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My father was never a hunter, so therefore I didn’t become a hunter.
I always felt like I missed something when guys would start talking about hunting deer, wild turkey (not the kind in a bottle), squirrel, and so on. It just seemed so neat going into the woods and bringing back the equivalent of a side of beef. Mind you, until I had kids, it seemed neater to just go to Hardee’s and pick up my beef already cooked and served on buns in an air-conditioned restaurant, but that’s another story.
Anyway, I’ve got this neighbor down the street named J.B. Carrico. He and his hunting buddy, it’s a sad man that hunts alone, Rodney Marlow, go hunting all the time. They’re so good at it that they frequently take trips outside the state hunting after they’ve bagged everything in Kentucky.
I work with Rodney at the factory in Danville. One day he told me he had to back out of a trip they had planned. It seemed he came down with the flu. J.B. was heartbroken. They had planned to go way out west to the Rocky Mountains to hunt some really big game.
Here was my chance. I had dreams of large quantities of free meat dancing in my head, so I beat a path down to my old buddy J.B.’s house and . . .
“J.B., I hear Rodney’s sick and can’t make your big hunt. How about I fill in for him?”
“I’m sorry,” said J.B. “Do I know you, sir?”
“It’s me, J.B. I live down the street from you. I’m the local media star. Everybody knows and likes me.”
“Oh, yeah. I didn’t recognize you at first, Hal. I really enjoy all those football and basketball games you call for Washington County High. You do a good job on the fiscal court as magistrate, too. Tell Mrs. Goode for me that she did a good job raising you.”
“Uh, sure. So, how about it J.B? Can I go on the big hunt with you? I don’t know anything about hunting, but figure you could teach me.”
“Sure, Hal. First lesson: You need a good hunting vehicle. What’re you driving?”
“A ‘99 Dodge minivan.”
“Let’s look at it.”
J.B. walked out to his driveway and inspected the potential hunting vehicle with a critical eye.
The white paint is falling off, and there’s a big dent that keeps the passenger side door from closing. It’s held shut with binder twine. Oil leaks out of the engine as fast as water out of a garden hose. The windshield is cracked, and rain tends to come through it. Rust holes are starting to form around the back wheels, and the shocks are gone. The rearview mirror had fallen off, and the drive train is held together with duck tape. I fired it up. It belched smoke and fire out the tailpipe for five minutes while the earth shook from the noise.
“You got any other vehicles, Hal?”
“Yep, my wife’s van. But it’s just for transportation. It’s not as nice as this one.”
“OK, then we’ll go with this. Just remember this second lesson, Hal. A good hunting vehicle is any vehicle that belongs to someone else.”
We headed out to the mountains.
We only stopped at gas stations along the way to fuel up and get those gourmet fried baloney and egg sandwiches, two for two bucks.
The last stop was way up in the mountains, where we put up our tent. It was so high up you needed oxygen. But I tell you what. Old J.B. is a real mountain man. I peeked out the tent at the crack of dawn, (I always wondered what that looked like), and saw J.B. on his back doing a hundred sit-ups as fast as greased lightning. Then he flipped over and did a hundred pushups in a blur. He then ran a quarter mile down the trail in 8.5 seconds, returning in 8.
It was then that I noticed the fire on his pants. He claims the cook stove didn’t work right when he tried to light it. My bet is we had one too many baloney and egg sandwiches. We’ll never know, as J.B.’s final act was to kick the stove onto the tent where everything exploded into a ball of flames.
We gathered up what equipment we had left, and I waited for J.B.’s final words of advice.
“Hal, I just want to warn you, it can be dangerous in the woods, what with the bears and all. You don’t have a gun so, I want you to take this can of pepper spray with you for protection. Also, tie this little bell onto your backpack. The noise will alert the bears that you’re coming. Now remember, there are Black Bears and Grizzly Bears in these woods. The Grizzly’s are the biggest and meanest. Some of them stand eight feet tall. You need to check for their “sign” as we go down the trails, as well.”
“Sign? What sign?”
“Bear poop. That way you can tell the difference between the two types of bear.”
“They poop different?”
“Well, Black Bear poop has seed and grain mixed in. On the other hand, Grizzly Bear poop tends to smell like pepper, and occasionally, you’ll see some small bells in it. Now let’s go.”
It was at that moment that I decided to let J.B. look for a “sign” while he forged far ahead into the mountain forest. I hadn’t seen him most of the day when I popped out of the woods and onto a dirt trail. J.B. was on his hands and knees with his ear firmly planted to the ground, “Indian” style.
I looked down at J.B. and said, “Can you really tell anything by putting your ear to the ground like that?”
J.B. held his hand up for silence and said, “A four wheel ATV came this way 30 minutes ago. “
“Really? Anything else?”
“The front right tire was well worn and needed air. The engine needs a tune-up, and occasionally backfires. It was painted blue. The guy driving it was wearing a University of Tennessee t-shirt and a red bandana while spitting chewing tobacco. That’s about it.”
“Holy moley!!! You can tell all that by listening to the ground?”
“Nope. I slipped and fell and the ATV ran over my ear. Help me get up and brush this chewing tobacco off.”
I got J.B. back to Springfield and unloaded what was left of his gear after the fire. All I bagged in the big hunt was this story.
J.B.’s final words were, “Hal, you tell your momma Norma that The Springfield Sun hasn’t been the same since she quit writing for it. Shoot, all they got now is that nut Ken or Keith or whatever his name is on the Opinion Page, and they say he’s crazy.”
“So, I take it you don’t read his column do you J.B.?”
“No. Why do you ask, Hal?”
Writer’s Note: This story is entirely true, except for the parts I made up, lied about or dreamed while sleeping on the couch after eating too many fried baloney and egg sandwiches.