The cold has come, and with it the hunters. Acres of Mossy Oak green clothing, shotguns in every truck’s back window and at least one four-wheeler in every bed. Sportsmen abound in the Sportsman’s Paradise, and Fall bring them out.
My father was a big hunter. Not a sportsman, there’s a difference. My father and his two brothers grew up in a time and place where hunting was required if there was going to be food on the table, so as he grew older he approached hunting season with the same sort of end result in mind. When my father brought home a game bag of squirrel it appeared that evening on the dinner table. When he killed a deer, which was only about once a year, we had venison.
My mother’s family was a little different. They grew up in the same sort of poverty and around the same time, but being French they preferred to think about their problems rather than go kill something over it. There was, however, one exception, and that was my mother's brother, Jean-Batiste. Not only was he a hunter he was a hunter with a sharp mind and an eagerness to try new things, and as he got older he only got worse. He was never good at hunting at all was my uncle, but he was determined far beyond the ken of normal men. Worse, he lived next door to us so we were constantly exposed to his own particular brand of madness.
To further his goals he always had the newest ‘thing’ to help him hunt. He always had the latest innovation in shotguns, was one of the first people in the area to own a three-wheeler ATV when they first came out, and the same with four-wheelers. He owned at least one piece of clothing covered in every pattern of camouflage made, he owned about seven or eight different stands and blinds and had owned and used probably every decoy and hunting technique there was to perfect his sadly lacking ability.
One thing that was a constant about his hunting technique, though, was dogs. He loved to hunt with dogs, and there was always a kennel-full of hounds in his backyard, all barking and baying and carrying on. Saturday mornings there was never a doubt if Uncle Jean-Batiste was going hunting, because the rattling of cages and the barking of dogs could be heard all over the bayou.
About ten years ago, close to the time of his unfortunate death my uncle started getting a little more unusual in his pursuit of big game. He was very secretive around the family for months and months before hunting season that year. Even his dogs went missing. The kennels that used to be so filled with every sort and description of hunting hound were empty, the bowls filled with dust. He was terribly distant to everyone, secretive and solitary. Until the morning deer season opened, that is. That was his grand entrance, the great unveiling of the mystery.
We woke to the sound of high-pitched barking and the rattle of cages and such, and my brother and I tore out to see what had been happening. We saw Uncle Jean-Batiste there, proud in his camo, shotgun laying on the seat of his battered little Toyota pickup, it’s back filled with small wire dog kennels, and a huge crowd of dogs around his feet. Not just any dogs, though. He was surrounded by about twenty five yapping, bouncing toy poodles. Toy poodles, he explained to our incredulous selves because it took a sizeable pack of dogs to execute his plan, and he could pack a lot of these little pocket dogs in a fairly small space.
He went on to explain that he had spent the past year carefully training these dogs to hunt deer. Furthermore, not just running them to ground to hold them like regular hunting hounds but to go one step further. This was his triumph: he had trained the poodle pack to tree a deer.
It is a little known fact, he told us, that if a deer ran fast enough it could in fact scale a tree, and he had trained these poodles to drive deer to exactly that specific speed, and he was determined to prove to everyone that it would work. And come to find out, it did. He returned that evening with not one but two massive bucks, bark still stuck in their hooves, and a triumphal grin on his camo-painted mug.
This went on for weeks—each Saturday morning he’d load up the pack of poodles in his little truck and head for the woods, and each Saturday evening he’d return with a big buck strapped across the hood. We all ate well for that month, then tragedy struck. It seems, from what we were able to gather, that the pack had treed a rather surly buck who was still surprisingly agile up in the branches and was doing everything in it’s power to avoid being shot. Uncle Jean-Batiste had to get pretty close to the tree to shoot it, and when he did he forgot a very important rule: heavy things fall very fast and very hard.
He was found in the woods near a tree covered in strange scrape marks. He was surrounded by his pack of disconsolate poodles, crushed underneath a mammoth deer with an oddly smug look on it’s muzzle.