Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Sometimes Snipe"

As part of

The Piney Woods Saga

Curious Occurrences Along Jaybird Creek

Carl Lewis - A Turkey Hunter's Tall Tale

“I CAN NOT BELIEVE THE STUPIDITY!!!” It’s a wonder my dad didn’t wake the dead that night with his yelling.

I remember that night like yesterday, all of us sitting around that fire half frozen, getting the tongue lashing to end all tongue lashings, and doing our dead level best not to let my dad, Big Ronnie or Harold B see us smiling. The bad part is the person we got the damned idea from in the first place was standing in the door way, echoing my daddy’s words verbatim. Like Cajun didn’t have anything to do with what had transpired.

“You boys have got to start using better judgment,” daddy continued to proclaim.

“That’s right, better judgment boys.” Cajun, the ultimate Benedict Arnold mimicked.

“How in the world can a camp work weekend end up with GranGran taking Picky into town for a tetanus shot, gun fire and ME BEING UP AT 2 IN THE MORNING?” This was not really a question.

“How boys, how”, repeated Cajun who was starting to get on my nerves.

“What do ya’ll have to say for yourselves?”

“What boys”, again from Cajun as I attempted to burn a hole in his forehead with my glare.

Nothing in this world could make us say anything at that moment, particularly considering we were busy nudging a rather snookered “Iffee” from one shoulder to the next.


Cajun’s silver flask fell out of “Iffee’s” back pocket. In mid "finger point", my dad stopped, turned beat red and glared at his bud, Cajun. I admit to feeling more than a hint of retribution. Cajun just cleared his throat and looked at the ground. Seemingly, being a parrot, echoing every word my Dad said was no longer such a good idea.  With that my daddy retired to his quarters, but I could tell we best not be getting into anything else that night.

For my part, I plead innocent. I had done everything I could do not to get involved, from avoiding Picky, to trying to get the flask from Iffee who got the flask from Cajun who got the shine from his own still. Chunk and Magic, well they didn’t exactly help the proceedings and Skillet just kind of does what everyone else does. I was outnumbered plain and simple, and knew so the day before.

Picky, oldest son of a meat packing and sausage making millionaire, had probably asked 100 times to go to the camp with us, and 99 times before we had avoided it like the plague. That changed when Cajun sat us down that last week of duck season, and told us the stories of him and my daddy taking folks on “snipe hunts”. Across the fire that night I could see Chunk and Buff sitting there on an old oak stump, Buff with a curious look growing across his face by the second. Next to him on an identical log I could see Chunk had a flat out evil grin decorating his face which grew at the mention of wooden spoons, pots and pans, and paper bags. I knew it was going to happen, I just prayed they would forget about it.

They didn’t.

Three weeks later it was time to get the turkey camp ready for the upcoming season. It was late February, and by the time the plans were finalized, a storm was brewing that threatened to make for a wet and cold weekend. We were all in the seventh grade except for Chunk who was a senior, so it was easy for us trade info about the upcoming weekend. I discovered that Chunk had cornered and asked Picky to come along. True to form, Skillet and Iffee became a self-fulfilling prophecy jumping right in, as Buff told us about the plan.  Honestly at the time, none of us could see the harm in it.

That Friday morning Picky came to school with enough clothes packed to keep General Washington’s men warm and dry while crossing the Delaware. Everyone except Cajun had taken off at lunch and already headed out to Clem, which was the little community the camp was near. I’d be willing to bet my dad later questioned the decision to let Cajun pick us up prior to the hunt, and positively cussed his poor judgment afterwards. He picked us up in his old 4x4 Scout, sitting me, Picky and Buff up front and Chunk, Iffee, Skillet and the luggage in back. Five minutes down the road, the flask came out and began making its rounds. That evening, I could tell it wouldn’t be long before the older fellas went to bed. Sure enough, it only took about three domino games for the yawning to start. After the fourth, they went to bed with promises for dollar buy-in cards the next night. Even Cajun went to bed, but not before a wink of the eye, a toss of the flask, and a warning, “Not too much boys, just enough to keep 'yallselves' warm.” What he was thinking giving a flask full of homemade apricot shine to a bunch of junior high kids was anyone’s guess, but we didn’t argue.

Chunk was the first to start in about the massive number of snipe he’d been seeing in and around the old sage brush field where Harold B killed the 8 point last year. The rest of us added stuff like “man yeah, been seeing a bunch of em” and “boy, you gotta be on your game to catch em”. After a few minutes of this, Picky asked the question we’d all been waiting on, “can I come snipe hunting with ya’ll when the season opens?”

“Son”, Chunk called everyone ‘son’ when the grownups weren’t around, “what do you mean? You can hunt snipe anytime but its best on cold nights like tonight. You wanna give it a try?”

I bet it didn’t take Picky two minutes to get dressed. That was quite a feat considering he looked like the little kid Randy on the movie “A Christmas Story” with all the clothes he was wearing. Even considering his speed, we greeted him around the bonfire. None of us had even taken off our boots. We knew we could get him to the point of going “snipe hunting”. It was just a matter of time.

As we bumped down the road in Cajun’s rig, Picky received his marching orders from us, “We’re gonna drop you off at the sage brush field - snipe love sage you see. Anyhow, you head out in the middle of the field and beat on that pot with spoon, then get that bag ready and kinda shake it, they’ll be heading your way in no time, you just scoop em up!”

“Just like this?” At that, he started beating on the pot. Skillet, looking around to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks said rather emphatically, “Yeah man, that’s it!”

We told him we’d go back to the camp for an hour or so to give him time to hunt. He never suspected a thing. With nothing more than a small amount of trepidation, some pride, and his snipe hunting equipment in hand, Picky set off for the middle of the field for some snipe action. I remember how quite the ride back was. I figured we were all starting to feel a bit guilty honestly. All except Iffee, who was already very deep in the flask of shine. Nope, Iffee resigned himself to babbling on about whatever came to his increasingly drunken mind, and I was pretty sure Picky had been forgotten.

Pulling up to the camp, we each poured a little from one of Cajuns jars in the back of his scout and sidled up to a stump or log to sit on. That’s when Iffee broke the silence with a slurred toast, “To Pickly……greates’ snipe huntsa of em all!” The rest of us smiled and exclaimed, “TO PICKY!” Shine, when it’s made correctly, is more of a slow burn, betraying it’s true power – and no one made it better than Cajun. After the requisite hour, we filled up the flask and began sneaking back to the field where Picky was ‘hunting.’

If anyone had seen us, they would have most likely said we looked like a pack of mangy coyotes surrounding a wounded calf. We did in fact get down on all fours and spread out around Picky in an unorganized half moon. The sage was about chest high, obscuring our view. Sure, we could hear what was going on, but we needed to see it as well. Giving a crawling gesture with his fingers, Chunk signaled us to crawl forward, closer to the action. After several feet, Picky came into view waving a wooden spoon and holding a bag out in front of him, seconds later – tap, tap, tap – spoon to pan. It was almost too much to stand. Looking down the line of friends, I could tell everyone was struggling not to laugh out loud. Seconds later, it happened. Chunk started snorting like a hog, getting louder and louder, and then…he squealed. Picky wasted no time, as I’m sure he figured he was left for dead. Dropping his bag, spoon and pot, he took off running in the opposite direction from us, screaming at the top of his lungs. Eventually, he disappeared in the dark shadows. The squeal was just too much for him. But, having the boy petrified wasn’t good enough for us. We had to take it further. We started howling like a pack of coyotes. That’s when we saw the flash of light and heard the shot – Picky was in a gunfight with the howling, snorting shadows. When giving his personal recount many years later, Chunk swears a bullet just missed him. That remains to be seen, though I highly doubt it was the case considering the position Picky was later found in. No one said a word, but we ran like hell, and everyone met back at Cajun’s scout. Good ol drunken Iffee was last seen running the wrong way.

“Nigel, go get him!”

“What do you mean ‘Nigel, go get him’? I didn’t invite him Chunk, you did!”

“Well, he’s your friend, go get him.”

“C’mon Nige, go get him. It’ll be better coming from you. He’s gotta know it was us by now,” Buff noted coolly.

“Yeah, Nigel, go get him man, its cold…get who, Chunk?” I should have known Iffee, who just staggered up, would side w/ Chunk and Buff.

In a last ditch effort, I appealed to Skillet for help. He shrugged as if to say, “You’re on your own.”

Turn coats, every one of them.

Pulling the Scout up to Picky’s last known location, I was met with a site I’ll never forget. Picky had run full speed into an old, rusty barbed wire fence, and was hanging upside down, pistol lying on the ground beside him. He was obviously thoroughly entangled and exhausted. At first I wanted to laugh at the silliness, but then I realized he had cut himself up pretty bad. It took a few minutes but I got him unwound from the fence and helped him to his feet.

“Didn’t get any snipe tonight but heard something like a pig…or wolf.”

Staring blankly at him, I could hardly believe it. He had no clue it was us. Foolishly, I thought we might get out of our predicament. After I picked the turn coats up, I made sure they knew not to say anything. It didn’t matter though, the cards were against us. Gran Gran must have gotten up to use the bathroom and spotted us coming back with the lights off. You just know kids are up to no good when that happens. Tip-toeing back into the camp, he met us at the door, wanting to know what we had been doing. We didn’t get to explain as he saw Picky covered in mud and blood, and immediately started checking him over – waking everyone else in the process.

Minutes later the screaming started. It was several long minutes before it stopped however.

Sometime early the next morning, just as the eggs were coming off the griddle, Gran Gran and Picky pulled up. Honestly, I was scared of what was about to happen, but Gran Gran didn’t say a thing. Picky, proud of his butterfly stitch was describing his encounter w/ “something”, and I was beginning to feel very guilty.

Starting the apology process I stated, “Picky, we’re sorry.”

“Don’t worry Nigel, I’m the one who ran into the fence.”

“Yeah, but sometimes friends tend to…….to….well, the weather wasn’t quite….”

I was finding it very hard to say what needed to be said, when Gran Gran stated, “yeah but Picky never forget, sometimes there’s snipe too.” With a wink we all saw, he went to eat some breakfast.

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