Whenever I watch the hunting dogs, I cannot help but wonder what they are thinking. Using my imagination, I would like to tell this story of one of our deer hunts from the point of view of our hunting dogs Hank, Cheyenne, Nikki, and Pork Chop . . .
A cold nippy breeze swept across the dog pen and into the cozy doghouse. It was hard to tell Nikki’s slim, trim, and mostly white body from Cheyenne’s chunky brown and white coat as they snuggled to stay warm wadded together in a corner. It would not be long before the sun would begin to peek over the horizon between the long-leaf pines and lighten the North Florida sky. As if on cue, Nikki and Cheyenne woke as the darkness began to fade, but twinkling stars could still be seen in the sky.
“Watch it, baby girl,” said Cheyenne. “I think it might be time for those nails to have a manicure.”
“Sorry, Cheyenne.” Nikki jerked back her legs from a long
drawn-out stretch as her toenails scratched across Cheyenne’s stomach. She leaped to her feet then pointed her nose
up into the air.
“Do you smell that, Cheyenne,” asked Nikki? She pranced around the pen sniffing the air.
By this time, Cheyenne
had made her way to the dog feeder. “Smell
what?” She asked. While waiting for an
answer, she chased a morsel of dog food pellets that tumbled out of the dog
feeder as she ate. “Thought you could
get away, didn’t you?” she said as she lapped up the crumbs that had fallen to
“The air,” said Nikki. “Don’t you smell the deer in the air?” She announced with a bark that stirred the males in the next pen.
Hank jumped atop the roof of his dog house and with a deep howl signified his alpha-male status, which he did daily to reaffirm his claim. He was of the pure bred Walker Hound stock that came from a long line of the Old Man’s father’s deer hunting dogs and proud of it.
One last dog made up the
Old Man’s pack of hunting dogs. Pork
Chop was his name. He was working on his
first year of real hunting. Pork Chop
ran up and down the fence line. His
barking and howling rang through the crispy morning air.
"That young whipper-snapper don’t even know what he’s so excited about,” laughed Cheyenne. “He’s just revved up and ready to go, and it don’t really matter where to.”
“I know that excitement,” said Nikki. “It won’t be long before the Old Man comes to get us. I can hardly wait. Come on, come on,” she barked, “Let’s get going.” Nikki had two good years of hunting under her belt. She could trail a deer scent along with the best of them. And even with her smaller-built frame could out run some of them. She wasn’t ashamed to be a pack dog either if another dog trailed the scent first. She would run right along with him to the end.
“Hold on now, Nikki,” said Cheyenne. “You better eat something before we go so you can keep your strength up. I don’t know how so much energy can be wrapped up in such a little package.”
“Always looking out for me, aren’t you, Cheyenne?” said Nikki. They were as close as sisters. You could be sure if you saw Cheyenne that Nikki was close by and vice versa.
“I know that you would do the same for me,” said Cheyenne.
The Old Man appeared on the camp house porch and flipped on the light to the dog pens. He would soon bring the pickup truck to load the dogs into the dog box.
“You better settle down there, young feller,” said Hank to Pork Chop. “Maybe get yourself a bite to eat. And try to take care of that other morning business before you get into the dog box this time. I don’t wanna be riding around in your porta-potty today.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” said Pork Chop. “You need to chill out a little bit, big guy, and take life easy. There’s a whole world out there, and I just wanna see all there is to see and be wild and free.”
“That wild and free business is gonna get you in trouble one day,” cautioned Hank. “You gotta pay attention to what’s going on around you. This deer hunting is serious stuff.”
“I hear ya,” said Pork Chop. He ate from the dog feeder, then took care of that other morning business to Hank’s great relief.
Hank walked up to the fence shaking his head with a sigh. “What are we gonna do with that boy?” Hank asked Cheyenne. “He only partly listens. When we get to the woods, he turns into an air-head going every which way.”
“He’s still got some growing up to do and, hopefully, that will include some maturity and wisdom as well,” said Cheyenne. “By the way, Hank, that was a pretty good race you led yesterday. I must admit that I was a little bit winded by the time we hit the road. And I was more than pleased to see the Old Man’s pickup truck. I was ready to ride.”
“Thank you, girl. I’m glad Pork Chop stayed with us this time. Sometimes, though, he just can’t concentrate on the matter at hand and keeps getting sidetracked.”
The Old Man cranked the engine of his pickup and slowly backed to the side-by-side gates of the dog pens. As the excitement of the coming hunt grew, the dogs threw all courtesy aside and rushed to their gates barking wildly trampling each other in order to be the first in the box. None wanted to be left behind.
“Hey, boys and girls. Ya’ll ready to go huntin’?” asked the Old Man. The whole pack barked even louder. He reached inside the gate and grabbed a hold of Nikki’s collar. She was always first to the gate and didn’t seem to mind stepping over Cheyenne to get there.
“Hold on, crazy girl,” said the Old Man. “You know I won’t leave you behind.”
Nikki jumped effortlessly up onto the tailgate then into the familiar dog box. Many years before he had passed away, the Old Man’s father had hand-crafted the sturdy wooden box which had served its purpose well. Many a fine deer hunting dog had walked through those doors. Nikki was counted among them.
Cheyenne’s entry into the box was a little less graceful. She made a couple of clumsy attempts to jump up on her on. “You’ve been hittin’ the vittles pretty hard, haven’t you ole girl?” said the Old Man as he picked her up and sat her on the tailgate.
“Hurry up, Cheyenne, we’ve gotta get this show on the road,” encouraged Nikki, as she trembled with excitement.
“I am ready to roll,” said Cheyenne. Her wagging tail tapped a steady beat against the wooden wall of the dog box.
Pork Chop rushed to the gate ahead of Hank, but was met with a quick rebuke. “That ain’t how it works around here, boy,” said Hank. He pushed ahead of Pork Chop as the Old Man grabbed his collar. With strong long legs, Hank leaped aboard with one powerful jump. Finally, Pork Chop was last to load with unabated eagerness.
Their excited barks faded into silence as they rode down the bumpy two-rut lane from the campsite into the hunting grounds.
“I can’t wait to run,” announced Pork Chop. “There’s deer, and rabbits, coons, and foxes to be chased. I can run ‘em all. Just let me at ‘em.”
“Focus on the deer,” said Hank. “We need to stay together and find a buck. The Old Man needs the meat to feed his family and as a bonus, he’ll give us a treat.”
Due to the recent rains, water had overflowed the banks of the scattered ponds, creeks, and ditches throughout the woods. The pickup truck sloshed through the muddy roads that wound their way through long leaf pines that were planted years ago by the St. Joe Paper Company. A low howling wind blew through the crisp, cold air. The pickup crept along slowly as the Old Man searched for fresh deer tracks, stopping occasionally to get out for a closer look.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” said Pork Chop. “The scent of everything is itchin’ my nostrils. We need to go hunt.”
“We need to stick to the plan,” said Hank with the wisdom gained from past experience. “First the Old Man finds us a track. The Old Man will put either me or Cheyenne out to trail it. When whoever gets put out gets a good scent on the trail, you wait for the signal. It will be a loud and consistent bark. Then everybody follows, and we jump the buck that will run out of the woods so the Old Man can shoot him.”
“That’s tried and true,” said Cheyenne. “It works almost every time.”
The radio cracked with broken conversations among the deer hunters as to where to put the dogs out.
“Pork Chop, you are in need of more feet-on-the ground training,” said Hank. “Just stay with the pack and you’ll do well. This is no time to get side tracked by all the different smells. Just focus on the buck scent. They really stink this time of year.”
“Roger on that,” replied Pork Chop. “I’m ready. I know I’m ready.”
“Good. It sounds like we got our plan,” said Hank.
The pickup stopped and the Old Man walked around and lowered the tailgate.
“Looks like this is the best buck track today. Let’s give it a go,” said the Old Man. He reached into the dog box and got his hands on Hank’s collar. “Let’s see what you can do, ole feller,” he said.
Hank leaped from the box and immediately had his nose to the ground and sniffed with all his might to get the deer scent that he knew was somewhere nearby. Soon, he dashed off into the palmettos and scrub brush. About ten yards off, he gave the signal and barked loud and consistently.
“This is it!” barked Hank. “Come on! Let’s get going!”
The Old Man released the latch on the dog box and out leaped Nikki, Pork Chop, and Cheyenne. They dashed into the woods together like one big wad with a mission.
“Keep up! Keep up!” barked Hank.
“Stay with it!” shouted Nikki. We’ve got your back.
The unified wad of dogs quickly began to disintegrate, though, as Pork Chop picked up on the first scent to hit his nostrils. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the deer in question.
“Pork Chop!” warned Cheyenne. “Get back over here! Stay with the pack!”
“Let him go,” shouted Hank. “We gotta run this deer."
Hank and the girls did
run that deer. With loud barks, squeals,
and whines, they were boiling. They ran down
over the liquor still ridge, through the creek, and out to the next two-rut
forest road where the Old Man instinctively knew where to wait.
Bam! Bam! The buck was down.
Quickly, from the palmettos and on the back side of the buck, dashed Hank, Nikki, and Cheyenne. They still barked loudly. Their bodies were wet from the creek water as they emerged proudly knowing that they had accomplished their task.
The Old Man caught them up quickly and put them back in the dog box.
“Good job, girls,” said Hank, giving credit where credit was due. “We worked together as a pack and finished the race.”
“That was extremely great!” exclaimed Nikki. “The crisp air was blowing across my face and the sweet aroma of deer filled my nostrils. I was charged up – on fire!”
“We did have a good run. But where is Pork Chop?” asked Cheyenne. “He was right behind us for a while.”
“Lord only knows,” said Hank. “The Old Man will more than likely find him on the other side of the woods where he put out. At least the young feller has learned to go back where he was put out if he can’t make the run.”
While the Old Man field dressed the buck, Hank, Nikki, and Cheyenne took a well-deserved drink and waited for their treat before they napped, braced from the cold wind, inside the hay-lined wooden dog box.
The Old Man drove down first one dirt road and then another. The dogs had grown accustomed to the bumpy roads laced with pot holes and wallowed out ruts caused by the deer hunters’ pickup trucks rolling through the rain. The Ole Man stopped occasionally to beep Pork Chop’s tracking collar. He zeroed in closer and closer. “Pork Chop! Come here, boy!” shouted the Old Man until Pork Chop, finally, emerged from the bushes. “Let’s get loaded up.” Pork Chop jumped onto the tailgate and into the dog box. The sun was setting behind the dense woods as they rolled into the campsite and got unloaded. After filling their bellies, they rested for the night, being wakened occasionally by the lonely cries of nearby coyotes. “We hear you coyote man,” howled Hank. “Just to let you know, this is our territory.”
The Old Man loaded the
dogs early the next day while the moon still hung above and stars barely peeked
through the sky. They bumped along the
familiar roads in the woods.
“Hunting season just don’t last long enough,” said Hank. “There’s hardly enough time to train a new dog.”
“If you’re referring to me,” said Pork Chop, “I think I’m pretty well trained. I can run anything out there.”
“That’s just the problem,” laughed Hank. “We don’t need to be running just any ole thing.” Hank became serious, “We’re deer dogs. We have a job to do and the Old Man is counting on us. And not only that, these woods can be dangerous if you get separated from the pack.”
“I can handle myself,” boasted Pork Chop. “Just because I’m young, don’t mean I can’t do it.”
“Let’s just hope you don’t have to find out,” said Hank. “There’s a lot of hungry coyotes and gators in these swamps. And if you get lost, the woods get pretty dark and cold at night.”
The Old Man followed his usual hunting pattern and before long the dogs were put on another deer track in the woods barking, howling, and squealing after what, hopefully, was a big ole buck. This was a short run and soon the deer crossed between the hunters. There was no bam! Bam! Bam! This time it was a doe, and the deer safely passed the hunters and continued through the woods.
The hunters caught up their dogs and headed down the road to put out on another deer track.
“That’s the way to do it, Pork Chop,” said Hank with encouragement. “Stay with the pack and run ‘em on through.”
“Does that mean I’ve graduated now?” asked Pork Chop.
“Time will tell,” said Hank. “Let’s just hope you’re maturity equals your ability.”
They rode down the dirt trail a ways then the pickups stopped one behind the other.
“Looks like we’re gonna get another try,” said Nikki, as she pranced excitedly in the box. “This stuff just gets my adrenalin flowing like nothing else will!”
“I’m up for another round, too,” agree Cheyenne. “That last run was way too short. It was over almost before it began.”
Another hunter released his trail dog Gator. Before long Gator’s wailing howls rang through the trees as a signal that he was on the trail of something big.
“Put ‘em all out,” said one of the hunters. “Let’s get this thing done.”
The Old Man released
Hank, Pork Chop, Cheyenne, and Nikki.
They ran, along with other dogs, toward the barking Gator dog. The race was hot and heavy for a while. Then it died down.
“Hold up,” said Hank. “I think Gator’s lost the trail. Pork Chop, Nikki, Cheyenne,” he said, “see what you can pick up, but don’t stray too far off, though. We need to stick together.”
“I’ll edge off to the east,” said Cheyenne. She raised her nose in the air as high as she could and then back to the ground as she reached for the scent of the deer.
“I’m holding the center,” said Nikki. Her breathing coated with fog from the still cold air as she pranced through the palmettos.
“Where you at, Pork Chop?” shouted Hank.
There was nothing but silenced from the missing Pork Chop.
“He was right here beside us until the race broke down,” said Cheyenne as she sniffed the ground and bushes.
“It’s that lack of maturity thing again,” said Hank. “It’s gonna get him in trouble.”
Hank, Nikki, and Cheyenne followed their noses and the scent of a deer, which took them down a wide ridge then across a juniper pond into the middle of a huge forest block deep in the woods and miles from a dirt road. Gator and the other dogs had long since disappeared in another direction and could no longer be heard.
“This don’t look good,” said Hank. I don’t think we’ve been here before because nothing looks familiar. That big buck has led us straight to no-man’s land.”
“I think you’re right, Hank, I don’t remember seeing this huge juniper pond,” said Cheyenne. “And we haven’t seen a road for quite a while.”
Without lifting her nose from the ground, Nikki said, “Well, just make the most of it. We may as well hunt for deer while we’re here.” She continued sniffing along the side of the pond.
Hours passed and they were no closer to getting out and onto a road. And they were no closer to finding Pork Chop either. In the distance they heard a truck horn blowing.
“That’s gotta be the Old Man looking for us,” said Cheyenne. “Which direction is that coming from?”
“It sounds like it’s coming from across the pond,” said Hank.
They squealed and barked loudly hoping the Old Man would hear them as they walked up and down looking for a shallow spot to cross. But there was none to be found. Then they ran around to the end of the pond to the north. The sound of the horn disappeared. They flanked the pond until they were back where they could hear the horn again. They barked as loudly as they could.
“He’s got to hear us,” said Cheyenne wearily.
“Let’s try going around the pond the other way,” suggested Hank.
They ran through the trees, bushes, and palmettos making their way around the pond until the horn disappeared once more. The sun began to set and filled the sky with a scarlet glow. The three deer dogs were now out of breath and their legs ached from running through the palmettos that nipped at them with sharp, spiked leaves. No matter where they were, they could no longer hear the truck horn.
“I think the Old Man has gone,” said Nikki. “I think we’re lost. I think we won’t ever be able to get back home again – ever.”
“Stop all that thinking,” interrupted Hank. “The Old Man will be back tomorrow. Nobody can see anything in the dark. We should just rest until daybreak, and then try to find our way around this pond.”
“I wonder what happened to Pork Chop?” said Cheyenne with sadness.
“He’ll be okay. He’s young and strong,” encouraged Hank.
They all curled up into a wad to keep warm and slept through the cold and dark night.
The three dogs were awakened by the sound of rustling palmetto leaves.
“Oh my, what’s that?” asked a frightened Cheyenne jumping to her feet.
“Something or someone is coming our way,” answered Hank. He stood up and looked over the bushes as high as he could and seeing only branches waving back and forth.
“Maybe it’s the Old Man,” chimed in Nikki hopefully.
The rustling became louder and faster until, before the three canines could react, out of the bushes popped none other than Pork Chop!
“I thought I smelt a familiar pack of ole dirty huntin’ hounds,” cried Pork Chop excitedly.
Cheyenne and Nikki jumped all over him, licking his face with slobbery kisses.
“Aw, gee whiz,” blushed Pork Chop. You don’t have to get all mushy.
“Where on God’s green earth have you been?” asked Hank, scratching his ear.
“Wandering around this heck-hole of the woods looking for ya’ll,” answered Pork Chop as he strutted back and forth grinning from ear to ear. He appeared pretty pleased with himself at this point.
“Glad to see you’re all right, ole buddy,” said Hank. “But the bad news is we’re in the middle of nowhere and the Old Man gave up looking for us after dark last night. Our only hope is that he returns and we can get around or through this swampy pond to the other side in case he comes back for us before we get snake bit or become a gator’s supper.”
“Ya’ll are worried about every little thing. Be happy – run, jump, and play while you’ve got the chance,” said Pork Chop. He playfully ran circles around them until their reunion was soon interrupted by the scent of a smelly buck.
“Let’s go get him,” barked Hank.
Their strong walker-hound legs carried them effortlessly through the palmettos as they followed their noses through the woods. This game of hide and seek carried on until the buck made his final getaway. With the excitement of the deer race gone, the dogs turned their attention to the hunger pains growling in their stomachs.
“What’s for breakfast?” asked Pork Chop.
“Unless the Old Man comes for us, it’s all the crickets you can eat,” answered Hank.
When they made their way back to the last place they heard the Old Man’s truck horn and shouts, Cheyenne said, “He will be here soon. The Old Man won’t give up on us.”
With noses to the ground, the dogs savored the woodsy scents while waiting for the Old Man to come. It wasn’t long before they heard a familiar truck horn blow. The dogs barked loudly as they ran toward the blast echoing through the pines and junipers.
“Hank! Come on boy!” shouted the Old Man. “Here boy! Here! Here! Here!” he bellowed. “Cheyenne! Nikki! Pork Chop!”
“He’s here! I knew he would come!” exclaimed Cheyenne.
The dogs ran toward the horn blast until they came splashing into the juniper pond. Soon they were up to their heads.
“I can’t go any farther,” whined Nikki. “I’m going to drown.”
“No, you’re not, Nikki,” encouraged Hank. “Follow me!” he shouted as he splashed further into the icy cold water.
“Hank! Cheyenne! Nikki! Pork Chop!” yelled the Old Man even louder. The truck horn blasted again and again as the dogs barked in reply.
Hank was first to tumble through the bushes. He spotted the Old Man yelling for them as he held out the antenna of the tracking box zoning in on their location. With his tail wagging wildly and barking loudly, he ran toward the Old Man.
“Good boy, Hank!” shouted the Old Man. “We’re the rest of your pack?”
Cheyenne was next out of the bushes with Nikki close on her tail.
“Where’s Pork Chop?” asked the Old Man. “Pork Chop!” he yelled. “Here, boy! Here! Here! Here!” He walked with Hank, Cheyenne, and Nikki to the pickup truck where he had food and water waiting for them.
“Pork Chop! Pork Chop!” The Old Man hollered and blew his horn and waited. Pork Chop did not bark. The silence from across the juniper pond was broken by the sound of frogs croaking in the wetland.
“Where is Pork Chop?” asked Cheyenne. “I thought he was with us.”
“He stopped at the edge of the icy-cold pond. But I thought he would come on through with us,” said Hank. “He better hurry up and get across. The Old Man can’t wait much longer."
But the Old Man waited
and waited. He called and called for
Pork Chop. It was soon getting dark and
the old two-rut lane was muddy and boggy.
The Old Man did not need to get stuck out here in no-man’s land.
They waited another hour or so for Pork Chop to cross the juniper pond. The Old Man called and called for him and blew the truck horn. Pork Chop didn’t answer. The Old Man walked up and down the side of the pond. With his beeper box, he tracked Pork Chop as he, too, walked up and down the other side of the pond. It appeared that Pork Chop was reluctant to cross the deep cold water.
The cold winter sky was once again turning pink as the sun set below the tall pines and darkness began to fall. They needed to leave.
“I’m sorry, Pork Chop, ole buddy,” said the Old Man. “I can’t stay here all night.”
The Old Man put dishes of food and water on the ground behind the pickup truck. Next he removed his overcoat and slipped off his camouflaged T-shirt and laid it on the ground creating a familiar scent for Pork Chop. After putting his overcoat back on, he got in the truck and drove down the bumpy road.
It was a quite ride out of
the woods. Hank, Cheyenne, and Nikki fell
asleep in the dog box, tired from their long detour behind the juniper pond
into no-man’s land.
The next morning the Old Man loaded Hank, Cheyenne, and Nikki into the dog box and they headed for the woods once again. This trip would be not only for deer hunting, but dog hunting as well.
“I sure hope we find Pork Chop today,” said Hank. “He’s got the makings of a good deer dog. Besides, I think I would miss my ole kennel mate if he don’t come back.”
“It was mighty cold out there last night,” said Cheyenne. “I hope he followed our scent across the pond and found the Old Man’s shirt and food that he left for him.”
The Old Man steered the pickup truck into the now familiar boggy road leading to the juniper pond. He stopped every once in a while to try and get a beep on Pork Chop’s tracking collar.
They continued down the
road and crossed over the dead carcass of a coon.
“That poor little fellow didn’t make it,” said Nikki sadly. “What do you think got him?”
“Probably the coyotes,” said Hank.
“Do they eat dogs, too?” asked Nikki.
“It’s been known to happen,” said Hank. “I’ve heard of dogs getting lost in the woods. They get weak and tired. Can’t defend themselves. That’s when the coyotes make their move.”
“You don’t think – ,” Nikki paused. “No, I can’t think that,” she said.
“Pork Chop is young and strong. He can take care of himself,” reassured Cheyenne.
The pickup truck rolled to a stop. The Old Man got out and went to the front of the truck. There laid Pork Chop on top of the Old Man’s T-shirt, sound asleep.
“Wake up, young feller,” said the Old Man. “We come to get you.”
Startled, Pork Chop jumped to his feet. Immediately, he climbed up on the Old Man licking his face and barking joyfully.
“That’s him!” shouted Nikki. “He’s alive!”
“Of course he’s alive,” said Hank. “I knew that little whipper-snapper wouldn’t give up. And the Old Man wouldn’t ever leave none of us behind.”
“Praise Jesus!” shouted Cheyenne.
The Old Man gave Pork Chop some water and fresh dog food and then loaded him into the dog box.
“Boy, am I glad to see ya’ll,” said Pork Chop. “What a night I had. It was cold and dark and lonely.”
“Why didn’t you follow us across the juniper pond?” asked Hank.
“I just didn’t have enough incentive at the time,” said Pork Chop. “The water was too cold and scary.”
“What changed your mind?” asked Cheyenne.
“I finally got the incentive. I didn’t have to think twice about running through that icy-cold water after a pack of coyotes got after me! It was a close call, but thank goodness I lost them in the water.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Nikki. “I’m glad we found you.”
“I’m glad the Old Man didn’t give up on me. I don’t think I could have lasted another night out here,” said Pork Chop.
They drove out of the no-man’s land, through the muddy, boggy road. It wasn’t long before the Old Man found another deer track back in familiar hunting territory. The Old Man put Hank, Nikki, and Cheyenne out on the track. Pork Chop darted for the door, wanting to join them. But the Old Man knew better than to over-exert tired and exhausted Pork Chop and made him stay behind this time.
After an exciting day of recovering Pork Chop and hunting for bucks, they returned to the hunt camp for vittles.
“Pork Chop, honey, you know I’m really glad you’re back with us,” said Cheyenne. “But next time, stay your happy little self with the pack and do not pull that stunt again!”
Everyone agree and they all settled in for a well-deserved sleep.
The next morning, the Old Man appeared on the porch and flipped on the light to the dog pens. . . . . . .
And so it went, they all lived happily ever after chasing bucks every time the Old Man gave them a chance to do so.
- The End -