Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Quail Hunting Dogs: The Last Hunt

I’m older now, and because of nerve damage, I’m unable to do the walking that quail hunting requires. But I have many fond memories of trekking through the fields and woods in search of the elusive Bobwhite. Though I have dabbled in the quest for deer, ducks, doves, squirrels, and rabbits, they could never compare to the sheer joy of the quail hunt.
I think one reason I loved the sport so much is because the hunter plays a more active role. With most other types of hunting, the hunter is stuck in a duck blind, a tree stand, or at a station in a field, passively awaiting his prey. With quail hunting, however, the hunter seeks his quarry. He relies less on fate and more on his skills of dog training and spending a large part of the summer scouting for Bobwhites.
I suspect the main reason I loved the sport, however, was the love I had for one of our bird dogs. I enjoyed the hunt because he loved it so much. I liked watching him work so enthusiastically. When he was sniffing for a bird, he was joy incarnate, happiness on legs.
Even though it was decades ago, I distinctly remember the last time I went quail hunting. The years have not diminished the details of the day, and every once in a while, I dust off the cobwebs and relive it.
My husband, Jim, and I rose early on that typical cold November morning, stumbling bleary-eyed to the kitchen for a cup of hot coffee. Once the caffeine took effect, we poured the remainder of the joe into a thermos and grabbed the ham sandwiches we’d made the night before from the fridge. We donned our hats and jackets and headed outside for the dogs.
We found both of them sound asleep in the big red dog house, curled up cozily in the hay. A whistle roused them from their slumber, and they raised their heads lazily, as if to say,”Go away. It’s too early to get up.” But when their sleep-strained vision focused and they spied the guns, they became instantly awake and more than ready to join us in our adventure. They were seasoned hunters and knew exactly what the day held.
We had two dogs – Herman, my big liver and white English pointer, and Jeannie, a little mottled brown Brittany. Herman was old and arthritic. He had been a wonderful meat dog for many years, and he was also a beloved family pet. Our kids had grown up with him, and he was always patient and kind with them. Hermie was unusual for an English pointer. They’re not natural retrievers, but he was. He always accompanied us to the dove field to fetch our fallen birds.
I still remember the first time I ever attended a dove shoot. Jim had been taking Herman dove hunting for several years before I decided to join them. Herman sat obediently between us, watching and waiting. When I shot my first bird, Hermie just sat there looking at me, as if he couldn’t believe I had actually made a hit. Jim never had to give him a voice command to fetch fallen doves, but I was forced to say, “Dead!” As soon as the word was uttered, the dog came out of his surprised trance immediately and ran to get the bird.
We had tried several times to retire the ancient dog from the hunt and allow him to live out the rest of his days in leisure, but the old boy whined and fretted so whenever we tried to leave him behind, we let him continue on the hunts.
Jeannie was a young dog, only two years old. We had bought her just the year before, already partially trained. Jim and I finished her training ourselves. We’d hunted her a few times, and she was an amazing dog. She wasn’t a pet, even though we had tried to make her one. She had no desire to play fetch with the kids and would only tolerate our petting her. She was a working dog, and her job as a pointer and retriever was all she cared about.

Once the dogs did an obligatory stretch or two, they danced around the truck waiting for the tailgate to be lowered. Once it was, in they jumped. They stamped from paw to paw impatiently, waiting for us to get going.
We lived on a large cattle farm, and we had a healthy population of Bobwhites. They grew fat on the grains we grew and were often seen feeding on corn that had been spilled by the cows. We knew there were several coveys near the small corn field behind the big pond, so that’s where we were headed.
When we arrived, we got out of the truck, hefted our loaded 12 gauges on our shoulders, and released the dogs.
The air was chilly and crisp. The sun was just climbing over the tree tops, and everything seemed to be bathed in a golden elixir. The frozen leaves crunched beneath our boots as we entered the stand of slash pines and scrub oaks.
Herman was a slow mover and hunted close to us, but Jeannie was a different story. She loped in a large circle around us, sniffing the air and the ground for the scent of quail. If we didn’t see her for a few minutes, we knew she was on point. Herman always found her for us and honored her point. It was a good system.
It wasn’t long before Herman dropped his nose to the ground and began the excited tail wagging that indicated he smelled quail. He then began his stiff-legged stalk that let us know he was getting close to the quarry. Suddenly, he froze into a perfect stance. Jim stepped gingerly to the spot just in front of the dog and flushed the covey.
It was a large group, and the tranquil air was immediately filled with the tell-tale fluttering of wings. Jim and I each got off a shot, dropping two birds. Once we yelled “DEAD,” little Jeannie appeared out of nowhere to help locate the Bobwhites. She retrieved one, and Herman returned the other. Then we set about hunting singles.
Both dogs now worked in close, darting back and forth through the brambles and brush, sniffing for the scattered Bobwhites. We spent another hour or so on this particular covey and got three more birds. We decided to move on in search of another group of quail. We wanted to leave plenty of “seed” for future populations.
The dogs led us deeper into the woods, to the edge of a marshy area. Stagnant shallow puddles were here and there, rimed with ice. Our boots made a sucking noise as we walked through the mire. We hadn’t seen Jeannie in a while, but our vision was limited by the thick growth of foliage. Herman soon found her. She had located another covey.
We were only able to get one bird. Shooting was difficult here because of the limited visibility. We opted not to hunt the singles. The terrain was just too difficult, and besides, Herman was getting very tired.
We trudged back to the truck for a breather and tossed our birds into the cooler. I poured cups of coffee for Jim and me, and we held the steaming liquid in our frigid hands. We munched on our sandwiches and gave the dogs some water. We also offered sandwiches to the dogs, and they gobbled them greedily. After we weighed our options, we decided to move to another location.
We drove a mile down the road to a cow pasture. We’d seen quail here eating cattle feed that the bovines had carelessly swept out of the wooden troughs. The pasture was surrounded by tall pines, and because the cows had access to the woods, there was little undergrowth. Their heavy hooves kept it trampled. The walking here was easy, and we had great visibility.
The dogs located three coveys in all, and we were able to bag our limit. I was exhausted anyway, and so was Herman. I think, however, that Jeannie could have hunted tirelessly for several more hours. She was reluctant to get in the back of the Dodge, but after we helped Herman in, she finally acquiesced.
It had been a perfect day of hunting – the kind you never forget. And we didn’t know it at the time, but it was to be Herman’s last. That winter, he started losing weight. I figured old age had finally caught up with him, so I started offering him chopped beef liver every day. When he didn’t improve, Jim and I took him to the vet. We were devastated to learn that he had cancer, and nothing could be done. Dr. Branch suggested euthanasia, and we complied.
Jim left. He couldn’t take it. I stayed with Herman as the drug was administered. Then I was alone in the sterile room with him, caressing his head and stroking his side as he lay stretched out on the metal table, tears streaming down my face. Little snippets of his life randomly appeared in my mind’s eye – his playing with our daughters, his sitting on the couch, his running through an autumn field. He had been our faithful companion for 12 years, and as he took his last breath, I knew our lives would never be the same. I dreaded going home to share the sad news with the kids. He had been their protector, their playmate, and their best friend for their entire lives. They had never known life without Herman.
We buried Herman under his favorite shade tree, a big sycamore in the back yard. We found a pair of cement quail to place over his resting place.
I still miss the old boy, and whenever I think of him, I remember that day – that one perfect day when all the right elements lined up in order to give us that last hunt with Herman.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Indian Pass Raw Bar

If you’re anywhere near the Redneck Riviera on Florida’s panhandle, Indian Pass Raw Bar is a definite must-see! Actually, that should be must-experience. Believe me, a meal at this local institution is an experience you won’t soon forget! And it’s not just the fresh seafood that makes this place so special. It’s also the atmosphere, the history, and the people.

The restaurant was built in 1903 as the company store for the turpentine operation. What’s that? You’re not familiar with turpentining? That’s the process of tapping pine trees for their resin, or rosin. Anyway, the site turned out to be a great location. In 1929, the highway was built through the area, and it ran right in front of the store.

The store became a restaurant in the 1930s, when Gypsie McNeill began serving lunch there. She also hosted dinner parties in part of the restaurant for local affairs and celebrations.

The McNeills were also in the wholesale oyster business, shipping the famous Apalachicola oysters all over the country. When Hurricane Kate hit in November of 1985, it devastated the oyster beds in the bay. The McNeills no longer had enough oysters to stay in the wholesale business, so in 1986, the restaurant became a raw bar.

Indian Pass Raw Bar is located on a rather isolated stretch of Highway C-30. It’s only about a ten or fifteen minute drive from Port St. Joe, and it’s also close to Cape San Blas and MexicoBeach.

You won’t believe the laid-back atmosphere at this place! Come in your tank top, shorts, and flip flops, and you’ll be in good company. Get a soft drink, a beer, or a wine cooler from the cooler and find yourself a seat. When you decide what you want, signal the waitress.

You’ll have a choice of oysters – raw, steamed, or baked, and these babies are FRESH! In fact, the ones you eat will have spent the night before in the bay. You can also have steamed or stuffed shrimp, crab legs, or seafood gumbo. For the landlubbers, there are hamburgers, hotdogs, sausage dogs, corndogs, and barbecue sandwiches. Round out your meal with corn-on-the-cob, and end it with key lime pie, cheesecake, or ice cream.

When you visit this place, you don’t just enjoy some of the best seafood you’ve ever eaten. You also get a feel for what “Old Florida” was really like – before the condos, resorts, and high rises went up. It’s a totally unique experience!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Real Georgia Bigfoot

Several years ago, my Uncle Jack and his best friend Jim were members of a hunting club in middle Georgia. Both were also pals with a guy named Pete. Pete was kind of a timid guy, and he was also pretty gullible and scared easily.  Of course, these characteristics often made poor Pete the target of the rest of the rough and rowdy men in the club.

While in his tree stand one crisp autumn morning, Pete thought he heard a large animal moving in the brush. As he told the tale later, he assured the guys around the campfire that it was something REALLY big – too big for a deer and too tall for a bear, the way the bushes were moving. Pete’s story planted a seed in the minds of Jack and Jim.

The two men were close neighbors and often worked together, and so they did on this project. They constructed what’s known down here as a “bull horn” or a “bull roarer.” It makes an awful sound – like some wild beast either in agony or in anger, depending on how the device is made and on how the string is pulled.

The next trip they made to the hunting camp, the bull roarer went with them. When Pete went to his stand early one morning, Jack and Jim hid out near the stand and activated the bull horn. They could see Pete, and he was obviously shaken. The two reprobates were certain that Pete had broken some record for coming down the tree. This success spurred on the imagination of Jack and Jim.

A couple of weeks later, Jim went over to Jack’s house early one morning. There Jack was, in the field next to his house, making giant strides through the soft soil. Jim couldn’t imagine what his pal was up to. As he got closer, he saw that Jack had huge wooden feet attached to his boots. My uncle had made a pair of Bigfoot feet and was working on his footprints. Of course, Jim thought this was a great idea, so he was ready to critique the prints and offer advice. They decided that to make the prints more believable – and scarier – they needed some claws. No problem! They nailed short nails into the wooden toes, and voila! Bigfoot feet!

A few days later, Jack created his crowning work of art. Jim was eating breakfast with his family when Jack came to the door. In his hand was a shoebox with a lid. Jack was very excited, which was totally out of character for him. He’s an unusually stolid type.

“What ya got in the box?” Jim asked, curious by now.

“Just wait till you see!” Jack answered.

He took the lid off the box. My uncle had crafted two Bigfoot turds!

Jim told me that they were totally convincing. Jack had taken cow manure, small twigs, and insulation “fur” to make them look real. Then he crossed one over the other as they might appear in nature. Their plan was to place these near Pete’s deer stand, along with a few tracks.

I can just picture Uncle Jack making these. He’s shaping the vile mixture in his hands and then rolling them into the desired “rope” between the palms of his hands. He’s gauging the proper diameter and length to make sure they’re convincing. I’m wondering…how does one from South Georgia know how big Bigfoot poo is?? Is there a book somewhere, a guide, if you will? How to Make Bigfoot Droppings in Three Easy Steps? Is it on Amazon?

As it turned out, Jack and Jim never got to try out the feet or the Bigfoot scat. They were called to Mexico for an extended period of time for a job. And they had some wild adventures south of the border! But that’s another story…or two!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Old Southern Recipe - Crullers

Last night, I discovered a treasure of Southern food – old southern recipes. I was rifling through a kitchen drawer that I seldom enter, when I found my great-grandmother’s collection of heirloom recipes. They’re almost 100 years old! I didn’t even know I had them. I inherited this house from my mom, and I guess I just never fully explored this particular nook. I spent much of last night reading through the recipes, as if I had found some spellbinding novel! Some of the terms are unfamiliar to me, and a few of the dished seem rather bizarre. Most of them, however, sound scrumptious, and I would like to share some of the Southern recipes with you, dear reader.

First, I’d like to tell you just a little about Mama Schaffer. She was born Sybil Holleman and became Sybil Holleman Kilpatrick when she married my great-grandfather, Fletcher Kilpatrick. She spent much of her life in Charleston and Savannah before moving to South Georgia. Later in life, after my great-grandfather died, she married Bob Schaffer. She died when I was eight, and I remember much about her. She was a fascinating woman with a wonderful sense of humor and creativity. I’ll share more about her in future hubs. By the way, I was named for her. That’s why my name is spelled “Holle” instead of “Holly.”

Here’s the old recipe for Mama Schaffer’s crullers:

What you’ll need:
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
3 egg yolks
1 cup hot mashed potatoes
½ cup milk
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Oil for frying

Add sugar, butter, and egg yolks to hot mashed potatoes. Beat until light and smooth. Add milk, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla.
The dough should be soft.
Pat out the dough and cut into strips. Twist the strips.
Deep fry at 380 degrees for 3-4 minutes. Drain on absorbent paper. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.