a project:  (1) baseless enthusiasm; (2) growing uneasiness & fear; (3) over budget & behind schedule; (4) search for the guilty; (5) blaming of the innocent; (6) praise and rewards for the nonparticipants.

Offline wsdstan

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Re: Sophie's Story -- Chapter 4
« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2017, 04:12:16 PM »
Don't worry about the additional punctuation marks.  It doesn't impede reading the story one bit, at least for me.

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns  something he can learn in no other way. 
(Mark Twain)

Offline wolfy

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Re: Sophie's Story -- Chapter 4
« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2017, 08:13:18 PM »
Don't worry about the additional punctuation marks.  It doesn't impede reading the story one bit, at least for me.

Yeah, it will drive you crazy hunting down all those ? marks.....and you'll still probably miss a few, but who cares?  :shrug:   We will all just learn to accept the inadequacies of the system. :cheers:
The only chance you got at a education is listenin' to me talk!
Augustus McCrae.....Texas Ranger      Lonesome Dove, TX