I had a most interesting morning this week. I went hunting-that is quail shooting with my buddy Chris and my old friend from college, Gerry. This was my third trip to the rural country west of Palm Beach, in Indiantown, Florida. Walking through the palmettos with the dogs searching out the birds is exciting. However, the best part of this morning was Bennett, our new guide and dog trainer. Bennett is a mother to a 2 1/2-year-old son and is a true local, born and bred in the area. She was raised hunting and fishing and letting things roll off her back like a light rain. As we ambled along, the ground dry from temps in the 80s, she chatted about the local history in her distinctive southern dialect. It was a new cultural experience for me and called to mind a classic book I recently read for the first time– The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In it, the author movingly captures the authentic voices of Cross Creek, Florida in phonetic dialogue, so I thought I might try to capture the charm of Bennett’s “native tongue”.
On meeting her, I noticed her hand was bandaged with duct tape. I asked her what had happened and if she was okay.
“Dog bite my hand thus morn,” she replied. “And my kid don’t sleep and fell ot bed. My early morn client shot a cow instead of a hog. Not good day sofr.”
I asked, “Did you see a doctor about your hand?”
“Naw-1 thraw some iodine stuff on my hand and use packing tip step bleeding.”
“Okay but you should go to Urgent Care after the hunt.”
“Yah, I guess.”
I had the feeling my advice was not relevant. Urgent Care is for the weak.
We all got into the bush truck to drive out to the hunting grounds. I sat in front with Bennett and peppered her with questions about her dog training and the hunting odds. When we arrived, things got off to a slow start. Hunting is a lot like fishing-the guides always have excuses for no action. “You should have been here yesterday” or “it is too hot” or “too cold” or “too wet” or “not wet enough.” When! remarked on the lack of action, Bennett had this to say:
“Well, Mr. Len, the dogs are too cited.”
“Should we let them run around a bit before we take them out into the fields?” I asked.
“Well Mr. Len this dog Melvin, he simple minded and can’t stay lert more than few minutes anyway.”
“It seems to me that if the dogs were exercised more before the hunt they would be calmer.” I added helpfully.
She paused. “Well Mr. Len, that’s good maybe we try sum time.” She was just being polite.
There are usually two dogs when we hunt. One dog circles the palmettos seeking out the scent of the covey. Once he is on the scent, he points his tail straight up and his nose is frozen in the direction of the covey. The other dog stays by Bennett’s side, waiting for his cue from her to go flush the birds out of the bushes.
“Go Melvin!” Bennett commanded and both dogs bounded toward the covey, flushing out the birds.
Suddenly there was confusion. Quail were in the air and flying away fast. Chris fired his double barrel and I raised my shotgun to follow the direction of flight, shooting somewhat wildly in the commotion.
“Mr. Len yus need not panic shoot!” Bennett shouted.
I looked at Bennett soaked with sweat and her taped up hand. After several more attempts, I shot exactly one bird. Gerry fired and hit a bird. Chris as usual came back with the most. I was ready to call it a day.
“Yup Mr. Len yuv had your shot. Made Florida snow with one bird. Pretty good for a panic shooter.”
“Florida snow?” I asked.
“Feathers Mr. Len. Come up like a cloud of snow after a hit. I hear Angle the Cook back at camp got pork chops for lunch. Boy am I hungry!”