Friday, May 8, 2009

Fox Hunting

A year ago I posted a couple of stories on fishing and deer hunting. A number of people said I HAD to write about foxing hunting. I guess the reason I haven't is that the other postings were triggered by finding old photographs in a dusty old shoe box. I didn't find any pictures of fox hunting. Recently this rare photo showed up and it renewed my memories again. Fox hunting, as it is normally depicted, is a genteel sport involving horses and hounds -"Release the hoounds! Tally Ho!". Well, that ain't the way we did it back in the Grove.

Most mornings, the men of the Grove ate a hearty breakfast at the Town Talk Cafe. On mornings after a new snow they brought their cased hunting rifles with them and stacked them by the door as they came in. There were no phone calls or prearranging, it was assumed there would be a hunt. My Old Man had a Piper Cub fitted with skis at the strip on the south edge of town. If it was a school snow day or Saturday I would get to go with him and we'd fly out, mostly north and west of town, looking for red foxes resting on the hillsides catching the first warming rays of morning sunshine. After we had spotted two or three we landed and went back to the cafe, where the guys were on cup three or four of Iv's strong coffee. Plans were made, the quarry selected and driver-passenger arrangements set up. Then we'd climb into the cars and take off in a high speed caravan over the narrow, rough gravel back roads.

The general idea of the hunt was not to kill the fox; it was to get the fox running, which they are inclined to do if they are shot at with high power rifles. Then other hunters were set up on roads to intercept them. I should interject that this wasn't done on foot, it was done leaning across car hoods or from inside vehicles - all terribly dangerous and illegal. There were local vehicles that had patched holes in their roofs from guns discharging from a whump on the washboard gravel roads. In a scene from a typical hunt...the fox is running in terror from the sound of a barrage of gun fire, he scrambles over the hill and follows the overgrown fencerow to get to safety in the willows of Klunder's slough. But...but there are three or four cars flying down the gravel road to intercept and hopefully greet him with a hail of hot lead. The drivers hit the brakes, everyone jumps out, lean across the car hoods and lay down a barrage of gunfire at the poor fox that would make Ulysses S. Grant proud . In the excitement of gunsmoke and laughter there was very little aiming. It tended to be controlled spraying. I've seen cars lined up with half a dozen "hunters" firing, the fox run between the cars, and never lose a a nick of fur.

For me, "The Kid", a kind of a tagalong, the dream team was Ivan Paulson at the wheel of his '57 Dodge Ram (not a pickup - a tail-finned sedan with a hemi-head and two 4-barrel carburetors), "King" Thompson, and Don Wayne, who kind of took me under his wing when the Old Man was away or up in the Cub. This was a kid's dream - loud noises, fast cars and guns, laughing, spitting and swearing. With the men! It just didn't get any better than that. Iv was a crazy driver with a car that was stupid fast, King was kind of jumpy nervous, and Big Don was an instigator. He usually didn't even take a gun. His job was to give dual, to give advice and training, or rather to aid and abet. Bob (King) had never shot a fox in his life and it was Donald's mission to "help" him. I recall one time Don loaned King his gun, a big semi-automatic. I don't recall the model - the gun guys would remember. Anyway, Don tells King that, "You can never have too much firepower!". When we had the fox intercepted, Don gives me that now watch this look, and helped King get set up for the kill. "Now don't shoot yet. Hold your fire. Hold it. Hold it. Okay now, FIRE! SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT, YOU FOOL!" King unloaded the gun like it was an Uzi, never coming within ten yards of the poor critter. Don was slapping his leg and laughing so hard he could hardly stand up. Then back into the car to go up the road and do it all over again. And again. I believe the King died without ever shooting a fox.

I just proofed the above and it's all over the place. Tough. It's probably not accurate, but it is the truth as I remember it. And as W.D. Jensen, one of the last of his generation, said the other day, "It's hard to believe we could have that much fun without having alcohol involved." It was probably cruel, certainly unsporting, and even illegal at times... but it was like living in a sitcom and I've never had so much fun in my life.
(And then there was shooting foxes from an airplane. All I'll say about that is that it ended with an airplane crumpled in a pile with both wings broke off. Another story entirely.)


reverend dick said...

Your old man was a Legendary Father.
Damn. what a boyhood.

Gunnar Berg said...

You can not realize how true that really is.

"He was the star in his own movie."

Todd said...

Very foxy story, Gunnar. I had some exciting (at the time) adventures with my dad while "road" hunting for pheasants. I was the "spotter" looking for birds in the ditches as dad slowly drove down gravel roads just outside of town. Of course, the shotgun was in the front seat with us, ready to fire. When I spotted one, dad would place the gun out his window and steer the car with his legs as we edged up on the bird in the ditch. He aimed and fired -- a mighty blast from inside the car. (Got a little complicated -- and extra loud -- when the bird was on the passenger side of the car!). When he hit a bird (most of the time), he stopped the car and I got out running to pick up our "road kill" (or ran down the cornrows chasing a wounded pheasant!). As I recall, seldom did I catch a bird on the run ... wounded or not ... much to my father's dismay). Those pheasant hunting expeditions with my dad remain my best memories of a him ... better to remember than his shaming, anger, and use of a belt on his kids (to keep us "in line", of course!).

Looking forward to reading your fox hunting from the airplane story.