Sunday, January 20, 2008
A Foolish Mistake While Hunting
This true story took place more than 40 years ago, and for the most obvious of reasons, the names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty.
Zeke was a hard-hunting, hard-drinking, hard-fighting man, and loved all three with a passion. It’s very possible he also loved his wife, but she always got shortchanged because he took care of his hunting dogs and his hunting gear instead of her. At times, she was left to shift for herself for days on end.
Their marriage had been crumbling like a house of cards for several years, and she began making noises about a divorce. Zeke was young, as was his wife, and he felt it would be possible to weather this domestic storm.
He failed to see the clouds of divorce looming on the horizon, and she eventually issued an ultimatum. Pay some attention to me, and spend more time at home, or you will come to regret your unwise decisions. She just wanted more than he was willing to give.
It was a tough issue for Zeke. He’d fished and hunted all of his life, and had raised bird dogs and hounds for 20 years. He lived for the fall and winter, the pungent odor of leaf piles being burned by other people and the crisp cold and snow of winter. The leaves were never his; he refused to rake and burn them. He never shoveled snow off the sidewalk or driveway. He felt that was his wife’s job. She even had to feed his dogs.
It was more fun to whistle up his pointers, grab his double-barrel 12 gauge, and hie himself off to the woods. His dogs worked well together, and if one pointed, the other would back him as they were supposed to. Zeke had two of the finest pointers in Michigan, and they were as tough as whang leather, just like him.
Soon, the day-after-day hunting took its toll on the marriage. His wife didn’t want to leave, but she didn’t want to stay, and Zeke said he would try to change his ways. He felt it was time to mend his fences as best he could but feared it would never be possible now.
His words were nothing more than a hollow and temporary diversion. He tried to spend more time with her, but would always sneak off to go hunting. The words between them became more harsh and heated, and Zeke could see the handwriting on the domestic wall. His stock was no longer selling well.
He began putting money aside for the eventual day when the divorce would go to court, but he had almost three months to chase grouse and woodcock before it happened. He went for about a month working his dogs but leaving the shotgun at home. He wanted the dogs to be in prime condition for the last week of October and first week of November when the flight woodcock came down from the north, riding the chilly wind into local alder thickets.
He continued to work the dogs, and hide money from his wife. The dogs were as sure as death and taxes on birds, and he enjoyed the comments he received from friends and other hunters. They made nice comments about the dogs, and wondered why he wasn’t shooting. He explained his home situation, and said going out without a shotgun really wasn’t hunting. At least that is what he had come to believe and what he told his wife in an attempt to explain his daily absence. He was training his dogs, not hunting with them. A case of apples and oranges to his way of thinking.
Zeke kept hiding money from his pay check, and his wife wondered if he was spending it on another woman but he was never gone from home at night, and spent every day off with the dogs. Week after week he salted money away, choosing a place where he knew his wife would never look.
You see, she had nothing against hunting but hated firearms. She didn’t understand them, didn’t know how they operated, and didn’t want to learn. Zeke knew this. Every week he would stick one or two $100 bills down the barrels of his 12-gauge double. He felt the money was as safe there as in Fort Knox.
The last week of October soon arrived. and it was ushered in with a heavy rain. Zeke knew the woodcock would come drifting into his area on the strong winds and heavy rain. His pointers could smell the cooling wet air, and knew it meant bird hunting weather, and were ready to go when he hollered “kennel up.” They jumped into the dog boxes in the back of his truck, and off they went. This time Zeke would be hunting, and he was overjoyed at the thought of hunting over his pointers.
They drove to one of his favorite coverts, and he puttered around, trying to figure how to hunt the pointers into the wind. He knew the puddles of water would bring nightcrawlers to the top of the ground, and the birds would not be far away.
He grabbed the double-barrel, stuffed two low-brass No. 8 shotshells into the chambers, closed the action, clicked on the safety and headed into the dripping woods. One pointer soon snuffled up a nose-full of woodcock scent, and slammed into a quivering point, his tail as stiff as a dagger, his head cocked slightly to the left. The other dog backed him, and Zeke moved in slowly, watching the ground in front of the dogs for flushing woodcock.
“Steady, now, steady,” he whispered to both dogs as he eased past then with his eyes looking about six feet off the ground.
Two woodcock twittered up, one peeled off to the left while the other flew right, and Zeke was primed. This was what he’d waited for, and swung left, clicked off the safety, shot, and quickly swung through the second tpweromg woodcock, and shot again. He’d done this so many times, and usually the bird fell but not this time.
Both birds flew away unscathed. It took Zeke a moment to figure out what happened. In his haste to hunt this perfect day, he had forgot about stuffing both barrels full of rolled-up $100 bills.
Scattered all around were tiny bits of charred and burning green paper. He later said that he had squirreled away over $2,000 in his shotgun barrels, and there was nothing left but green confetti and his two pointers. He hung his head and cried. To make matters even worse, when he returned home, he found it empty except a sad and poignant note on the kitchen table.
“I’ve leaving, Zeke,” the note read. “The divorce papers will arrive in two days. I’m sorry, but I can’t take this lonely marriage any longer. I’m moving out. Love ...”